The Corner

We Have Ways of Making You Laugh

The Germans, it says here, are the least funny people in the world.

Donner und Blitzen! They can’t be talking about the Germany I know and love, where just speaking the language is a nonstop laff riot.

Still, it’s true that in the intervals between cracking up at their own vocabulary, Germans laugh only at a rather narrow range of phenomena. German humor has, for foreigners, a somewhat monotonously scatological tendency. Peter Farb made this point in his pop-linguistics classic Word Play. I no longer have the book so I’m working from memory, but as I recall, when Farb got into national styles of humor, he said that while Americans enjoy jokes about the degradation of women and Brits like jokes about homosexuality and incest, for Germans only the s-word (in German it’s actually the sch-word) will do. He then gives a detailed account of how a skilful German comedian will work up his audience to a high pitch of anticipation, knowing that any minute they will hear the abominable word; then when at last the word arrives, mirth is uncontrollable.

Farb’s book came out in 1973, and he died in 1980. He was therefore spared the po-faced censorious lawyer-patrolled humorlessness of our times, when jokes putting down women or the differently-oriented will get you fired, with a big fat lawsuit to follow. For the definitive article on which, see Mark Steyn’s brilliant piece in the June 6 issue of National Review (p.52).

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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