The Linguist

The Linguist 54,1

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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22 The Linguist FEBRUARY/MARCH FEATURES Miranda Moore travels to Berlin to find out why the English-language comedy scene there is booming I n the graffitied basement of a bar in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin, an intimate crowd is slowly settling into an assortment of thread-bare sofas and mix-matched chairs. For the last two years, the 'We are not Gemüsed' open-mic session has been drawing in savvy Berliners and anglophone ex-pats looking for a sophisticated brand of comedy – in English. In three years, the city's English-language comedy scene has grown from one night a week to seven weekly sessions at various locations across the city. A regular at 'We are not Gemüsed', Stefan Danziger did his first stand-up show in 2011 after a tour group he had been guiding suggested he give it a go. He has since developed his own brand of historical comedy, and has performed internationally in Amsterdam, London, Poland and Edinburgh. Although he started doing comedy in German, Danziger soon ventured into English to maximise the number of shows he could do. Although high-brow political Kabarett, popular entertainment, satire and comedic plays are well established traditions, 'stand- up comedy is very new in Germany,' he says. Even now, many of the open-mic nights are still essentially variety shows, with comics vying for space alongside musicians, jugglers and magicians, and facing audiences who aren't always familiar with the comic set-up, says German-US comic Vincent Pfäfflin. 'They tend to laugh shortly and then clap. So you have the clap break; it ruins your timing. In English, you add another joke and another joke and they keep rolling, but you can't do that if the audience claps,' he adds. 'English audiences are more schooled in stand-up comedy and have much more knowledge about how it works.' In January, Pfäfflin won the Comedy Grand Prix, a German-language contest that began in 2011 and now attracts TV audiences of 3.5m. He has found that people's reactions differ depending on the language he is using. One of his jokes is about the porn industry and the set-up gag has him watching pornography as part of a feminist research project. It's a standard joke that enables him to hit the audience off-guard with a final punchline that is highly critical of the porn industry. 'In English, people applaud it with warmth, because it's an ethical joke,' he says. 'In German, people are more taken aback.' Although things are beginning to change, German audiences are used to particular comedic styles, agrees Georg Krammerer. 'German humour tends to be more top- down' – take Mario Barth, for example, who has a huge following but has also been widely criticised for perpetuating gender stereotypes. 'If the comedian shows vulnerability on stage it makes the cliché German audience uncomfortable. But I'm always looking for the emotional connection, the moment when the comedian shares something about themselves,' says Krammerer, whose inspiration comes from the US and UK. 'You can make darker jokes in English, because there are still some topics where a German-speaking audience would react, like, "oh my god, that was too much". But in English people just think it's hilarious,' agrees Danziger. Translating the joke Danziger's comedy is rooted in historical insights and his own personal view of modern history. He grew up in East Germany and the USSR/Russia, has studied interpreting as well as ancient archaeology, and speaks six languages, including Greek and Swedish. But humour is notoriously difficult to translate, so does he use the same material in both languages? 'It's hard to find a joke that works exactly the same way in both languages, but you can adapt them. 70% of my jokes are in German and English,' he says. A battle of Witze COMIC EXPORTS: Stefan Danziger on stage (above left); and German comic Henning Wehn (above right), who tried stand-up for the first time after moving to the UK and is now a regular on British TV SHIROKAZAN, 8/6/13 VIA WIKIPEDIA (CC BY 2.0)

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