What’s German Humor Like?
Years ago, a comedian suggested in The Guardian that German jokes seem impenetrable to English speakers due to their reliance on punchline setups predicated by the structure of German itself.
That opinion piece was later called out in a Language Log post. They suggested that the cultural context and the foibles of wordplay instead dictate the difficulty of translating German jokes.
Luckily, whether it’s a matter of German sentence structure, wordplay or culture, jokes in German can be understood by students of the language.
All of these difficulties can be overcome.
At its core, a lot of German humor isn’t all that different from the humor of other countries and languages.
Germans like to laugh at silly mistakes, and self-depreciation is popular.
In Germany, there are satirical jokes, jokes that make jibes at specific people and even Dadaist jokes that are funny for their lack of humor (a la the English classic “No Soap Radio”). There’s a lot to discover in German humor.
If one particular type of joke doesn’t tickle your funny bone, you can move on to the next.
At the very least, even if it’s not your style of humor, you’ll understand what’s going on when a German speaker tries to crack a joke during conversation—you’ll no longer be out of the loop.
You just need to know what to expect.
And we’ll get to all that in just one second. First, I’m going to explain how jokes are actually valuable learning tools.
How to Learn German with Jokes
So, German jokes are funny, but how are they helpful for language learners?
They can be useful in several ways, both on the side of understanding German and producing (speaking and writing) it.
After finding some German jokes you like, you can work on translating the jokes into English.
Firstly, is the literal translation funny? Why or why not? Understanding why the joke might be funny to another culture is a task in and of itself. If you want to take things further, you can try and localize the joke—change it until it becomes something humorous in English. Bonus points if a non-German speaker chuckles at your translation.
There’s one type of joke we’ll explore in this post, Bauernregeln Witze, which always rhyme—can you mimic this style with your translation and still retain the joke’s meaning?
When learning vocabulary, take notes of sound-alike words. Sometimes these are false friends, words that seem to be loan words but are instead wholly unrelated. Try using these to make up your own bilingual jokes. For example, here’s one famous German-English joke:
What would Freud say comes between fear and sex? Fünf!
Lastly, try your hand at creating your own jokes. While writing a German knock-knock joke has its own appeal, try creating jokes within the bounds of typical German jokes. Maybe you can create your own Bauernregeln Witz about the futility of student loans or pun your way with a finely-crafted Wortspiel (pun, play on words).
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig into the jokes! I’m sure you’re dying to know what Bauernregeln Witz actually means, at this point.
Witty Witze: 6 Types of Jokes in German to Fuel Learning with Laughter
1. Bauernregeln Witze
One classic type of German joke is the Bauernregeln Witz (farmer’s lore joke).
These jokes are like Bizarro World wives’ tales where pithy sayings initially seem to be about farming or the weather but instead devolve into nonsense punchlines or innuendo in the second half. They’re jokes disguised as proverbs.
Here are two examples of Bauernregeln Witze, taken from this list on an Austrian news site:
Wenn der Hahn kräht auf dem Mist, dann ändert sich das Wetter, oder es bleibt wie es ist. (If the rooster crows on the dung heap, then the weather will shift—or stay the same.)
April und Weiberwill ändern sich schnell und viel. (April and women’s whims change quickly and often.)
Despite these jokes being a bit old-fashioned, jokesters online still write their own versions and share them on websites or forums.
2. Beamtewitze Jokes
Most cultures have jokes that make fun of “the man” and German culture is no exception.
In German, there are plenty of jokes relating to business and bureaucracy. These jokes often refer to Beamte (state officials). Translated examples can be found on the Wikipedia page on German humor, and even more can be found by searching for “Beamtewitze” on Google.
For a taste, here’s an example taken from the Beamte page on Witze.net, a joke aggregator:
Drei in einem Büro und einer arbeitet? Zwei Beamte und ein Ventilator! (Three in the office, and one working? Two state officials and a fan!)
In addition to poking fun at Beamte, German has a rotating staple of stock joke characters which appear frequently.
One such stock character is the Manta driver, the butt of so-called Mantawitze (Manta jokes).
A Manta is a type of German car, and the Manta owners in these jokes are notorious for being dumb and obnoxious. If you search for “Mantawitze” on YouTube, you can see this joke character in action.
An example of a Mantawitz can be found on the WitzCharts.de website:
Ein Mantafahrer hat auf seinem Beifahrersitz einen Papagei sitzen und das Fenster offen. Er hält an der roten Ampel neben einem Mercedes. Der Fahrer des Mercedes kurbelt sein Fenster ebenfalls runter und fragt: “Kann der auch sprechen?” Darauf der Papagei: “Weiß ich doch nicht!”
A Manta driver had a parrot in the passenger’s seat and his window open. He idled near a Mercedes at a red light. The driver of the Mercedes lowered his window and asked, “Can it talk?” Responded the parrot: “I don’t really know!”
German has puns, just like English.
German words can be punned in many different ways. For example, puns can be created by using the differing meanings of compound verbs. Sound-alike puns are also popular in advertisements, just like in the States.
In German, puns are known as Wortspiele, roughly translated as “wordplay.”
German puns are easily found by searching “Wortspiele deutsch,” and the German Wikipedia page on Wortspiele even gives a wordplay-by-play on how puns are created. For a fun list of German puns, check out this list of “Schlechte Wortspiele” on Bild.de, which lists this great example:
Egal wie viele CDs du hast, Carl Benz hat Mercedes. (Not matter how many CDs you have, Carl Benz has more CDs/Carl Benz has Mercedes.)
5. Comic Humor
Reading comics is a fun way to learn German. Pictures can help with language learning by connecting vocabulary to visuals. Additionally, comics help in gaining an understanding of dialogue. It stands to reason that funny comics can add that extra pizzazz to language study.
While you can search for comics to order on Amazon.de, Amazon’s German hub, there are plenty of German webcomic artists online who create “funny papers” with jokey dialogue. These comics often feature punchlines and one-liners that are jokes in and of themselves.
Here are a few webcomics worth checking out:
Das Leben is kein Ponyhof features low-key situational humor and clean art.
NICHTLUSTIG, translated as “not funny,” is much funnier than its name would suggest.
Katz & Goldt features longer topical comics with deadpan humor.
Looking for more? Check out Webcomic-Verzeichnis, a German webcomic aggregator that has the comics divided into categories—including “Humor”!
6. Memes and Humor Lists
BuzzFeed has a huge presence online in English-speaking countries—it’s almost impossible to miss shared BuzzFeed articles if you even casually browse Facebook—and, likewise, BuzzFeed has a German-language presence, as well.
BuzzFeed lists on “so relatable” topics aren’t only in English. Given that these lists are often written in Germany, as well, that same joking style can be used for language learning. Even beyond the direct translations of English lists into German, there are Germany-specific lists that have jokes about German culture.
If you haven’t had enough of Wortspiele, this search for “Wortspiele” on BuzzFeed brings up many, many image lists.
Of course, if BuzzFeed’s not your style, then you can always check out these other places to find German-language memes.
Where to Find More German Jokes
If your German language skills are at a high enough level, you can find a great number of jokes just by searching for the name of the type of joke you’re looking for in Google or another search engine. If you type “Bauernregeln Witze” into Google, for example, you’ll see websites specifically devoted to lists of these jokes—though be mindful that some sites might just offer weather advice!
Once you’ve exhausted your options on Google, don’t forget to search on other channels. “Witz,” “lustig” and other comedy-related terms can be searched on YouTube and Tumblr, as well.
Even searching in English for “German comedy” can bring up practical joke shows, clips from German TV and even jokester YouTubers