Comedy has a strong tradition in Europe. But even though there are similarities, all the different European countries have their own style of humour. Follow us on a journey through the comedic landscape in Europe and explore what people in other countries are laughing about.
Monty Python (United Kingdom)
Amongst continental Europeans, Britain is famous for its weird humour and no other group embodies it more than the infamous Monty Python with their Flying Circus. Formed by six young and hopeful comedians at the BBC in 1969, the Pythons were known for their unpredictable and sometimes absurd sense of humour. For instance, they would spend minutes showing pictures of the same tree, only to announce something outrageous like “And now for something completely different – a man with three buttocks”.
In other episodes they attacked each other with fruit, presented a fictional TV show called “Famous Deaths” (moderated by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and performed something they called the “Fish Slapping Dance”. And whenever they did not know how to finish a sketch, they would either have a policeman appear and arrest the crew for not being funny or squash the entire set with a giant foot, beautifully drawn by their cartoonist, Terry Gilliam.
Monty Python also had a number of musical hits, including the “Lumberjack song” and their notorious masterpiece “Always look on the bright side of life”, sung by a group of crucified martyrs in their 1979 film “Life of Brian”. This, together with their movies, made them famous all over Europe and it can truly be said that they have had a major influence on comedy in Europe as we know it today. SPAM.
It’s all about the ‘chiste’ (SPAIN)
Written by Marta Martinez
In Spain, being funny means being able to tell as many chistes (jokes) as possible – and you get extra points if you have an Andalusian accent, because they simply sound the funniest, or ‘salao'(salty), as we call them. Ridiculing the different nationalities within Spain – Basques, Catalans, Galicians, Andalusians – is a common subject, but there’s a town that has traditionally suffered the most cruel punishment in Spanish humor: Lepe. This village in the south-west of the country is a favourite target of scoffing, because of the alleged dumbness of its inhabitants. Here’s an example: “Why do people in Lepe put their TV’s upside down? To watch the hostess’ panties.”
Celebrities of Spanish humour are, obviously, joke tellers. One of the most famous comedians was Miguel Gila, who for the first time since the Civil War (1936-1939) started making fun of the conflict in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The greatest thing about Gila’s humor is that it is universally suitable for any war. He always appeared on stage alone, wearing a red shirt and a black suit, holding an old-fashioned telephone. In one of his most celebrated sketches, he says wearing a soldier’s helmet: “Hi, is this the enemy?… Could you please stop the war for a second?… I wanted to ask you something: are you going to attack tomorrow?… At what time are you going to come?… At seven?… Uh, at seven we’re all sleeping… And couldn’t you attack in the afternoon?… After the soccer game… Are there going to be a lot of you?… wow, you’re animals!… I don’t know if there’s gonna be enough bullets for everybody… well, we’re going to shoot and you can share them”.
In the 90’s, a completely different comedian dominated not only the Spanish humour, but even the Spanish popular language. Chiquito de la Calzada, a flamenco singer who discovered his vocation as a joke teller when he was already over 60, became a TV star with his Andalusian chistes, his weird dances while telling them and his made-up vocabulary. He always told his jokes moving from one side of the stage to the other with little jumps, as if the floor were burning, and he moved his legs up and down like a flamingo while neighing like a horse. It actually didn’t matter if you couldn’t understand what he was saying because he pronounced words with a mix of an Andalusian and an American-western-like accent. He also made up words which became very popular. Spaniards might be embarrassed to admit it now, but everybody in the country has imitated Chiquito at some point and pronounced some of his contributions to the dictionary, such as ‘pecadorl de la pradera’ (sinnerl of the hills), ‘por la gloria de mi madre’ (for my mother’s sake) and ‘fistro’ (it’s almost impossible to translate, but it could be useful if you want to insult somebody in an original way).
Written by Florian Faehling
Germans, they say, don’t have a sense of humour. Commonplace prejudice has it that we Germans are serious, grim and simply not funny. Loriot, famous comedian of the last 50 years, disagrees and insists that exactly this seriousness is what makes Germans funny. He has written unforgettable sketches for decades and his expressions even made it into everyday language. His simple recipe: humour is when seriousness meets reality. He portrays society and how it copes with different situations in its typical, complicated way.
One of the prime examples is a sketch called “The lopsided painting”. A well-dressed business man sits down in a waiting room to meet a client. His demeanor speaks of a perfectly correct (boring) character, he is the kind of guy who double checks everything ten times just for the sake of checking it well, the typical German. Looking around, he notices a lopsided painting – an offense to his orderly mind. Reaching out to adjust its position, he accidentally makes another painting fall and a vase break. Trying to clean up, he crashes a shelve of expensive china and stumbles over a glass table that also shatters. In this way, our typical German destroys the whole room in less than 30 seconds, yet when the secretary enters to ask him in, he proudly explains “The painting is crooked”.
You can watch parts of the sketch on YouTube or buy it on iTunes.
Written by Elise Haddad
Coluche won his audience’s hearts by entertaining them with a very plebeian kind of humour. His childhood in a working-class suburb of Paris, as well as his penniless, unsuccessful youth, left him with deep proletarian roots. When success finally made him wealthy, he said: “I am not new money, I am an ex-poor”. From his beginnings as an entertainer in Parisian cafés and throughout his very successful solo career as a humorist, he was never afraid of bold vulgarity, in a time where France still hovered between the young madness of the 70’s and the conservative “good taste” of a dominant middle class. He continued to perform in his striped dungarees and yellow T-shirt and often told scatological jokes. He also played in movies, some of them funny (Banzai, Deux heures moins le quart avant Jésus Christ…), some of them of a more tragic kind, such as Tchao Pantin, in 1983, for which he received the Cesar Award for Best Actor.
Ideological criticism also played a part in his mockery. He condemned any sort of racism or homophobia – although he did so in politically incorrect ways. His fake homosexual wedding with Thierry Le Luron for example was a live performance in the streets of Paris, subverting conservative moral standards, but also ridiculous and full of cliches about gay people. In 1981, this involvement in politics, combined with his irreverence, even led him to run for the French presidential election. However, what was meant as a joke quickly became more serious: polls credited him with a consistent percentage of voters and he encountered unforeseen pressure from established politicians. Annoyed, he quit the race before the vote. But a few years later, he created the “Restos du Coeur”, a very famous charity that still exists today. Its main activity is to serve free hot meals to the homeless and poor. And every year, it organises a fund-raising concert by celebrities, called “Les Enfoirés” – “The Dumbasses”!
This combination of humour and social involvement, as well as his accidental death at the age of 44, made him an iconic figure – today streets and public theatres bear his name.
Gato Fedorento (Portugal)
Written by Carlos Azeredo Mesquita
“Gato Fedorento” – the name literally means “Smelly Cat” – are rather new on the scene (they only appeared in 2003) but it is unquestionable that these four young comedians already managed to achieve the status of the most successful and influential collective in the country. Their humour is intelligent, with no fear of using erudite references, and totally refuses to be vulgar or easy without also being absurd – for instance, they never use slang (a common feature in other Portuguese shows); instead, on a talk between two chavs, they would replace the word “s**t” with “poop”, or “c**t” with “vagina”.
On another sketch called “Depressive Little Treasures” they rescue from the television archives moments from ridiculous talk shows or silly contests of the 80’s (or 2004) and show them with interruptions in which they make fun of what’s happening and thus criticise television itself. Language plays an important role as, for instance, in one sketch, a shepherd with a very strong countryside accent tells, using very difficult philosophical terms but grammatically incorrect sentences, of his love story with a sheep.
More recently, with a show combining recorded sketches and live discussions they mock the hot topics of the week, openly criticising politicians and Portugal itself, they have found an even greater visibility in a country with a weak tradition of this kind of openly political humour.
The Books of Knjige (Montenegro)
Written by Jelena Obradovic
Ask any Montenegrin what is the best city in the country and they will tell you: Cetinje. This beautiful small town is famous for two things: beautiful girls and specific sense of humour. It’s no surprise that Cetinje is home to Montenegro’s four-person comedy group – The Books of Knjige (which literally means “The Books of Books”). TBOK were formed in the early 90’s during a chaotic political period in the country and the region. They started out as a musical band and their song “Moja Domovina” (My Country) soon became a hit.
They also do some pretty cool things in Cetinje. For example, there was a small street which was supposed to be a pedestrian zone, but in spite of that, cars drove down that street day after day and the police couldn’t prevent it. TBOK invited people to choose a night and to pretend for that night only that whole town is a pedestrian zone, and everyone agreed on one Saturday night. This sent the clear message to drivers – we can produce more chaos then you! As a result, the next day not a single car passed down the small pedestrian street. Cetinje has no more problems with cars ignoring pedestrian zones.
The year after this success, one of the biggest radio stations in Montenegro invited TBOK to host their own show on Friday nights. Even though Friday is a day for going out, it’s not unusual for people to stay at home just to hear the show. Usually the group comment on the political situation in a funny, awkward way and make fun of famous people. Their work for national television has been compared with Monty Python. Other show hosts often invite TBOK to be their guests, and it’s not unusual that they arrive in weird clothes or have make-up that makes them look as if they have bullet holes in their heads, and then discuss serious subjects such as the economical situation in the country or the national elections. But all Montenegrins know – no matter how serious the subject is, it becomes hilarious when TBOK are talking about it.
Teaser picture by: Ralph Waldo Emerson (Creative Commons)