How we do it in Germany: German (musical) Comedy – a short overview

When you think about Germany, what comes to your mind first? German bread, Angela Merkel, the Oktoberfest or the Nazis? Or maybe something more connected to the arts – Beethoven, Schubert and the famous serious German writers? What I’m trying to say: You probably would not instantly think about comedy. Or Germans being particularly funny. Am I right?

Well – when you look at the grosses of German movies over the past decade or two you will find that the highest grossing movies are in fact comedies. Comedies about clueless men and clueless women, about relationships, about being educated or not, about immigrants and cross-dressing.

In my last post I was stressing how seriously we take theatre over here in Germany – and today: Comedy! – But in a way it all goes together very well.

I have pointed out before that we have some social-political pressure points throughout our theatre scene and that some forms of theatre are valued more than others when it comes to a kind of social relevance. Musical theatre (especially contemporary musical theatre) isn’t one of these. That actually might be a reason why there is so much comedy in German musical theatre.

When I am thinking about the original German musicals I have seen in past years most of them were either pure comedy or had a very strong comic aspect. Musical Theatre writers over here seem to like to adapt movies for the stage just as they do in the States. Over the past decade there was the musical version of a German comedy about the TV business which in its original starred one of the most loved comedians of the 1990s. This clip shows how they staged this TV watching, how they speak a weird German dialect from the western part, and (in the dialogue) how the guy in the white crew neck sweater is told that he is going to work on this very TV show they are watching.

Watch this video on YouTube.

There was also a musical version of the gay-bavarian-western-parody Der Schuh des Manitu (Manitou’s Shoe) of the beloved Karl May novels and movies. This movie was released in 2001 and with a 65 million Euro gross it still is one of the most successful German movies after the second World War. Only seven years later, Stage Entertainment Germany produced a musical version of this in Berlin – although everyone thought that actors playing cowboys and speaking the Bavarian dialect could not be very successful in Berlin (and since they do not really publish their grosses and numbers of attendance one only can guess that probably everyone was right thinking this way…).

Watch this video on YouTube.

A medley of Der Schuh des Manitu performed on the German TV show “Wetten, dass…”

In addition to these examples of German comedy musicals based on German comedy movies, there even is an example of a show based on the British movie Plots with a View (Undertaking Betty), which premiered in 2013. Zum Sterben schön is the German title of the show, which roughly translates to “So beautiful I could die!” The show follows the plot of the movie about a funeral home and some evil plans in a Welsh town and – of course –  there is a love story.

Watch this video on YouTube.

From a public reading of the show in 2011 in Berlin.

The poster for Sarg Niemals Nie at the Neukollner Oper.

The poster for Sarg Niemals Nie at Neukollner Oper.

Comedy and funeral homes – that is something we seem to love over here: only a couple of months after the first full production of Zum Sterben schön, another show about funerals homes had its workshop production in Berlin. The title, Sarg Niemals Nie, basically means “Never say never” – in German “Sag niemals nie” – but with a very nice and funny twist: The extra R which is added to ‘Sag’ makes the word mean ‘coffin.’ (Just from listening, the difference between Sag and Sarg is barely noticeable with most speakers.) The show is about a funeral home with is not covering all costs when the people working there learn by accident that you could smoke the ashes of dead people just as you do with weed and that the ashes are not only like weed, but better. They start selling it and revamp their business by doing so. (Putting it that way, it’s very far from an ethical way of thinking…oh, well!) This past spring it got its very small first full production at Neuköllner Oper in Berlin.

These four shows I have pulled out here just to shortly show ‘how much comedy we are doing here’ do not sound like an awful lot of pure comedy, but believe me: compared with the total number of originally German productions throughout the country of different styles, bigger and smaller scale productions, this is probably around 70% of what can be doubtlessly classified as new musical and has received a full production in the last couple of years.

I have also mentioned non-comedy with a remarkable amount of comedy thrown in and in an early post I shortly talked about dramatic musicals (dealing with historic ‘icons’ as you may call them) – but these are a whole new story…

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