Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Saturday, 23 August 2008 13:12 UK

Germans flex their funny bone

By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Edinburgh

Otto Kuhnle is pacing around a small stage in what he describes as a "bunker" at Edinburgh's Underbelly venue.

Otto Kuhnle and Henning Wehn
Kuhnle (left) was a circus act while Wehn (right) "stumbled" into comedy

The final few audience members are entering the room - late.

He checks his watch, shakes his head and mutters to the crowd that this would not happen in his home nation of Germany.

But rather than being angry, this is just the opening joke of an hour-long comedy show in which Kuhnle and his on-stage partner Henning Wehn cleverly satirise the stereotypes British people have of Germans.

There are jokes about sausages, references to football, wars and Mein Kampf, and - like the opening remarks - reminders that life is far more efficient in "the fatherland".

Loving Hasselhoff

And when the pair spend a minute chatting away in German in front of a bemused Edinburgh audience, they say they are just copying British behaviour abroad by talking in their own language.

"But we do it without shouting," Wehn says. "You should try that."

The double act say their show is based on the shocking welcomes they received when they first moved to the UK.

"When I came over here six years ago, I couldn't believe the stereotypes which were held against Germans," says Wehn, who studied business before entering comedy.

"People would say, 'Oh, you're from Germany - you must love David Hasselhoff then?'

"At first you think they must be someone who isn't all there. But when the 20th person comes up to you and says it, you realise there's a pattern."

"They say we have no sense of humour. They ask if the show starts on time. Oh, and they say, 'You bombed my chip shop.'
German comic Henning Wehn

And they hear "all the stereotypes the British have against the Germans" during an hour on Edinburgh's Royal Mile handing out fliers for their show, 1000 Years of German Humour.

"They say we have no sense of humour," adds Wehn. "They ask if the show starts on time. Oh, and they say, 'You bombed my chip shop.'"

German people do not realise such stereotypes exist, he says, which means their show might work as a method of social observation back home.

"I would have a show there where I said, in German, I would be performing for 45 minutes in English.

Trouser drop

"That would let the audience see what the British comedy circuit was like. Then there would be an interval and afterwards we would speak in German about stereotypes.

"That certainly is a concept that I think has got lots of legs."

The pair met in London and their show mixes Wehn's skills as a stand-up with slapstick and music from Kuhnle, who spent many years as a circus artist.

"I tried to do other jobs but they didn't really work out," Kuhnle explains. "It was an easy way to make money.

Otto Kuehnle and Henning Wehn
The pair say there is little to moan about in Germany "because things work"

"Once I was in a very serious play, an adaptation of a Hamlet piece from an East German writer-director. It set the Hamlet story in East Germany and it was very complicated.

"On the opening night, we had 80 journalists in the audience, but I was a circus act. I wasn't sure I could do serious theatre.

"I just went on stage and did nothing, and people started to laugh. And I said, 'OK, forget about this!'"

Kuhnle now spends about a third of the year in Britain, while Wehn says he "stumbled into this stand-up malarkey", which has gone from being "a well-paid hobby to a poorly-paid job".

Part of their act bemoans their lack of nominations for the If.com comedy prize, formerly known as the Perrier Award, which Wehn jokes is proof that there must have been prejudice against Germans.

"I didn't come up here for no awards. We were in it to win it, so it's been disappointing when institutional racism has held us back," he quips.

However, Kuhnle was shortlisted for the inaugural Malcolm Hardee Award for a slapstick moment in which his trousers drop as he plays the flute on stage.

"I am nominated for letting down my trousers. It is good to integrate my hobby and my profession."

Both say they have enjoyed their run in Edinburgh, where box office data suggests about half of those at their shows have been from Scotland.

"The Scots and the Germans have a lot in common," Kuhnle explains.

"Yes, we all hate the English," replies Wehn, quick as a flash.

1000 Years of German Humour is playing at the Underbelly in Edinburgh until Monday.


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