When you think about Germany, German humor is maybe not the first thing that springs to mind for most people. Generally, people think perhaps of fast cars or good beer. But comedy? No way. Nein danke. In fact, many would go so far as to say the Germans do not even have a sense of humor. And that is obviously not true. When it comes to comedy, I think Germany is vastly underrated and underappreciated. That is why I am highlighting thirteen German comedians to help disprove the stereotype. German humor does exist!
For someone trying to learn the language, comedy is also a great way to practice and learn about the culture, too. And just like with German-language music or films, there is something for everyone. The list includes German stand-up comedians, satirists, cabaret artists, and impressionists, among others whose German humor you can experience in the German language. Prepare to have your funny bone tickled.
Born in the United States and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, Hazel Brugger is a stand-up comedian you may have seen as a “reporter” on Heute-Show, where she is often providing a younger perspective. Brugger’s comedic delivery is dry and dead-pan. Is she joking? Or merely relaying a story? Brugger doesn’t offer up a bunch of set-ups and punchlines. It’s more subtle and it is all a part of her comedy. Her first full-length feature “cabaret” program is 2015’s Hazel Brugger passiert.
While he is perhaps best known in Germany for his late-night show, Jan Böhmermann is known internationally, too. Mostly for creating international incidents. He was investigated for making fun of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and created a scandal by taking out of context a clip of then-Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis “giving” Germany the middle finger. Clearly, Böhmermann knows how to make a statement. In addition to his now-defunct late-night show, Neo Magazin Royale, he’s hosted countless radio shows, podcasts, and TV shows, often with a round-table format. Satire is Böhmermann’s weapon of choice and he wields it oh-so-well. Whether that is in an interview with a celebrity, a monologue, or with a music video, like “Ich hab Polizei” as POL1Z1STENS0HN.
Fans of German rappers K.I.Z already know comedian and author Oliver Polak as the sloppy, disgusting dictator in the group’s “Ich bin Adolf Hitler” music video from 2013. It’s reflective of Polak’s sense of humor: ironic and sometimes dark. His comedy often deals with his experiences growing up as part of the only Jewish family in a small German village and as the son of a Holocaust survivor. He frequently puts the focus on fighting racism and antisemitism, such as his live show and book Ich darf das, ich bin Jude.
With his long black hair and triangular soul patch goatee, Bülent Ceylan looks like he should be in a heavy metal band. But the German with a Turkish background is a popular comedian from Mannheim. (Although he has made some appearances at major metal festivals! Spoiler Alert: He was also on the German version of the television show The Masked Singer.) The comedian has won countless awards throughout his career and even had his own comedy show on television for four seasons. While his act is full of stories from growing up with a Turkish father and a German mother, Ceylan has many characters he portrays. With his dedication, he brings those characters to life!
Anyone who has browsed through Netflix’s comedy specials may already know Enissa Amani. Born in Iran and raised in Germany, Amani studied law and literature before moving into fashion. But by 2013, she had started doing stand-up and she hasn’t stopped. Amani has been all over German television with her comedy. In 2017, she became the first female German stand-up comedian (the first in all of Europe, too!) with her own Netflix comedy special, Ehrenwort. Amani is bringing German humor to the world!
For language learners like us, the German comedian’s Netflix special is great because it offers subtitles in English and German as well as other languages.
With his trademark yellow argyle sweater vest, it is difficult to miss Olaf Schubert. Schubert is actually the invention of Michael Haubold. The character is confident but plain-spoken and, like Hazel Brugger, can be seen regularly as a commentator on Heute-Show. Schubert also had his own show on ZDF and 3sat, Olaf TV – Von Schubert zu Mensch. Many of the jokes lie in wordplay that may be difficult for German language learners. If that’s the case, subtitles or captions may help.
Nuhr in Berlin from German stand-up comedian Dieter Nuhr is the first Netflix stand-up special from Germany. But Nuhr’s career goes back much farther than his 2016 special. His first comedy stage production was 1994’s Nuhr am nörgeln!. Since then he has become a regular on German television shows, comedy programs, and stages around the country. Nuhr is known for bringing “intelligent cabaret” to German humor, with plenty of satire where seemingly no topic is off-limits.
If you enjoy sketch comedy, Oliver Kalkofe may just be for you. The long-time comedian seems to have no shortage of characters to portray, as witnessed by his extensive list of shows, performances, and audiobooks. This is one prolific comedian! Kalkofe also does German voiceover work where he counts being “the voice” of Matt Lucas when Little Britain is adapted for German language audiences. Kalkofes Mattscheibe is the German comedian’s long-running satire show for television that offers plenty of commentary on current events and pop culture.
Monika Gruber is considered Germany’s most successful cabaret performer. In addition, she is also an actress that can be seen on television and in films. Gruber is consistently being recognized and receiving awards, especially in her home state of Bavaria. (Gruber’s written about her childhood in a small Bavarian village in her memoirs.) Her most recent program was 2017’s Wahnsinn!.
There is definitely a new generation of German comedians sweeping through Europe but there are those who helped pave the way. Michael Mittermeier has been performing comedy since the early 1990s. A long-time German stand-up comedian, his style also blends in some of the classic German cabaret style of comedy. With his 1996 program Zapped, Mittermeier gained national attention. He has won countless awards for his routine and even gone abroad performing in English.
German stand-up comedian Felix Lobrecht is part of a new generation bringing German humor to the masses. After winning the German Comedy Prize for Best Newcomer in 2018, Lobrecht’s been in high demand. He is frequently performing his comedy on German television shows and on tour while also hosting a podcast, Gemischtes Hack. He also does Was machen Sachen?, a show for 1LIVE Comedy comprised of quick, brief episodes. Both projects are collaborations with Tommi Schmitt. You can check out the first episode of the show in the clip below.
German comedian Martina Hill is all about characters. Some are silly, some are outrageous but all of them are spot on. Accents, impersonations, physical humor: she does it all. Her dedication has meant she has earned her own shows like Knallerfrauen and Die Martina Hill Show. But you can see Hill seemingly everywhere from television to movies and on stage. And every time she brings to life someone completely different.
American comedian Lewis Black has made a career out of being a grumpy old man that is not afraid to share what he thinks or raise his voice. And as Gernot Haßknecht, Hans-Joachim Heist has done the same on Heute-Show. While Heist is a German comedian, actor, and director known for more than just his recent role as a curmudgeonly commentator, it is his performance as Haßknecht that has brought him many awards and recognition.
Tips for Experiencing German Comedians & German Humor
- Looking for more German comedians? Amazon Prime has created a worldwide franchise called LOL: Last One Laughing. Based upon the Japanese show Documental, a group of comedians competes to make each other laugh. The twist is that they can’t laugh or they’re eliminated. The German version of the show, hosted by Michael Bully Herbig, has been a big hit inside the country. The first group is an interesting mix of German stand-up comedians, cabaretists, and performers.
- If you need a little help with the language and understanding the German humor, subtitles are always helpful. Ideally, you want the subtitles in German. In my experience, YouTube’s auto-generated captions have improved significantly and the German ones are pretty good. Remember, they’re “pretty good;” they aren’t perfect.
- If your German language skills aren’t ready for German humor just yet, maybe try English. Some of the German comedians on the list have done English routines with similar jokes. Check out Oliver Polak at Caroline’s in NYC from January 2020.
Photos of German comedians: Ceylan by D4Mance, Nuhr by Nuhr, Amani from Netflix, Heist by Willi Weber, Böhmermann by Jens Oellermann, Mittermeier by Olaf Heine, Gruber by Tibor Bozi, Schubert by Amac Garbe, Kalkofe by Steffen Jänicke, Polak from Shashatainment, Brugger by Noelle Guidon. This post contains affiliate links.