Last weekend, I travelled for the first time to Vienna to see the city, and also to perform at a comedy show.
How would the Austrian audience perceive my dry German wit? I heard about Wiener Schmäh. The Viennese humor described as „subtle, indirect, full of hidden innuendo and sometimes analogous to black humor“*.
Just walking in the city I already liked my potential audience. They seemed to have the perfect mix of gregarious and hostile.
The Viennese either talked to me or shouted at me
A cook and his kid leaning out a kitchen window of a restaurant just started talking to me. And the restaurant’s waiter asked me what I’m reading and then vanished behind the grand piano to play Johann Strauss.
At the airport, I stole a newspaper because I thought it was for free. Someone congratulated me for stealing it, because apparently it’s some shitty tabloid press that „shouldn’t get anyone’s money anyway“.
Other Wieners just shouted at me. Like the cab drivers when I panically cycled on the busy street because I couldn’t find the bike lane.
Or on the S-Bahn, a not-so-old man shouted at me for not offering him a seat. And all other passengers glared at me. In my defense, he was 60. In Berlin, no one stands up for anyone under 80. When the not-so-old man eventually sat down somewhere else, a subway announcement sounded: „Take heed, maybe someone else needs your seat more urgently than you“. And the really-not-so-old man nodded and growled „genau“ in my direction. The entire weekend, I didn’t dare to sit down on public transport. And I was scared he’d be in my audience that night.
Comedian at night, tourist by day
My comedy show was in an alternative bar’s cozy basement room. The show was simultaneous with the Germany-Sweden world cup game. Some locals watched it at the bar. And that left an audience of solid ten people for our show. Most comedians hate performing in front of small crowds. The more people, the more laughter. But I love it. It’s so intimate, I have to establish a relationship with everyone in the room, keep the energy up and make them feel it’s okay to laugh. It’s not an anonymous mass I’m shouting my jokes at, it’s actually people I’m talking to.
The Vienna audience struck me as particularly witty, smart and thoughtful. Throughout my set, I have certain cornerstone jokes, that I use to test an audience. Oh they didn’t laugh at this one, yikes, well I will better leave out the dirty/smart//whole set. Oh, they did laugh at this one, wow, you guys are so gonna get it.
For example in Gera, Saxony, they didn’t laugh at any cornerstone jokes. In fact, they didn’t laugh at anything. And after the show, I locked myself in the restroom. Turns out, there was no lock. I kept it shut with my legs and overflowing tears.
The Vienna audience passed all smart cornerstone jokes.
They even had witty remarks. And they especially liked my self-deprecating material.
Is it me or my Germanness?
I wasn’t sure if they like my self-deprecating humor or a German telling it.
They laughed the hardest at my series of recent mishaps as a German in Austria. Sometimes fresh jokes have this „new joke energy“ that makes them work the first time you try them. And the second time you traditionally die. Like good, fresh gossip, that you have to tell a friend, but only while it’s fresh. But the way they laughed at my fresh mishaps was a different laughter. A laughter that was schadenfreudig, like they appreciated my Austrian inside-joke of a clumsy German.
But you all know the saying don’t judge a country by a single audience.
Ten people is maybe not a statistically significant group. And maybe that night, there was a beneficial correlation between „hating football“ and „loving comedy“.
But even the people that watched the match were interesting to observe. I never heard such a mean laughter, when Sweden scored against Germany. Every chance of Germany losing was welcomed with vicious cheers. Brutal disappointment after Germany’s winning goal in the 95th minute.
The next day, I stole another newspaper and on page one it commemorated the 40 year anniversary of that one football game, when Austria had beat Germany. A page one article about my country and I’ve never heard of it.
Next time when I will go to Vienna, I will make sure to pack even more tales of a clumsy German in Austria. And take photos. I didn’t take one photo, so I decorate this article with my most recent drawings.
* This is not college, so I’m quoting Wikipedia