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.
I’ve always had a fascination with England: their people, their humor, their language. But I never really encountered English people, other than the drunk NATO soldiers at shitty clubs in my German hometown Celle. The only time I approached an English person was when I was 14 and on a class trip to London. „Um, excuse me, can you tell me ze vay to ze topshop, please“, I bravely asked a woman in the street, nervously with my best school English and in front of my class mates. She grunted „äh, ich sprech’ auch deutsch!!!!!“. I was both humiliated and impressed that, in this busy street, I picked out the one German.
The last time I was in Britain was eight years ago at a summer school in Twickenham, in southwest London. My job was to take care of spoiled international kids. We would go on a hike around town and suddenly our three kids from Dubai went missing. Turned out later, they despise walking and got into a cab, without any notice, and drove back to the school. They also stopped at a Pizza Hut. I wish I had been a kid from Dubai.
I visited England a few times during my „cruise ship incident“ 2012-2014. (That is, for months I hosted Bingo onboard a German cruise ship with a character I developed just for the game: Bingo host „Bingrid“, a stickler for the rules, openly dismissive, and always annoyed with all guests. Believe it or not, I was regularly mentioned in the customer reviews under „what we liked about our trip“. Hosting Bingo with an alias also helped me not to go mad and jump off the railing. “It’s not really me who’s shouting out numbers at people every single night while floating on an ocean.”)
That being said, the ship stopped at rather alternative British tourist destinations like the industrial port of Southampton, and some harbor two miles outside of Dover – which was absurdly advertised as „London“ in the cruise’s brochure. That’s why these visits to Britain don’t count. It’s an insult to any country when three thousand cruise guests and a grumpy bingo host are out on parole for a few hours in a different country to take pictures and in thirty years find a photo and say „oh yeah, I’ve been there“.
Last week, I finally set foot on the island again and visited my friend Sam, a sound artist from South Korea, in Liverpool. Finally, I met real English people.
Here are my field notes, that I jotted down while walking:
Liverpool, June 12th 11.30 am
Everything does look English, I totally forgot. It’s like a parody of what I remembered Britain was like. I walked out of Sam’s home and within ten minutes I saw: a guy without a shirt, three woman that looked just like Katy Price, a dozen old people with long faces that looked like props from the old Mr. Bean series, a man in an electric wheel chair definitely going over the speed limit while dragging his overweight dog behind, three people that I apparently passed too closely so they reflexively said sorry. And of course kids in uniform. I followed them into the Liverpool cathedral. They had a children church service and all their gospels sounded like Mumford & Sons.
Liverpool, June 12th 4 pm
A book store had one shelf labeled „humor“. Does a German book store even have one humor book? I picked up a book called „Nomad“ by Alan Partridge. A comedy character portrayed by Steve Coogan. His kitsch cover just mesmerized me. A creepy bloke (a new English word that I learned and like) stood behind me and said „you should get that book hahaaaa“. I asked why. He shouts „This is everything that is wrong with this country“. Now I regret not having bought it.
Liverpool, June 12th 11pm
I went to a comedy club but didn’t perform. I need to analyze them first before I’m in the responsible position to make them laugh. You know, war preparation. There was a language problem, though. The people here speak scouse, the thick Liverpool accent, which to me is Dadaist art. (In a cafe a woman said, I think, „we have Pringles, Twix and Kitkat“ but all I understood was „eh ih huh twinkles pricks and quick quacks“). I laughed hysterically the entire show about my mishearings. It didn’t help that I sat next to the most drunk woman in the room, who was there with her three sons, she wanted to set me up with.That I understood.
I also understood the funny headliner’s English because he’s from Malawi. Daliso Chaponda asked the crowd „who of you grew up poor“. Everyone cheered. And then „who of you grew up rich“. So I clapped, because I thought „well I won’t be the only one, I clearly didn’t grow up super rich but definitely not poor either“. I was the only one who clapped and everyone laughed at me.Well there’s my first laugh! I had so much fun, I totally forgot I was there to do research. I realized how comedy is a fun, violent volleyball game. Saying something on stage, i.e. sending out energy and waiting for the reaction, for the energy to hit the back of the room and hit you back in the face before sending out the next words.
My friend Regina thought of a TV format: “Ingrid’s search for the global punchline”. I travel from country to country, from comedy club to comedy club, bar to bar. I observe which laughter unites us, which separates us. I take field notes of what people laugh about. Where do people draw a line? What do they find funny about the world, themselves, me? My next episode will be already next weekend, when I perform in Vienna here.
(Two of the photos here were actually taken in Manchester, just to be accurate.)
I once saw a wardrobe at a museum that could have been mine. It had a sign „coats, please no pants“. (Their emergency exit plan’s sign was „this is no artwork“ and their toilet paper labeled „for free“. So yes, a great museum right up my alley).
Personally, I don’t wear pants. I hate them. I only wear dresses. A flowing fabric, basically a fancy blanket, that I wrap around my slack body. Wear a dress and you’re good to go! Unless you’re actually wearing a blanket, dresses will always make you look fashionable. People mistake my laziness for style. With pants, you have to match a top and a bottom. Really, who has time for that? Dresses are cold? Always have tights in your purse, like a good robber.
I’m short and therefore I only wear dresses that go just above my knees. Anything substantially longer makes me look like a character from The Handmaid’s Tale. I once visited my friend Cindy in Uganda and didn’t check the dress code before (a tourist’s Russian Roulette). In Uganda, it’s perfectly okay to go topless. But it is not okay to show your knees. Yeah! Your filthy, revealing, overly sexual knees, you dirty thing you! Since I didn’t do my research, I got there with my short dresses. I had nothing appropriate to wear. I was a disgrace to her. And my tiny friend’s pants didn’t fit me. Ugh, see, pants again! I ended up wearing her curtains. I hid behind one, rolled myself in it and in a elegant pirouette I ripped it off the wall and on my body. Good to go! Still better than pants!
Pants suck because they have to fit well. If too long, you drag them through the mud. Or cuff them and tell people „they’re supposed to be like that“. (But deep down you know you look ridiculous. And promise yourself next time you don’t give up shopping jeans that fast).
A knee long dress is too long? Fine, they may cover my filthy knees then. A dress too big? Fine, I’ll use a belt and constrict myself until I look like a hot balloon dog. A dress to tight? I throw it in the closet and cry “I will loose weight at some point for sure“.
So, here, I have some shopping advice for you: Before getting ill fitted clothes, humble yourself and go to a mean but honest shop assistant. Advice and insult often live on the same street. A saleslady once told me „nah, don’t get that black dress. It emphasize your dark circles and wrinkles.“ Um, excuuuuse me? And also, get me all the white dresses you have. (I did almost punch her in the face though for saying „white is en vogue in Pari“.)
Here are some more jeans trends that I first posted on my instagram stories. They’re all inspired by my last unsuccessful shopping trip: