Germans concede that in humour they need professional help

Germans concede that in humour they need professional help

May 24th 2014 | BERLIN | From the print edition

EVA ULLMANN took her master’s degree in 2002 on the part that humour has to play in psychotherapy, and became hooked on the subject. In 2005 she founded the German Institute for Humour in Leipzig. It is dedicated to “the combination of seriousness and humour”. She offers lectures, seminars and personal coaching to managers, from small firms to such corporate giants as Deutsche Bank and Telekom. Her latest project is to help train medical students and doctors.

There is nothing peculiarly German about humour training. It was John Morreall, an American, who showed that humour is a market segment in the ever-expanding American genre of self-help. In the past two decades, humour has gone global. An International Humour Congress was held in Amsterdam in 2000. And yet Germans know that the rest of the world considers them to be at a particular disadvantage.

The issue is not comedy, of which Germany has plenty. The late Vicco von Bülow, alias Loriot, delighted the elite with his mockery of German pretension and stiffness. Rhenish, Swabian and other regional flavours thrive—Gerhard Polt, a Bavarian curmudgeon, now 72, is a Shakespeare among them. There is lowbrow talent too, including Otto Waalkes, a Frisian buffoon. Most of this, however, is as foreigners always suspected: more embarrassing than funny.

Germans can often be observed laughing, uproariously. And they try hard. “They cannot produce good humour, but they can consume it,” says James Parsons, an Englishman teaching business English in Leipzig. He once rented a theatre and got students, including Mrs Ullmann, to act out Monty Python skits, which they did with enthusiasm. The trouble, he says, is that whereas the English wait deadpan for the penny to drop, Germans invariably explain their punchline.

At a deeper level, the problem has nothing do with jokes. What is missing is the trifecta of irony, overstatement and understatement in workaday conversations. Expats in Germany share soul-crushing stories of attempting a non-literal turn of phrase, to evoke a horrified expression in their German interlocutors and a detailed explanation of the literal meaning, followed by a retreat into awkward politeness.

Irony is not on the curriculum in Mrs Ullmann’s classes. Instead she focuses mostly on the basics of humorous spontaneity and surprise. Demand is strong, she says. It is a typical German answer to a shortcoming: work harder at it.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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