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5-Step Guide to Being German
Published on Tuesday, 10 May 2011

3.5 stars

Laughing Horse @ The Hobgoblin (venue website)
9-11, 16, 18 May, 7:45pm-8:35pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Suitable for age 18+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.

In defiance of old stereotypes, I don't have a problem with Germans.  Some of my best friends are German.  I'm even the sort of person who goes on holiday to Germany, so I was naturally keen to catch Paco Erhard's 5-Step Guide to Being German (or I can make you German in just 5 easy steps, depending on whether you believe the flyers or the programme).

The opening night of Erhard's show was a packed, near sell-out performance, so I'm clearly not the only one to feel that way.  While a lot of the crowd may have been there just to say they've seen a German comedian (of all the things!), there was an interesting dynamic in the front row, where a group of bright young tourists had come to see a show about their homeland.  By Erhard's own admission, he has not lived in Germany for a long time (he seems to have been everywhere else, though – Spain, Italy, the US, and now London), and my sense is that the country he describes has moved on a little from the material he covered.

That said, there’s still a great deal of the national stereotype which retains its kernel of truth, and he was at his best talking about the German love of order.  As one whose knowledge of the language extends to "two beers please" (it was French we did at school), I was entertained to learn that the German equivalent of "okay" – the response, for instance, when someone asks you how you are – is in Ordnung, or "in order".  He also introduced us to a wonderful compound word, Exportweltmeister, describing a world championship in which the Germans claim first place and nobody else even knows they are competing.  Poking fun at the famed Teutonic efficiency also enables pointed comparisons to an inefficient and disorderly Britain, including an inspired explanation of why we're all so good at queuing over here.

The show was flattest when covering the elephant in the room, the Second World War.  There is a  certain nervous excitement at the thought of a German comic cracking jokes about the Nazis, but I like to think – I hope – that we don't all live in the sort of Britain which The Sun's jingoistic "Don't Mention the Score" Fritz-bashing seeks to assert.  But maybe we still do, because much of Erhard's material in this middle section was really a reaction to British attitudes, rather than an expression of German ones.  And his concluding thesis is compelling – that if we move past the German bogeyman, and accept that Germany is a modern, responsible nation, then we also have to move past Our Finest Hour.  And then we realise that there is no British cultural touchstone to take its place; we're the ones stuck in the past, while the world moves on around us.

This has all got more serious than I imagined it would when I started writing, so don't leave with the impression that the show is some kind of worthy lecture.  Erhard is an energetic and dynamic presence, who despite his own search for order, is prone to entertaining diversions some way off-piste.  His guide takes in topics as diverse as the reign of Frederick William I and the precision engineering of motor vehicles, so there’s plenty of room to mix things up.  And that's sort-of the point; he can't actually make you German, but he can make you laugh hard, look at yourself, and accept that there is such a thing as a German comedian.

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