Professor publishes German humor books

Professor Jill Twark’s most recent book on German humor was published earlier this year. -Erika Khalil | The East Carolinian

Jill Twark is not afraid to poke fun at Germany’s serious past

Germany’s serious history is well known around the world. Something that most people do not know is that Germany and its inhabitants have become more humorous over time. They even make fun of their serious past!

Jill Twark, an associate professor of German, has published two books on this very topic. In 2007, her first book, “Humor, Satire, and Identity: Eastern German Literature in the 1990s,” was published by Walter de Gruyter in Berlin Germany. Most recently, Cambridge Scholars Publishing in England published her second book “Strategies of Humor in Post-Unification German Literature, Film, and Other Media” in June.

David Smith, associate professor of German and program coordinator of ECU German, said that Twark “was well-published and extremely energetic and committed to her studies in humor and the studies of students in the German program.”

“I chose the topic because I find it to be interesting and relevant. Humor has become an important part of German culture today,” Twark stated. She explained that before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, East Germany and West Germany were vastly different places. She said, “The East Germans lived in a rigid society. There were fewer choices to be made in consumer goods and things like healthcare or choosing to attend a university.” So, when the wall came down and two completely different societies had to intermingle, it led to some conflicts and rivalries. Humor became a way to address this very new situation.

One of the first instances to address the cultural differences with humor was the creation of the character Gaby, a typical East German. She was featured on the cover of a German magazine called “The Titanic” in November 1989. Twark explained that Gaby was “a young woman with an unfashionable, short, curly haircut, wearing a jean jacket (for these reasons alone easily identifiable to all Germans as an East German.)” When asked what an American equivalent to Gaby would be, Twark answered, “Wayne from ‘Wayne’s World’: bad hair, bad clothes, awkward and a very 80’s pop-culture look.”

According to Twark, Germans were beginning to take life less seriously and people could relax more after reunification. She explained, “There was the 2nd World War and the Holocaust which were followed by the Cold War. During the Cold War, there was tension because of the living threat of Nuclear War.” She also said that by the late 20th and the 21st century there was less guilt about the crimes of the past by the new generations of Germans.

It is important to note that German humor is different from American humor. Twark said, “German humor is more intellectual and possesses greater depth than U.S. humor. There is an educational component to comedic films and books.” Satire is the humor mode of choice for the Germans, according to Twark, since it “combines social criticism with humor.” There are two articles featured in the book that involve “Hitler Humor,” which is relatively recent. This humor is featured in the 2007 film “Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler” by Dany Levi, and the 1968 play “Springtime for Hitler” by U.S. producer Mel Brooks. “Springtime for Hitler” was run in the U.S. in 1968,” said Twark, “but it wasn’t shown in Germany until 2009.” There are commonly political cartoons in newspapers and late night comedy shows, like the Harold Schmidt Show and the Stefan Raab Show, which are popular in Germany. These late night comedy shows attempt to mirror the shows of David Letterman and Jay Leno here in the U.S.

Twark is hoping to have more lectures about German humor, like the one she recently held on campus, around town in the near future.

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