Culture

Is It Springtime for Hitler Jokes?

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If comedy equals tragedy plus time, have we hit the zone where Adolf Hitler is a now a total hoot? That's the question asked in a recent story in the excellent Canadian news mag Maclean's:

Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler, a new film by writer-director Dani Levy, has gotten lots of publicity as the first German movie to make fun of Hitler. The film shows Hitler (Helge Schneider) losing the war and losing his grip, suffering from impotence and insanity. His advisers hire a Jewish actor (Ulrich Mühe) to teach the Führer how to act like a competent dictator again. The actor gets his revenge on Hitler by making him dress in a jogging outfit and crawl around on the floor. Another scene is reminiscent of a gag in the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business: Hitler's barber makes a mistake while shaving him, leaving him with only half a moustache. Though the film has its dark and serious moments, it's more Duck Soup than Schindler's List.

The story does a good job of surveying comic jabs at Hitler over the years (going back even to pre-war mockery), Mel Brooks' longstanding Nazi fetish (somewhere, sometime, he said something like, "Any joke is 10 percent funnier with Nazis"), and tallies up the growing number of comedians who riff on history's most-rememberd one-nutted genocidal maniac. More, including information on the web site catsthatlooklikehitler.com, here.

Missing from the litany: any mention of the truly awful 1973 Mad satire "Gall in the Family Fare," where it turns out that Archie Bunkerhill's long-lost war buddy is in fact…Adolf Hitler. That issue of Mad included a flexi-vinyl record featuring an even worse audio version of the parody, which ends with "Dolf baby" getting offered a network sitcom (and a disclaimer that "this show was recorded before a laughtrack machine, which threw up").

It may be that Hitler was always the subject of humor (as well as serious treatment, obviously) up through the early '70s, when World War II became to be defined largely in relation to the Holocaust. Once that became the dominant theme of the war experience (as it did, in histories such as The War Against the Jews and in pop culture artifacts such as the miniseries Holocaust), the jokes didn't seem quite as funny, even as black humor. Hogan's Heroes was always in questionable taste, but after a certain point, it may have been beyond the comic pale (sorry).

In any case, are we actually in the post-Holocaust Hitler age? If so, is that good, bad, or indifferent? As the son and nephew of half-a-dozen WW2 combat vets, the idea that the Germans succeed with anything, much less a Hitler comedy, bugs me at some level. And yet it seems that WW2's centrality to Western history and culture (especially pop culture) is predictably fading as time marches on.

And at the risk of starting an entirely different conversation, why was Stalin more linked to laughter all along?

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  1. I have nothing to add, but I do have a question: Is it illegal in Germany to laugh during the movie? Or to deny the existence of laughter?

  2. “Springtime for Hitler” (the musical play within the movie The Producers) had a precursor. David Lindelof, whom I came to know in his later years, wrote the musical “Adolf” for an English class at Northwestern U. in 1962. And only got a B.

    David is survived by his son Damon, now best known as executive producer of Lost on TV.

  3. I have nothing intelligent to add here, so I’ll just point out that the first cat in the “Best Kitlers” section of catsthatlooklikehitler.com really does look like Hitler.

  4. From the article: “The very first [Hitler comedy] was Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator“.

    Actually, the Three Stooges’ You Nazty Spy predates Chaplin’s movie by nine months. The article also left out the sequal I’ll Never Heil Again.

  5. …are we actually in the post-Holocaust Hitler age?

    Not a chance. Teh joos are still ringing their hands over Pharaoh and Caesar.

  6. “Kids, it’s time for bed. Put your Hitlers away.”

  7. Those who are interested in the subject might be interested to know about the book Heil Hitler, Das Schwein is Tot!, a look at Nazi jokes told during the Nazi regime itself.

  8. Any movie titled “Truly Truest Truth” sounds desperately unfunny. But then, Germans were never renowned humorists even before the Austrian Corporal showed up.

    Perhaps a renewal of comedy about Hitler is underway, but in general I find that Westerners have become so thin-skinned that insensitive humor risks a huge cultural backlash. Just ask Michael Richards.

  9. Once that became the dominant theme of the war experience

    Wanna bet?

  10. ROFL yeah those cats definitely look
    like Hitler. I think that’s probably proof enough that Hitler is funny. Here is a hint, people. Genocide is wrong no matter who does it, even if the blame is spread over multiple generations and political parties. Hitler is convenient because he is one person, and killing him makes us feel like we killed the problem. This is simply not true.

    If you live on the American Continent, you live on top of the largest genocidal killing field in the history of western civilization. Nowhere has there ever been a more brutal slave trade. The genocide continues today on the Mexican border and in the prisons of the United States government.

  11. Hitler
    Has only got one ball
    Goering
    Has two but they’re quite small
    Himmler
    Has something simmler
    And Goebbels
    Has Noebbels
    At all

    I grew up singing that, taught by my father (a New York Jew). The lesson of Purim is that it’s better to ridicule your defeated foes than fear their memory. (I also know a number of truly foul holocaust jokes, which I tell whenever it wouldn’t get me smacked).

    I wish more people agreed with me and my dad.

  12. “Actually, the Three Stooges’ You Nazty Spy predates Chaplin’s movie by nine months. The article also left out the sequal I’ll Never Heil Again.”

    Also left out is the fact that You Nazty Spy is 10,000 times the film The Great Dictator is, and achieves this feat in a far shorter running time. It was reputedly Moe’s favorite short. Also, it contains Curly’s Goering-like character’s immortal Zen koanish response to Moe’s quasi-Hitler:

    M: “Why have we no lions?”

    C: “Because there’s no bones in ice cream.”

    The Great Dictator, by contrast, is utterly ruined by that inane, heavy-handed commierot speech at the end. BLEECH!

  13. Hey Macleans also left out the incredible Monty Python sketch about Mr. Hilter!

    http://lampshadetime.ytmnd.com/

  14. You can always tell crypto-neo-Nazis by their insistance that Israel is just as bad as Nazi Germany was and by their refusal to laugh at Hitler jokes.

  15. One of the funniest anti-Nazi comedies, by the way, is a 1940s film called “To Be or Not to Be” with Jack Benny. It was remade by Mel Brooks.

  16. Yeah, Sid, but To Be Or Not To Be was in the article.

    God almighty, why did Mel Brooks try to remake that film? He had NO shot.

  17. If you live on the American Continent, you live on top of the largest genocidal killing field in the history of western civilization. Nowhere has there ever been a more brutal slave trade. The genocide continues today on the Mexican border and in the prisons of the United States government.

    You, sir, have a tremendous talent for hyperbole.

  18. henry,
    Who/what is Zen koanish?

  19. I hope I’m remembering this correctly.

    The first line from Mel Brook’s acceptance speech for the Tony award for The Producers:

    I’d like to thank Hitler for being such a funny guy.

  20. You, sir, have a tremendous talent for hyperbole.

    And you, sir, have a tremendous talent for understatment.

  21. Also left out is the fact that You Nazty Spy is 10,000 times the film The Great Dictator is, and achieves this feat in a far shorter running time.

    Absolutely.

    My two favorite jokes in it are of the same theme: When the Stooges first appear, they say “Shalom Aleichem” and at one point when Moe is about to attack Curly, Curly shouts “Gevalt!”

  22. As Henry already knows, You Nazty Spy is one of my favorite cinematic moments of all time. One of the funniest TV moments of all time was the Fawltey Towers episode where Fawltey, after getting a nasty concussion, completely trashes some German guests. His goosestepping around in the dining room (akin to minsitry of silly walks) is outrageous.

  23. Basil Fawlty:

    “Tresspassers will be tied up with piano wire!”

  24. “[…]but in general I find that Westerners have become so thin-skinned that insensitive humor risks a huge cultural backlash. Just ask Michael Richards.”

    Wow, I must be thin-skinned, because I didn’t know screaming “He’s a nigger!” repeatedly was considered “insensitive humor.” It seemed to me like the work of an inexperienced hack comic who can’t do crowd work to save his life and suffered a complete meltdown.

    But then again, 50 years ago I’d probably be hanging upside down with a fork up my ass.

  25. Then there was Lenny Bruce’s gut-bustingly funny characterization of Gohering as a transvestite…

  26. I don’t like the sound of these ‘ere “boncentration bamps.”

  27. “You, sir, have a tremendous talent for hyperbole.”

    “And you, sir, have a tremendous talent for understatment.”

    So what he should have said was, “You really really have a HUGELY tremendous talent for hyperbole — the biggest talent on earth!”

  28. Who/what is Zen koanish?

    Zen Koanish is the Jewish Festival of One Hand Clapping.

  29. One Hand Clapping

    You meet a better class of people that way.

  30. If you live on the American Continent, you live on top of the largest genocidal killing field in the history of western civilization. Nowhere has there ever been a more brutal slave trade.

    Yeah, what the Arabs did to the black Africans (and are still doing in the Sudan) was just fun and games.

  31. If you live on the American Continent, you live on top of the largest genocidal killing field in the history of western civilization. Nowhere has there ever been a more brutal slave trade.

    troll. or just distressingly ignorant of history. probably the former.

  32. Well, we are a brutal species.

  33. As the son and nephew of half-a-dozen WW2 combat vets, the idea that the Germans succeed with anything, much less a Hitler comedy, bugs me at some level.

    Well, you must hate it when anyone succeeds, since we’re all descended from brutal killers. (Maybe I feel differently because my grandfathers fought in the pacific. Nope! I like the Japanese, and wish them success. One of my grandfathers was at Iwo Jima and has never really fully recovered from the experience. Even he doesn’t hate the Japanese or wish them ill.) After 62 years, I think it’s time to put WWII behind us.

  34. Well, you must hate it when anyone succeeds, since we’re all descended from brutal killers.

    In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson makes the point that, given the struggle for existence, any organism that is alive is, by definition, the descendant of umpteen generations of badasses.

  35. I’m with Henry. Omitting “Hitler in England” was a major oversight.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_D7WtOHZd0

  36. troll. or just distressingly ignorant of history.

    If p, then q.

    If and only if q, then p.

    I think.

  37. I thought it was what the Indians did to the cave men.

  38. “In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson makes the point that, given the struggle for existence, any organism that is alive is, by definition, the descendant of umpteen generations of badasses.”

    I’ve been meaning to read that book. Now I have one more reason. (I’ll add that not all were badasses in the “traditional” sense; some were great escape artists and extremely prolific breeders.)

    I thought it was what the Indians did to the cave men.

    Funny. Anyone who thinks that the Indians didn’t do their share of killing before and after Columbus is denying the humanity of the Indians.

  39. (and a disclaimer that “this show was recorded before a laughtrack machine, which threw up”).

    Maybe it’s just that enough time has passed since 1973, but I thought that was pretty damn funny.

  40. No, it’s pretty much a given that when you drag out the “our jokes are so lame” gag, your jokes are that lame.

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