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Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  225 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
In Nazi Germany, telling jokes about Hitler could get you killed.

Is it permissible to laugh at Hitler? This is a question that is often debated in Germany today, where, in light of the dimension of the horrors committed in the name of its citizens, many people have difficulty taking a satiric look at the Third Reich. And whenever some do, accusations arise that they are d
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Melville House (first published 2006)
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Nandakishore Varma
I came across this book serendipitously. A few months back, there was a debate raging on GR (even now going on with reduced decibel levels) that whether anyone should be allowed to satirise Hitler. This was triggered by the publication of Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes. One GR member, without even reading the book, effectively cursed all the people who would read this book and post a positive review about it.

I was intrigued. Being a person who finds humour in everything, I was surprised that s
I wasn't sure what to expect out of this book, but I was impressed by it. The thesis is that you can prove just by the jokes floating around Nazi Germany that the German people knew perfectly well what that terrible things were going on. Maybe they didn't know exactly what was happening, but they had a pretty good idea. There are also mini-biographies of German comedians (which sounds like an oxymoron, I know) and filmmakers, and how they were affected by the Third Reich and censorship. I learne ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, humor, germany, wwii
Herzog, son of Werner, posits that ample humor during the Third Reich was less an indication of quiet resistance than a way to let off steam. He does a nice job of contextualizing the jokes without too much extra info. No jokes are known of Hitler’s suicide. After the war, West Germans did not care to reflect and those on the East were absolved from dealing as fascism was a Western affliction. Although everyone in the West accepted The Great Dictator and The Producers (we tried showing this to o ...more
Oct 27, 2014 Anna rated it liked it
There is a building at Auschwitz, one of the disarmingly bourgeois brick two storey buildings that in any other context might be from a thirties suburban development and which was wild with jonquils on the verges when I visited in glorious Spring, that is labelled "Physical Evidence of the Holocaust."

Rather carefully worded.

This book documents a slippery thing - what was humour under the Reich like? Who told the jokes and what were they like? Did people die because of them?

I was drawn to this
Apr 24, 2011 g026r rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
A while back I read a book by Ben Lewis titled Hammer & Tickle , subtitled either "A History of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes" or "A Cultural History of Communism" depending on edition, which was a disappointment — a magazine article stretched out to book length. Now, the good news is that Herzog's work (original German title: Heil Hitler, das Schwein ist tot!) is a better book than Lewis's. The bad news is that that's damning with faint praise, as it's still not that great of a bo ...more
Feb 07, 2017 Kusaimamekirai rated it really liked it
"Hitler and Goring are standing atop the Berlin Radio Tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on Berliners faces. Goring says 'why don't you jump'?"

When we reflect on Germany in World War II, our thoughts rarely turn first to humor. And yet the author argues, with significant documentation and examples, that political humor of all kinds was abundant before, during, and after the Reich. In the early to mid 30's, the Nazis in fact turned a semi-blind eye to it and the cabarets
Jul 27, 2011 fleegan rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This very short book covered more ground than I thought it would. The author starts in 1933 and ends with Mel Brooks’ The Producers and Roberto Benigni’s Life if Beautiful. The book itself reads like an interesting textbook. I’m not going to blame this on the fact that the book is translated because that is not the problem. The problem is the subject matter, and I’m not talking about the history of the Third Reich either. I’m talking about jokes.

Political humor, at it’s very best, is only funny
Jul 23, 2013 Richard rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I decided to check this book out after reading Herzog's A Short History of Nuclear Folly and finding it enjoyable. I also have an interest in World War II history and enjoy learning about some of the behind the scenes sort of things occasionally as opposed to just troop movements and big battles.

As a whole, Dead Funny was okay. While I enjoyed the information I was reading and learning about the book itself seemed haphazardly put together and chapters felt only loosely related to each other at t
Il libro è abbastanza mediocre, niente di speciale. Ma il voto è così basso a causa della PESSIMA traduzione italiana: si parla di battute, barzellette, canzoni, giochi di parole IN LINGUA TEDESCA... La traduttrice, invece di riportare il testo in lingua originale e parafrasarlo, magari in nota, come sarebbe logico, in modo che si possano apprezzare, sia pure a un livello minimo, riscrive tutto di sana pianta IN ITALIANO, si inventa rime e significati di acronimi, fa ridicoli adattamenti a canzo ...more
Jun 30, 2012 Di rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book, translated from the German.The author analyses jokes told about the Nazis while they were on the rise in Germany in the 1920s and 30s, then during the time they were in power, and also after they were finally defeated.

The types of jokes told can say a lot about peoples' reactions to the Nazis, just as the way the Nazis reacted to jokes tell us a lot about their sensitivities to criticism; basically they didn't like being criticised at all and it took a lot of courage to
Darren Gore
Aug 05, 2011 Darren Gore rated it it was amazing
Many Germans laughed and joked about Hitler and the Nazis before and after their rise and fall, for the same reasons that people throughout history have done - to criticise or support the powers-that-be; to let off steam; and (especially as life under the Nazis got worse and worse) to help get themselves through dark days.

Dead Funny is a gripping, moving and thought-provoking history of laughs about the Nazis. In a highly-readable style, Herzog details the history of the humour up to the controv
May 05, 2013 Leo rated it really liked it
A short read, but nevertheless an interesting and illuminating look at an infamous period of history through the lens of political jokes.
Joe Faust
Aug 19, 2011 Joe Faust rated it really liked it
Fascinating account of humor, dark and otherwise, and its part in Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler.
Christopher Blosser
Mar 11, 2017 Christopher Blosser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics
"Dead Funny" presents a curious and fascinating archive of humor — jokes, songs, turns of phrase — against the backdrop of the fall of the Weimar republic and the rise (and eventual fall) of the Third Reich: humor as told by ordinary German citizens uneasy about the Nazi seizure of power; as told by the Nazis themselves about their victims; as told by the rest of the world; as told by German and Jewish actors, artists, comedians and cabaret performers who were punished and sometimes killed in th ...more
Feb 08, 2017 Themistocles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-ii, history
I have to say I got more than I bargained for by reading this book. Here I was expecting a collection of jokes with perhaps some sort of analysis and connective tissue, but instead Herzog goes two steps farther and actually does a partial sociological analysis based on the jokes themselves.

As a result there are relatively few jokes in the book, but Herzog appears (and I say "appears" because without having an extensive knowledge on the subject it's impossible to judge if his judgment is balanced
Nathan Albright
Feb 07, 2016 Nathan Albright rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge
This is a book that is a rewarding read for those who take humor seriously [1]. What this book provides that is different from any of the many books I have read about World War II is the way that it uses the humor of Hitler's Germany before and during World War II as an entrance into critiquing the anti-Semitism and essentially complicit nature of Germany with Hitler's regime. This is a book about humor that comes with a sting, in that it shows the various responses of humor representing a crass ...more
Jun 11, 2013 Chelsea rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany purports to be about the history of jokes about Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust within the bounds of Germany before and during WWII. And indeed, it does start off this way, expounding on the history of political jokes and how they're used to relieve stress, and were actually good for Hitler's government. However, after that, it rapidly falls apart into a disorganized jumble that can't even decide which continent it wants to focus on. While subject ...more
Dec 31, 2016 Larry rated it it was ok
A fascinating topic, disappointingly done.

Let's get one thing out of the way: the jokes included in the text, to contemporary readers, aren't funny. Nor did I expect them to be. With such humor, basically you had to be there. Nothing to do with the translation; they aren't funny in the original German, either, as the author reminds you over and over and over and over again. He could have said it once: the humor examples he found are, in his terms, "lame". Thus it becomes tiresome when he precede
Nov 05, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book surprised me by how compelling it was.

Herzog covers the uses of humor during the Nazi era. He looks at jokes people (Germans and foreigners) told about the Nazis, jokes the Nazis used themselves, and how the Nazi government responded.

Several things impressed me about the book. Herzog used the jokes to show how things changed in Nazi Germany, from the establishment of the regime (when the jokes tended to be about local functionaries as social climbers) and then on into the war (when the
Jul 07, 2011 Emily rated it liked it
Recommended to Emily by: My mother
Shelves: 2011
I wasn't able to get a German-language ebook of this brief work on humor during the Third Reich, but even in English, I could perceive the author's German viewpoint. He emphatically distances himself the books of "whispered jokes" that were published immediately after the war as pseudo-evidence of German innocence. Instead, he asserts that joking around can't be considered serious political speech or an actual form of resistance. (I think Jon Stewart's been making this point for a few years now. ...more
Christine Frank
Jul 25, 2011 Christine Frank rated it really liked it
I would actually rate this a 3.8 -- reads like a thesis (not necessarily a bad thing) and covers a lot of ground, starting earlier than we might have thought, then skipping the postwar period until briefly describing approximately one movie each (and no jokes) in the 60s, 90s, and 00s.

Penalties for speaking (much less laughing) were severe and well known, leading one to believe that there was no one who didn't know what was going on. The author nicely dispenses with that excuse, while obliquely
Margaret Sankey
Oct 13, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the son of filmmkaer Werner Herzog, a companion volume to the documentary made for the BBC on humor in Hitler's Germany. I've been interested in jokes as source material since reading a study of subversive jokes in Soviet Russia and this delivers a nuanced view--while this could be a defiant means of subverting the Nazi state (and a crime for which troublesome people were executed if their jokes touched on too sensitive subjects or were part of overall belligerence) or using grim humor to s ...more
Jennifer Kunz
Mar 06, 2013 Jennifer Kunz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book, I read it in only two sittings. I've never even thought of humor in relation to the tragedy of World War II, so it was a subject new to me. Herzog deals with it succinctly and tastefully, and very knowledgeably! The translator, Jefferson Chase, did a great job as well - I couldn't tell it wasn't originally in English. Interestingly, I just a month ago read a book about translation - 'Is That a Fish In Your Ear?:Translation And The Meaning Of Everything' by David Bell ...more
Dec 12, 2012 Catalina rated it liked it
Enjoyable almost as a fiction book. An abundance of information about jokes, satire, entertainment industry under Hitler and National Socialist Party. Everything comes to confirm, once more, Germans were aware, complacent or even supportive of Hitler and his men, his polity and actions. The antisemitism is a deep rooted feeling and more present than ever, especially in the "old, good" Europe, so not at all something exclusive to Hitler's time!
Jul 19, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it
There are occasional inaccuracies in the broader history that Herzog uses to contextualize the jokes, but I nonetheless think that he succeeded in demonstrating what one can learn about humor in Nazi Germany. Namely that it wasn't a monolithic society, that people were politically and socially aware. I also appreciated that he debunked some myths about the danger to joke-tellers in Nazi Germany while also describing how some of the danger we assume applied to all was all too real for some.
Jan 08, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
An interesting layer of history to add to the day-to-day life of Germany leading up to and during WWII. Sometimes the everyday functioning of life gets lost in the horrors and battlefield history. The humor that was maintained as well as the history of what happened both to the comedians, joke tellers is interesting. The combination of humor both as a way to survive, ignore, or ridicule what was happening in Germany is also fascinating.
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
PERHAPS IN RESPONSE to the events of September 11, and the subsequent decade of terror attacks and the media spectacles made out of them, we seem desperate now to laugh. Mainstream comedy films often demolish box office records while movies that delve into the more tenebrous realities of existence disappear quickly. Laughter is the more lucrative business. Read more...
Jul 08, 2011 Blossom rated it it was ok
Informative. It was different than what I expected (examples of humor during this time). It went into the mindset of the individuals that portrayed different types of humor under Hitler's rule. Also, the book described the outcome of some people who made jokes about political figures. It isn't a nice, sweet book but Hitler wasn't 'nice' either. This book doesn't sugar-coat how people felt and the effects of their speaking out through humor.
Jan 10, 2013 Ollie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a culture that is often criticized as humorloess, Herzog debuncs this stereotype with a brief summary of not just the developments in Germany during WWII, but also the jokes that were told during that period and how people got away with them (and often didn't). All that can be said is that the idea of humor as the best medicine holds upeven under the most difficult circumstances.
Jan 12, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it
Just finished this one. Really interesting topic, new way to explore a topic about which I've already read quite a bit. Liked it, though it was quite the fast spin through virtually all of the Nazi time period.
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“Most of Hitler's henchmen were not demons. They were overly obedient petty bourgeois who had mutated into murderers.” 3 likes
“The historian Meike Wöhlert has analyzed and compared the judgments rendered by courts responsible for malicious acts of treason in five cities. Although her research only deals with registered cases and not unofficial ones, the results suggest that the telling of political jokes was a mass phenomenon beyond state control. In 61 percent of official cases, joke-tellers were let off with a warning, alcohol consumption often being cited as an extenuating circumstance. (People who had had one too many in bars were considered only partially responsible for their actions, and because most of the popular jokes that made it to court had been told in bars, the verdicts were accordingly lenient.)” 0 likes
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