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Remembering the celebrated satirist 'who taught Germans how to laugh'

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Remembering the celebrated satirist 'who taught Germans how to laugh'
Loriot found humour in the absurdity of everyday life. Photo: DPA
10:29 CEST+02:00
In a country that was voted in 2011 the least funny in the world, being crowned Germany’s King of Comedy isn’t quite so impressive. But since his death in the same year, no German comedian has come close to dethroning the hilarious satirist and national treasure Loriot.

Loriot died seven years ago on Wednesday. The Local looks back at some of his most memorable skits to understand what made the comedian Germany’s greatest.

Distinguishing himself as an razor-sharp satirist, Loriot perfectly captured Germans’ idiosyncrasies and penchant for order and formality. His keen observations penetrate German language and behaviour, not only teaching Germans "how to laugh,” as one of his obituaries read, but also how to laugh at themselves.  

Born Victor Christoph-Carl von Bülow in 1923, Loriot had the name of a 19th Century German count and the gentlemanly exterior and linguistic dexterity to go with it.

He first published cartoons, but gained his nickname and national fanbase as a writer and lead actor on the television series “Loriot,” where reclining on a Biedermeier sofa he presented his sketches and characters.

This series led to his hit comedy films Ödipussi, a pun on the Oedipus complex, as well as Pappa ante portas.

Loriot’s comedy revolves around miscommunications or “crumbled communication,” as he put it. Something misfires or becomes awkward, and the characters resort to linguistic formality in their attempt to find order within the spiraling disorder.

The Noodle

One of his best-known and funniest skits is, of course, the one about the noodles. In a restaurant, a gentleman attempts to confess his love to his girlfriend, Hildegard, unaware that he has directed her attention elsewhere.  

The romantic nature of this marriage proposal is undercut by its unnecessary formality. The man professes his love while addressing Hildegard with the formal you 'Sie.' The overall effect is cringe-worthy and hilarious for Hildegard and the audience. The wide-eyed expression of the talented actress and Loriot’s life-long partner in crime – Evelyn Hamann – makes it even funnier.

Naked in the Bathtub

In another episode, the audience meets two stout, middle-aged, nude men sharing a bathtub in a hotel. It seems that Dr. Klöbner has mistakenly entered Mr Müller-Lüdenscheidt’s private bathroom but refuses to leave — despite Mr Müller-Lüdenscheidt’s polite requests — until they settle a debate about the precise definition of bathing.

Once again there is a hilarious mismatch of language and behaviour. The bureaucratic formality of their language sharply contrasts to their physical intimacy. They might be fully exposed to each other, but they continue to address each other by their surnames.   

By mocking the ridiculousness of German social conventions, Loriot shows that Germans’ desperate yearning for complete order inevitably leads them to naked chaos.  

A Hard Egg

One final example of Loriot’s comedic genius is the cartoon about the egg. This skit like the other two is based on a scenario from everyday life. Sitting at the breakfast table, a married couple vent their frustrations by arguing over a boiled egg.

Much of Loriot’s humor plays on the tension between the genders, and especially between husband and wife. Famously, he said, “divorce is the correction of a tragic error.”

In this sketch, the wife’s insistence on the softness of the boiled egg takes an unexpected and humorous turn when her husband questions her “gut feeling.” They might be arguing about a trivial matter, but the miscommunication uncovers a repressed resentment.

Loriot’s legacy continues to live on in the German comedy world and his skits and films still play an important role in the country’s cultural consciousness, having inspired a new generation of German comedians like Stefan Lukschy, Bastian Pastewka, and Ralf Hausmann, the creator of the German adaption of The Office, known as Stromberg.

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