Adelaide Fringe 2013

5-Step Guide to Being German

0 Comments 11 March 2013

Paco Erhard

‘I can make you German.’ So declares the promotional poster for Paco Erhard’s award-winning stand-up show, 5-Step Guide to Being German. The comic has returned to Adelaide following a stint at last year’s Fringe Festival with the same act and he doesn’t appear to have lost any of his original popularity.

As far as being German goes, the title of the show promises five steps, though we soon discover that this is a publicity-based lie. According to Erhard, it isn’t that simple; in reality it’s closer to eighteen steps (apparently five only makes you Austrian).  But Erhard himself doesn’t exactly embody what many may perceive to be a ‘typical’ German. He lives and works in London, resulting in what he describes as his inimitable Irish-British-South African accent. Even his somewhat frenetic demeanour is in stark contrast to the no-nonsense manner of your average German. But while this show is very much devoted to poking fun at cultural quirks, it also seeks to break down these stereotypes and offer insights into the modern-day German psyche.

Erhard begins the evening with an anecdote on a recent experience in which, to his own disbelief, he attempted to dilute his ‘German-ness’ by claiming to be half-Spanish. This leads into the dominant theme of the next 50 minutes; namely the feelings of guilt and paranoia that come along with being German, largely owing to the country’s murky past. Unsurprisingly, his punch lines are riddled with political incorrectness; from Hitler to The Holocaust, no topic emerges untouched. But if any comedian can successfully tackle such weighty matters with good humour, it’s Erhard. He even quips that the only reason so many German school children are good at maths and science is because they can’t bear to sit through history lessons. He argues that German nationalism as a concept has become more or less redundant; after all, the last two times they tried it, it didn’t work out so well. The only time it proudly reveals itself is during football matches, and even then waving the flag for a little too long following a goal is deemed wholly inappropriate.

Erhard allocates much of his material to explaining why Germans are they way they are. Aided by some quaint homemade maps and diagrams, he treats the audience to a short history lesson on Germany’s uniquely turbulent past. Evidently, it is this profound fear of disorder that has resulted in the archetypically efficient, disciplined German that we are familiar with today. This well-organised disposition has its downsides however; in one of the funniest moments of the night, Erhard presents a scenario in which a German travelling at over 200km/h on the Autobahn will consciously merge into a busy lane – resulting in certain death – rather than cross ‘The Line’ that prevents them from continuing any further, marked out in indelible paint. The German driver is the only person in the world for whom this is a dilemma, he dryly points out. Germany also now has another burden to contend with; that is being one of the most economically prudent countries in the European Union. As Erhard asserts; “Being German is not something you like. It’s something you work on. For the greater good of Greece.”

Because he is based in the UK, much of Erhard’s material examines Anglo-German relations. Within the first five minutes of the show, he finds his ‘token Brit’ in the room, who cops the brunt of many of his don’t-mention-the-war jokes. While most of these aren’t lost on the audience, who can identify relatively well with British culture anyway, it would have been nice to see Erhard adapt his routine to better suit Australian spectators. He manages to take a few jabs at our happy-go-lucky nature early on, but it’s easy to recognise his unfamiliarity with this country. Either way, it’s a minor criticism at most and doesn’t detract from the astuteness of Erhard’s observational humour.

A show like this probably caters best to those already familiar with German culture, but that shouldn’t put off others looking to gain a unique insight into what makes a German tick. Erhard is a wonderfully charismatic performer and he presents an accurate analysis of his home country. You will leave the show with a new found feeling of endearment towards a state that was once the basket case of Europe, but is now managing its past with an air of dignity and good humour. Fittingly, Erhard wraps up the evening on a cheekily optimistic note: ‘Since 1990, for the first time we are finally one unified democratic country, surrounded by friends. And Holland.’

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