You mention that in the early days of the war, joke tellers were usually got off with a warning, but later on the punishments became more severe and the jokes became a lot darker.
After [the Battle of] Stalingrad, Germany radicalized in the way it lead the war, and it radicalized the interior, so anyone who was critical of the system was in much greater danger then. If you were someone who was outspoken and they wanted to get rid of you and thought you were undermining public moral, the excuse could be that you were caught telling a joke.
What’s your favorite joke from this period?
Here’s an amazing Jewish joke which may have come up in the late ’30s: “Levy and Hirsh bump into one another in the wilderness of Sudan. Each of them is carrying a heavy rifle and leading a column of bearers. ‘How’s it going,’ asks one. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I’ve got an ivory-carving shop in Alexandria, and to keep costs down, I shoot the elephants myself. And you?’ ‘Much the same. I’ve got a crocodile leather business in Port Said and am here hunting for crocs.’ And what’s the story with our friend Simon?’ ‘Oh, he’s a real adventurer. He stayed in Berlin.'”
Herzog will be talking to Ron Rosenbaum, a cultural critic at Slate, at 7pm on May 9th at BookCourt in Brooklyn. If you can’t make it, then check out his documentary of Dead Funny on the BBC.
Photo credit for the monkey: Henning Brümmer from We Have Vays of Making You Laugh.