If anyone can explain Bavarian humour, it's Claudia Pichler: The cabaret artist is considered an “expert on Bavarian“. A conversation about Bavarian humour, the Bavarian way of life and the language, translated into standard German.
If you meet Claudia Pichler for the first time, you might underestimate her: Instead of a limelight fanatic, there sits a woman who prefers gentler tones – and the next moment, she explains how to “give someone an 'Arschknödel'“ (kick someone's behind). Born in Munich in 1985, she has delved into Bavarian humour like no other and researched the basics in her doctoral thesis on cabaret artist Gerhard Polt. Today, Pichler herself takes to the stage as a cabaret artist and, in her own words, is always thrilled when she comes across an (almost) forgotten Bavarian expression. This was one of the reasons why she received the Bavarian Dialect Award (for Upper Bavaria) in 2023.
Ms Pichler, you are considered an “expert in Bavarian“ – also due to your appearances on the programme “Grünwald Freitagscomedy“ on the Bavarian television. How do you like this role?
It's like it's made for me. For the programme I take up typical Bavarian topics that fascinate me personally and spin them further. And I'm amazed at how many people take it seriously and can't distinguish between what's true and what I've made up.
Well, sometimes you can indeed figure it out. In one piece, you portray “Raffa” (scuffling, editor's note) as a dying sport where passers-by in the Englischer Garten (park) sometimes catch a slap in their neck for training purposes ...
Of course, this part is nonsense. But there actually used to be more scuffling in Bavaria in the old times, and this piece stems from the technical terms I found in this context, such as “einen Arschknödel verpassen“ (kicking someone's buttocks with the knee). On the Internet, someone commented on this bit as follows: “That's a glorification of violence!” Then you realise that in the realm of humour there are always broadcasters and audiences. And how the audience perceives your jokes is beyond your control.
In regions far from Bavaria, the ‘Bavarian’ has an exotic appeal.
Before you went on stage, you studied one of the great Bavarian cabaret artists in your German studies. The title of your dissertation: “Foreignness in Gerhalt Polt”. That does not sound funny at all.
No, not at all! It is, after all, a scientific thesis. But what fascinated me was the aspect of otherness: Why is Polt so well-received? It's also because he imitates certain character types on stage so skilfully. You get the feeling that you know them: They consistently distance themselves from those who think differently, those who believe in other things, foreigners – and in the process unintentionally reveal a lot about themselves and their fears.
Is this type of humour also appreciated outside Bavaria? In a local pub in Berlin, for example?
Yes, I think so, but in a different way. In regions far from Bavaria, the ‘Bavarian’ has an exotic appeal. People are amused by the sound itself. The Bavarian self-perception is at times smiled at from the outside.
The muscle-man phenomenon.
Yes, and if you look at some political speeches from Bavaria, it is rightly smiled at. Or it is not understood in the first place.
Not losing your sense of humour, even when you can't change the circumstances, that's a genuine Bavarian trait.
Is there a distinctively Bavarian sense of humour? Or does Polt embody it?
I wish I knew! Bavaria traditionally embraces a baroque way of life and Catholicism. As devout as people used to be, humour always found its place in the Catholic faith. Besides, Bavarian wit requires a touch of cunning. Humour also helps to cope with tragic situations, it is a form of self-defence, so to speak. Not losing your sense of humour, even when you can't change the circumstances, that's a genuine Bavarian trait.
To what extent does language play a role in this kind of joke? Sometimes you can express things in Bavarian dialect that you wouldn't dare to say in standard German – and if you did, people would probably get it wrong.
In Bavarian, you often phrase things in the subjunctive or allude to them. It doesn't seem so absolute, and people are more forgiving. For me, Bavarian also offers more facets than German, you can articulate things more beautifully. In the past, people even put more effort into insults. If you wished someone to “dasaufen in the Odelsgruben“ (drown in the cesspit), you made this up specifically for that person.
You grew up bilingually: Bavarian and German.
For a long time, it was not common to speak dialect, it was considered stupid. At school, I could switch over effortlessly and converse in pure standard German. However, I firmly believe that dialect is an enrichment. A poem, for example, flows much more smoothly in dialect; it's closer to everything that is emotion. In Bavarian, you can express in just a few words what would take a convoluted sentence in German.
“Griaß di” makes my heart swell. It's a much friendlier and more personal form of address than anything I would say in standard German.
As a dialect speaker, you are often asked about your favourite word. What's yours?
Well, it would be difficult for me to choose. As banal as it may sound: “Griaß di“ (Hello) is my favourite greeting. There are people who want to speak Bavarian and only manage to say “Servus“. But “Griaß di” makes my heart swell. It's a much friendlier and more personal form of address than anything I would say in standard German. Or words like “Klapperl” (sandals) just sound so nice.
There are also words for which it's difficult to find equivalents in standard German, like “Baz”. I wouldn't be able to translate a dog that “hops into the Baz” as “jumps into the mud”. It simply wouldn't be the same.
No, because “Baz” includes both a sound and a feeling. With swear words, I often call someone a “Glez”.
Well, a “Gletz” is someone who annoys you. “Depp” would be too sweeping for me.
You mentioned earlier that there are always broadcasters and audiences. So, if you misjudge these things, you have to deal with the consequences, right?
You always have to live with that, and that's also what makes humour fascinating. On stage, too, you immediately sense what goes down well and what is too “gach“, too wild for some people. Everyone is quite individual in that regard.
Language and society, everything is changing. Does this make the work of a cabaret artist more demanding or more exciting?
I like it when everything keeps moving and things can anchor themselves anew in society. You can never predict how long they will be valid. In ancient times, someone once wrote a satire about public toilets in Rome. They were rather unpleasant, but he described how people enjoyed sitting there, socialising and even conducting political negotiations. And I am not sure how long people genuinely believed this narrative before realising its absurdity. However, without understanding a society, you cannot fully grasp its humour.
Then the chances are good that your “Raffa“ play may resurface sometime in the next millennium.
Precisely! And then you might think that the Bavarians went for a leisurely stroll back then – until someone suddenly doled out a smack.