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Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany Hardcover – April 26, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Dead Funny isn’t just a book of wildly off-limits humor. Rather, it’s a fascinating, heartbreaking look at power dynamics, propaganda, and the human hunger for catharsis.”
The Atlantic, Best Books of 2012

“A concise, compelling book.”
—The Independent
"Fascinating... Intriguing....Herzog, the son of the film-maker Werner Herzog, shares his father’s curious and mordant wit."
The Financial Times
“Dead Funny’s real value lies in the way it situates anti-Nazi folk humor in the shifting historical context of this grim bygone era, and the fact that the author is able to resuscitate such obscure jokes verbatim is a phenomenal feat … [the] book’s strikingly original historical research sets it apart from the glut of dry tomes which are still being cranked out about Nazi history.”
—Time Out (New York)
"Chilling....[Herzog] shows, in unadorned language, the process of propagandising and the psychological capitulation of many Germans to the Nazis’ will."

“Herzog’s thesis is that, during the Third Reich, Germans relished jokes about their leaders. Throughout Hitler's 12 years in power, there were plenty of caustic gags doing the roundsabout Dr Goebbels’ club foot, or Hitler's limp Nazi salute, which made him look like a waiter carrying a tray, or the widely held suspicion that Goering wore his medals in the bath.”
—The Guardian
“Herzog demolishes the idea that Germans didn’t know what the Nazis were up to: there were many, many concentration camp jokes. Germans under Hitler seemed to find it natural, and kind of funny, that ‘troublemakers’—including Jews and dissidents—should end up behind barbed wire.”

Praise for the German Edition

"A thrilling book."
Der Spiegel

"The first comprehensive book on comedy and humor in the Third Reich. [...] The author brings together all manifestations of humor--wit, newspaper cartoons, cabaret, variety shows, entertainment, film, pop songs, and musicals... An important history."
—Suddeutsche Zeitung

About the Author

As a director, Rudolph Herzog is best known for the crime series The Heist, which aired on Channel 4 (U.K.) and was called “riveting” by The Daily Telegraph. His documentary on humor in the Third Reich, Laughing With Hitler, scored top audience ratings on German Channel 1 and was also broadcast in English translation on the BBC. The son of the celebrated filmmaker Werner Herzog, he lives in Berlin.

Jefferson Chase is one of the foremost translators of German history. He has translated Wolfgang Scivelbusch, Thomas Mann and Gotz Aly, among many others.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House; 1st edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554301
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554301
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #670,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Barden on September 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When reading the Sunday paper in the United States (and other countries where it is permissible) we can often see political comics- poking jabs about those in power. It wasn't quite the same in Hitler's Germany but there were jokes, political and meant to `jab', aplenty. It helped people to deal with the state of affairs. There were plenty of individuals who were bothered by the direction that Hitler and others in power were taking the country in. But as Herzog points out, the jokes and comics were only a way to ease the tension for the people, not the country. Herzog shows that many knew what was going on and were bothered by it, but not to the point of action.

The book is a good read that will make one think. It is sometimes difficult to understand the jokes passed during these times if one is not familiar with the German/Jewish cultures before and during the WWII era. For those who are interested in history, this book is a good glimpse into the mindset of those during this time.

I did think that this book was going to share more of the specific comics/jokes that were written/voiced during Hitler's Germany and it does, dispersed throughout, share some specific ones. However, it is more of a history of the time and the people's attitudes, with some examples of `humor' that circulated. Interestingly, the jokes did not often center around the Nazi brutality but instead was more popularly politically themed. Goring was made fun of for the excessive number of medals on his suit- and his enjoyment of food.

Herzog does recount some of the deaths that were the result of the public jokes against Hitler and those in power but I gathered that the deaths (many from being in concentration camps) were ordered later in Hitler's reign.
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Format: Hardcover
Can you laugh at Hitler? During the Third Reich, it might have gotten you killed. Today, it might earn you shocking stares. As a military antique dealer that specializes in German artifacts from the Nazi period, I'm used to the second reaction. Well, by page 5 of this book, Rudolph Herzog had me hooked. What struck me is that the structure of political jokes don't change, just the characters do. Easy to read, full of insight into the politics of past and present. Recommend!
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Format: Paperback
Over the decades, I’ve read a number of books on Nazi Germany, Hitler and World War II. However, for me, this one is a first. The idea that an oppressed people, even the persecuted Jews, would often freely invent and tell jokes about their overlords, and even about their own horrible demises, is not one that would come to my mind. That’s why I was so intrigued when I saw this book. Now, I am quite happy to have read it.

The author briefly recounts the coming into power of the Nazis, their march towards world domination and their ultimate downfall, as described in so many other books. But in this case, the people’s discontent, low morale and negative opinions of the Nazis are reflected in jokes that they created at the time and retold. The Nazis’ reactions to these jokes and those who propagated them are also well described. Several jokes are recounted throughout the book - their themes reflecting the main events of the time.

Despite the fact that his book is a translation from the German, I found that it was very well done. The jokes are clear and the punch lines are unambiguous. When a German word used in a joke can have two meanings, both of these meanings are explained prior to providing the joke, thus enabling the reader to appreciate its nuances. I also found the author’s prose to be friendly, lively, accessible and immensely captivating. I believe that anyone can enjoy this wonderful book - especially history enthusiasts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very insightful as to the thinking of many Germans during the NAZI era. It reveals aspects of German culture and the people's attitudes much differently than most material one finds. I did laugh out loud on many occasions. For those who have traveled through former British colonies, the joke about Moses and his staff is hilarious. So, surprisingly, were the antics of some cabaret entertainers who found themselves in a concentration camp, of all places. However, I don't know if I believe that Goebbels condoned or enjoyed their shows; his was probably a lure to trap those who opposed Nazi rule. There is also much historical detail about the fate of many professional comedians and everyday people whose sense of humor was condemned by their paranoid and brutal rulers. This part of everyday life under Nazi tyranny should make us realize how fortunate we are to live in modern Western countries whose governments are above criminalizing (most) dissent. It should also make us doubly aware that many people in the world today do not have this luxury. A book definitely worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had never thought humor could be used by anyone during Hitler's rule. To read how humor was used to get through these times and the consequences for doing so was unsettelling to say the least. There were also other bits of information that were new to me. Very interesting reading.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is not a book of jokes. If you expect to see a collection of jokes about the Fürer and his Nazi henchmen, as told by his own people, this is not it. Instead the author Looks into different aspects of the life in Germany's 1930's and 40's and examines the opinions on the issues of the day by looking at the jokes being popular just then. Large parts are also devoted to the fate of several high-profile actors, comedians and writers who's humor had run afoul of the Nazi establishment. Also always present is the legal response to people 'undermining the fighting capacity of the nation' by 'spreading defeatist jokes'. The jokes themselves are but secondary. Still, this book takes you on an inspiring journey through almost 20 years of German, Austrian and on occasion Dutch, French, English, Swiss and American history as seen through the eyes of the people and the jokes they tell.

This being said, two minor annoyances.
1) the book was originally written in Germany and therefore assumes that the reader has a basic knowledge of German history. Although some events an their ramifications are described in great detail, others are just mentioned and glanced over a the writer immediately proceeds on the deeper impact they have.
2) Along with the translation, the jokes are translated as welll. While this is generally done with great care, some puns and wordplays have to be explained nevertheless. This becomes more obvious with the songs which are presented in often rhyming English verses, skillfully rendered, but somehow missing the punch. Printing the original German text next to the English version would definitely improve the book.

in Nazi-Germany, or an example of how Germans in
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