Caro Meets Comedy Interview

Paco Erhard: 5 Step Guide To Being German

By | Published on Monday 21 October 2013


We first heard about German comedian Paco Erhard at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where, with his sharp material and playful style, he successfully wooed a number of our reviewers, one of whom called his set “observational comedy and satire at its finest”. This week, he takes his well-honed set ‘5-Step Guide To Being German’ to London’s Leicester Square Theatre, so we thought it was about time we found out more about the show, and his career thus far.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the show?
PE: ‘5-Step Guide to Being German’ is a show in which I explain what we Germans are really like and why. We’re a lot more ridiculous than all the silly clichés could ever be – but also a lot more loveable. I didn’t think we needed any more German-bashing comedy about the same old tired stereotypes. I tried to keep it real in this show – that’s why Germans really like it too. And if you have German friends or relatives or if you’ve been to Germany and just know a bit more than the clichés, you’ll absolutely love the show.

It’s a really tight set now, with a laugh about every 20 seconds, but also, a lot of historical and psychological research has gone into the show. Even most Germans don’t know how some of our national characteristics just grew historically, so to most people the show is not only very funny, but informative as well. Researching the show certainly changed my own attitude towards my country. I used to think I hated Germany; now I just want to hug it and say: “Come here, you little idiot, we all love you! Now stop sulking and go and play with the others.” I used to run away from being German – but then I realised: that’s about the most German thing you could possibly do.

CM: Has the show changed or developed since you first started to perform it?
PE: Yes, it has changed a lot. In the first half year I did this show, there were still a few stereotypical jokes in there that made people laugh but that I felt weren’t true and didn’t feel right. They’re long gone now, but even though the show is very tight and gag-packed now, my brain still can’t stop thinking about how to improve or enhance little bits. It’s a curse…

Also, as my seven years’ compèring for Britain’s not-so-clever types in Magalluf and Las Americas (until 2009) slip further into the past, my style has become less confrontational, and I focus on really understanding and explaining the German psyche (and occasionally the British one too) instead of still bearing a grudge against the often ignorant and aggressive views the otherwise pretty lovely British tourists in Spain tended to express. So yes. I have been doing the show at ten festivals now, and it has just become better, funnier and more informed all the time.

CM: What made you decide to become a comedian?
PE: I had always wanted to be a writer, but that turned out to be just too lonely for me – I’m a people’s person. I had already toyed with the idea of doing stand-up ever since I lived in America for a year when I was 17. Working in Magalluf I discovered that I love being on stage and that I love British audiences, and I decided becoming a comedian was the ideal combination of writing and the stage.

After that it still took me seven years of entertaining pissed-up stag dos from Sunderland and the like till I realised: if I want to do proper comedy, and learn from the best, I have to go to London. So I packed my bags and came to t’big smoke. (Geez, I’ve been around Northerners too long…)

CM: Who are your influences?
PE: Being subjected to painfully simple and unintelligent comedy in Tenerife (where Freddie Star impersonators and insult comics in wigs thrived), and watching Ricky Gervais’s DVD Animals in a bar by accident, which was a complete revelation. I had no idea who Ricky Gervais was, I’d only come in for a drink, but I watched it till the end and laughed so hard I slid off my chair and I started having the taste of blood in my mouth from laughing so hard.

By now I’ve moved on a bit. I love comedians who are passionate and really have something to say and who don’t mind offending some people. I love Doug Stanhope, Brendon Burns, Bill Burr, Steve Hughes. But these influences show more in my new show ‘Djerman Unchained’. In ‘5-Step Guide to Being German’ I feel less edgy, though it has been called “mischievous” (which I love) and “side-splittingly funny and violently politically incorrect”. But at the same time people tend to feel charged with positivity and mutual understanding after my show. It’s important to me that my message is at least partly positive.

CM: You spent time playing to British people holidaying in Spanish resorts. How different were those audiences to comedy audiences here in the UK?
PE: Oh god, completely different. Those holiday makers were lovely people, don’t get me wrong. But you couldn’t make any joke that even required the tiniest bit of knowledge. They weren’t the most knowledgeable bunch. And their prejudices about Germany (in combination with a complete lack of any real knowledge about us) were just atrocious. This changed a lot in 2006, when lots of these people went to Germany for the World Cup and were blown away by how beautiful Germany was and how lovely the Germans were. They were literally shocked by this.

Still, being confronted with these uninformed prejudices were what made me want to write ‘5-Step Guide to Being German’ and explain what we are really like and why. I felt I needed to set the record straight. It was really painful: I felt I loved the British for lots of things, but just had to hate their apparent hatred of us, especially because it is completely unilateral. We Germans are actually quite fond of Britain and don’t have any beef with you at all. Now I know: neither do normal Brits really dislike Germany. But the tabloids have fed simpler people that nationalist anti-German bullshit for decades.

CM: How different are British audiences to those in your home country?
PE: I actually started comedy in English and have only recently started to be on TV in Germany and perform my shows there. German audiences are a bit weird, and I’m not quite used to them yet. They applaud a lot. If you make a joke that makes a relatively clever point, they’ll applaud. A lot. Which is lovely, but weird, also because it slows the rhythm of the show down a bit.

Also, I love British audiences for being open for just about anything – if the joke is funny, it doesn’t matter so much if the subject matter is grim or close to the line. German audiences are a bit more queasy sometimes, I feel, and ask themselves “Am I allowed to laugh at that?” But the German comedians I’ve met in recent months are great, and I think they agree with me about that and together we’ll change German audiences for the better.

CM: What made you decide to work in Spain and the UK?
PE: Spain? Running away to Valencia to be a writer. Living in crumbling flats for next to no money, manically writing, hunting for kicks and inspiration and trying to make a bit of money, living in the underbelly of life for a bit and looking at society from that perspective.

From that, because I needed money, I applied for a job as a hotel entertainer in a British hotel in Magalluf… and slipped more and more into the world of tourism and then in Tenerife, got to know the dodgy stuff behind the scenes of tourism areas too. I worked as a compère, table wiper, cameraman on whale watching boats, journalist, editor, TV gag writer, photographer, as well as some grey area self-employed activities (legal, I would like to stress!! But not very legal), while continuing to write… and that writing started to focus more and more on stand-up.

And then I came to London purely in order to do comedy, get ‘5-Step Guide’ out of my system, and simply work my arse off to become a better and better comedian who has something to say about society.

CM: Which stupid British stereotype-about-Germans do you dislike the most?
PE: “No sense of humour” – it’s really dehumanising, because a sense of humour is an essential human quality. Oh, that and the stereotype that we love David Hasselhoff and his music. Now THAT is really offensive. Call me a Nazi any day, but don’t call me a Hoff fan!

Paco Erhard performs ‘5-Step Guide To Being German’ at Leicester Square Theatre on 23 Oct. You can also catch his critically acclaimed other show ‘Djerman Unchained’, at the same venue on 23 Nov. Info and tickets here.

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