Friday, January 13, 2012

Presenting Danish Humor

A couple of days ago someone asked me: "Is Danish humor any different from say, American humor?"
At the time I didn´t know exactly what to say, because let´s face it: to answer that question I need to know a lot about both of them.

Let´s think about it
However, it did make me think about humor and what it is that makes something funny. It´s quite the challenge to say, what makes people laugh. Culture plays a part, but so does language and accents. And maybe, the most interesting feature with humor is the very fact that it cannot be explained.

For example: Charlie Chaplin was immensely funny in his time and many people, including myself, still find his films funny. But to be honest, I don´t think he would be having much success, if he presented his films to the audience of today.

So, what was funny is not funny anymore.

What, if any, Is the difference?
But let´s get back to the original question: is Danish humor different than American humor?

Yes, I think it is. One thing I have observed is that humor seems to be influenced by temperature and light.
"What?" you may say, but I really mean it.

The lower the temperature, the more slow and layed back the humor. If you´re an American, just think of British humor in general: is it funnier than American humor? Or what about Canadian humor? Do you laugh at Candian jokes (not meaning jokes ABOUT Canadians)?

When I, as a Scandinavian, think about funny movies or books in Europe, neither Spain, Italy nor Greece comes to mind, because the humor in these countries seem to be too much up in your face, meaning that the jokes are served to you on a silver platter. You don´t have to think much to get the funny in the joke. I´ll give you an example after I present the influence of light:

The darker a place is, the darker the humor. It seems to me that series such as "The Golden Girls," if you remember them, is mostly light and giggly, even in the gravest of circumstances. In Denmark, the sitcom hasn´t ever worked and I tell you, it´s been tried a few times.

So, what IS the difference?

A few examples:
Well, let me give you a few examples of Danish humor and then you can decide if I am right about the two points above:

- from a viking legend:
"He had been sleeping with his sword right beside him all night, because he knew the other family would very likely avenge his killing. He was right. He woke up at the sound of noise outside, took his sword and opened the door. As it turned out, this was a bad idea. The father of the one he killed in a fair fight threw a spear from 200 yards out and it pierced right through his heart. Knowing this was the perfect death for a true viking he pulled together all of his strength and said to his friends and family: 'Nice shot!" - Then he died."

- from a justice book describing a trial against a man who had killed another man´s property (meaning a slave):
"Asked about the reason why he chopped off the slave´s head in the field, the accused answered: 'Well, he was stooped down in the perfect position for a clean and quick cut and my sword needed initiation'"

- from "In China they eat dogs" - a Danish Crime Comedy Film:
"a: 'I killed her'
b: 'Why?'
a: 'She took my TV'
b: 'Well, that not so good. We need to clean up'
a: nods his head
b: 'where did you leave her body?'
a: 'In the living room'
b: 'okay'
a: 'and the kitchen'"

- and finally from my own Flash Fiction "The Sissy Eunuch":
"Kate and I did our part populating the world and we love all of our five children. I suppose two or three would´ve been enough and every time we had another one we did make the decision to not have more.
But somehow, when we get in that mood, it´s like our brains are disconnected. I´ve tried to hold on to our decision: “No, honey” I´ve said numerous times, “we already are a family and we aren´t going to have any more children.”
It doesn´t help much when her uterus is screaming for more work. So I give in. And for some strange reason we always conceive at first attempt. Usually we never win the lottery, but when it comes to pregnancy we always win first price. Well, except for Milly maybe. I suppose she is more like a consolation prize."

Your turn!
What do YOU think: is there a cultural difference between Danish/Scandinavian and American humor?