Standing on the stage at the Schauspiel Theatre, Germany’s finest comedians were greeted by a sea of grey hair, wrinkled faces cracking up with laughter and loud applause from an appreciative elderly audience, all dressed in their Sunday best. The gala performance that completed the annual Lachmesse (Laughter Fair), a national festival held in Leipzig, was a huge success.
But it seems to be in danger. As satirist Jess Jochimson remarked in his political skit on Bavaria’s recent election results, the ruling conservative CSU party did not lose as many votes to the populist AfD as it did to the real enemy. The real enemy is . . . death! Older voters grow old and die.
Older audience members do, too.
The Leipzig Lachmesse is an annual event that features the best of German satire and cabaret acts across ten days in October, in at least ten different venues across the city. It’s been going strong since 1991, with only a one-year break during the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival awards a prize every year for the best comedian, known as the Leipziger Löwenzahn (Leipzig Dandelion).
The gala seemed to pin its hopes for the future on Sven Garrecht. At thirty years old, he is perhaps half the age of the rest of the performers. And amongst his topics are saving the planet, animal welfare, smoking grass and drinking beer, falling in love—themes that a younger audience finds relatable. A professionally-trained jazz saxophonist, he can also play piano and creates clever word games in his songs.
For the—presumably very few—feminists in the audience, Munich’s Luisa Kinseher flew the flag.
She floated the ingenious idea that instead of fierce lions, the Bavarian coat of arms should have a cow as its official animal. As a peaceful cud-chewing beast, it could serve as a role model for politicians, she mused. Kinseher proved that as well as cracking jokes and lurching drunkenly across the stage in her dressing gown, she could hit the high notes in an aria from a Mozart opera.
It’s not surprising that she won the 2023 Nuremberg Prize for best cabaret act.
Luisa Kinseher’s Mozart aria. Photo by Jane Whyatt.
Yet the most applause in Leipzig was reserved for impressionist Jörg Knör. Who could fail to be impressed as he switched effortlessly from former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt making a political speech to Sammy Davis, Junior, singing Mr Bojangles. Both are long dead, of course. So for those people who remember them, it’s great that they can be conjured up again on stage by Knör. He seemed untroubled by any notion that it is inappropriate for a white man to impersonate a black musical icon. And the general tenor of the gala was so politically incorrect that this seemed like the least offensive of all the many sexist, racist, regionalist, anti-Catholic, anti-evangelical, anti-Ossi, anti-vax and downright tasteless jokes in the three-hour-long extravaganza.
Host Lisa Eckhardt positively revelled in her shock-factor jokes and costumes so tight that they seemed to have been sprayed on.
“I love to go to church early on Sunday morning straight from a night out on the town,” she claimed. “I can get myself a hair-of-the-dog glass of wine, and if they wave enough incense around one will smell my cigarette smoke‘”
Still, at least Eckhart lives in Leipzig. Yet as a native of Vienna, she hardly counts as local talent and the homegrown comedians were few and far between at the Lachmesse.
Closer to home—but still not local—are the Postdam-based duo Dirk Pursche and Stefan Klucke. Their act Schwarze Grütze at the Pfeffermühle attracted a school party in addition to the usual crowd of golden oldies. They laughed a lot at the gruesome black humour, with songs celebrating the upstairs neighbour whose murdered corpse is dripping blood through the ceiling, the older mothers who change the baby’s nappy and then have to change their own incontinence pads and an ode to Ritalin.
But the teenagers went a bit quiet when they themselves became the butt of another hilarious ditty.
It’s a song that aims to reassure parents that their children will not grow up to become bank robbers because‚ “They are allergic to fresh air, they never leave their bedrooms’ and “They won‘t find their way to the bank because it takes them past McDonald’s so they’ll stop to get a Happy Meal and then phone Mum to bring them home in the SUV.”
Of course, it must be hard for live acts to compete with the likes of Jan Boehmerman and Christian Ihring on TV and Thilo Jung on YouTube. It is a tribute to the pulling power of Lachmesse founder Arnulf Eichhorn that the event can book so many prizewinning acts from all over Germany (except Leipzig).
Still, it would be nice to find some local talent—ideally performing in English—as a fringe event at future Lachmesse festivals. Who’s out there? Please get in touch!