Robin Williams’ Holocaust Joke December 7, 2009 by Richard Silverstein 14 Comments Share It! Great Holocaust joke from Robin Williams’ new HBO special: I was interviewed in Germany and the woman asked me why Germans don’t have a sense of humor: “It could be because you murdered all the funny people.” Like this:Like Loading... Related
It’s funny, but I guess Williams does not only refer to victims of the Holocaust. (The term does not usually include critics of the Nazi regime and other such victims of Nazi terror, does it?)
I agree with Elisabeth; Hitler’s Germans killed a lot of other people as well, particularly Slavs, homosexuals, Gypsies, and the mentally deficient.
This is a very large problem with one minority’s appropriation of a brand name ‘Holocaust’, that can be invoked every time that little Levantine country feels it wants to attack its neighbours, or its own slave population.
Please, Richard, stop using the word ‘Holocaust’. It’s getting as tired as the brand name ‘Mother’s Pride’ (or the US equivalent) relates to real bread.
Richard Silverstein says
Sorry, no can do. And “Holocaust” is not a brand name nor is it “tired.” I also use Shoah, though I presume that would offend you equally. During the Holocaust all victims were equal but some, like the Jews, were more equal than others.
I am not sure what Robin Williams meant to say exactly of course. Maybe he really meant to refer to Jews especially (because of the famous ‘Jewish sense of humor’). But even if he did not mean to include others, I myself would still say that non-conformists (such a critics of the Nazi regime can definitely be labeled) are generally funnier than the average population, so that is why I understood his joke in a broader sense.
As to the term ‘Holocaust’: It only came in broad use in Europe after that television series in the seventies. This is unfortunate because – as far as I understand – the implications of the term are troubling: It gives some sort of religious connotation (‘a sacrificial burnt offering’) to a sickening mass murder. I used to avoid the term and used expressions that were common before then, such as ‘the Nazi persecution of the Jews’. But I gave in: ‘Holocaust’ is shorter, and I am a linguist and know that there is no use in fighting common parlance. (Hey, I use ‘one man one vote’ even though ‘one person one vote’ would be more correct. But I draw the line at silly expressions such as ‘rape survivor’ instead of ‘rape victim’. To paraphrase Tony Judt “I’m Dutch, we don’t do uplifting”.)
I’ve been reading this blog quite awhile, and I can attest that Richard hardly exploits the term ‘Holocaust’, or the historical event for that matter. Depending on the context, I’ve heard the term used specifically for the Jewish Holocaust and also more broadly to encompass all the innocent civilian victims of the Nazis.
I don’t personally find that Robin Williams joke particularly funny (and I say this as a big fan of Robin Williams), but then perhaps my sense of Holocaust humor or comedy is not finely honed or developed enough.
As for the old stereotype of the humorlessness of the Germans, it doesn’t fit my own anecdotal experience, but then again stereotypes generally come from somewhere. And it’s true that many German comedians in the entertainment industry during the Weimar period were Jewish.
To the extent the stereotype is true at all, my own theory (admittedly based on speculation) regarding the lack of German sense of humour in the postwar period and leading up to the present day, is that Germans are expected, particularly by the Anglo-American world, to be awfully Serious & soul-searching & self-examining (more than any other people or nation, really), I guess as part of their war ‘atonement’, and I would suggest this ‘seriously’ discourages humour and silliness. Is that a kind of irony, particularly when put up against the Robin Williams joke?
Given all this, it’s interesting that probably my two favorite comedians working today are German-American, David Letterman and Amy Poehler (from SNL). Perhaps this phenomenon doesn’t translate into the ethnic diaspora. (Also, note, the vast number of Americans of German ancestry—the largest European ethnic group in the U.S. population by a notable margin—often do not explicitly ‘identify’ as such and tend to be lumped in with WASPS, as opposed to say Jewish-Americans or Italian-Americans.)
“Germans are expected, particularly by the Anglo-American world, to be awfully Serious & soul-searching & self-examining (more than any other people or nation, really), I guess as part of their war ‘atonement’.”
That is very insightful. I think you are absolutely correct there.
Shoded Yam says
I like Robin Williams, but I think he ripped off the joke from an episode of The West Wing. If I remember it correctly, during the episode, a gay republican congressman tries to enlist the Bartlett administrations support for some piece of legislation and Josh Lyman is tasked with dealing with him. It doesn’t go well and the Barlett administration is reticent. At the end of the episode, the congressmen relates a story to Josh, about the time he took a German diplomat to a comedy club in Washington. Appraently the diplomat had a great time. At the end of the show, he tells the congressman; “This was great! Why don’t we have people like this in Germany”. The congressman replies; “Because you killed them all”
Richard Silverstein says
That only proves that Robin Williams, in ripping off Aaron Sorkin’s joke, has good taste. Comedians are notoriously larcenous about other peoples’ material. Or perhaps Aaron Sorkin is doing some writing for Robin Williams?
Shoded Yam says
“..That only proves that Robin Williams, in ripping off Aaron Sorkin’s joke, has good taste”
Or as Hemingway used to say; “Only steal from the best”
I read the “funny” in “funny people” at least in subtext as in “funny farm”, or “weird” – after all the Nazis did “euthanize” many psychiatric patients.
Incidentally, the German word “komisch” (unlike the English “comic[al]”) has the same double meaning.
Of course, ambiguities, double entendres, and paradigm shifts are staples of very many jokes.
And obviously this is just my unfunny analytic no-nonsense Teutonic-ness showing.
Actually fiddler, I find your last sentence sort of funny.
I never thought of that reading of the joke, but yes, it makes absolute sense too. A nice example of how everyone reads things from a different angle.
Mike Dobson says
Please explain the “more equal than others” post.
Are you suggesting that Jews had the lead role in the Nazi murder process?
If so, isn’t that another expample of the special pleading that has characterised Israel’s aggresion towards its neighbours?
Can you let me see your civilian slaughter world ranking tables?
Richard Silverstein says
The proper way to write a comment is to quote whatever passage you are talking about so I can easily understand what your question is. I don’t have time to try to locate whatever post you’re talking about, re-read it & then answer yr question. As for the question in yr 3rd paragraph, I won’t even grace it with a reply it is so detestable. And snark or oneupsmanship is frowned upon here. If that’s the way you prefer to engage you can do it somewhere else.