Eddie Izzard is a Force Majeure

Eddie Izzard is unbelievable. 8 years of French and 2 years of German in school. And after witnessing people of many nations splashing about peacefully together in Santorini and believing that languages will unite us, he’s decided to do his show in various countries and languages. Standup comedy in  foreign tongues, not just in French, which he speaks, but also in German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Arabic, which he doesn’t.

The title of the show, “Force Majeure”, he says, is about his wanting to be a force of nature for peace. He doesn’t believe in waiting for some hand of God to come down and do the business.

His brother has translated the show into German, and he began learning it by heart, came to Berlin on 4 January, and on 14 January was on stage, doing the show. The show gets a bit longer every night as he adds new bits he’s learned, and the older parts get a bit shorter as he gets through them more quickly.

He handles forgotten lines by interacting with the audience. Finally, a suitable context for that word! It slows his pace down, but also provides the opportunity for some fresh improvisation, playing with words and the audience. Then he surfs on the positive energy of the audience. The basement at the Imperial Club seats no more than 150, and maybe 100 people were there on Sunday, so it’s all rather intimate. I was close enough to get a good look at his lovely manicured fingernails, with the Union Jack and the flag of the EU painted on them.  The show is set to continue through to the end of February. Tickets and dates here.

In language learning terms, he’s proving a point. As he said in the Q&A he gave instead of an encore, he finds the key to learning to speak a foreign language is

  • total immersion
  • not worrying about the grammar
  • learning by heart
  • simply having the courage to speak
  • being under extreme pressure to actually perform before an audience with high expectations

He says sometimes he can access language at will, it all flows out of him, and sometimes he’s completely stumped.

In the interview below he somewhat surprisingly says he doesn’t think there are any cultural differences in humor. His jokes work in any language, he says. I’d  agree, but isn’t that simply a measure of Britain’s lead in the world of comedy? With Britain’s history, after all, how can it not be multi- and cross-cultural?

I’ve found an illegal recording of the show from about a week ago. Judging from what I heard as compared to what the video shows, he’s already made some headway.


Swabian English

What’s with the politicians in Germany? Yesterday was the first day of Merkel’s new government, and it includes Guido Westerwelle, who can’t manage diplomacy even at a press conference, as foreign minister, and Wolfgang Schäuble, who forgot he had some of Schreiber’s slush money in his drawer and thinks torture is ok to extract information, as minister of finance.

At least Swabia is kicking its politicians out. Günther Oettinger, the former Swabian premier, a man who denied Hans Filbinger was a Nazi, has now been sent to Brussels, joining that other German premier the Germans wanted out of the country, Edmund Stoiber. You might enjoy this reminder of the Oettinger-Filbinger embarassment:

Now, I hear Oettinger is taking English lessons. Better late than never? What are his chances of actually reaching a level that will suffice for international diplomacy? My husband (who is Swabian) is skeptical. “Swabians can’t speak English,” he says. As an English teacher I tend towards professional optimism, and I know: where there’s a will, there’s a way! (It helps to know Swabians who speak great English.) But the problem is really more fundamental, as Hermann Scheer says, because like most Swabians, Oettinger doesn’t speak German, so interpreters won’t be able to translate what he says! (“Wie alle Schwaben kann er bekanntlich kein Deutsch und kein Dolmetscher kann ihn daher in andere Sprachen übersetzen.”)

The real Tatort story

Opening the New York Times supplement to the Süddeutsche this week on page 4 there is a story by Michael Kimmelman on “German TV Viewers Love Their Detectives“. I was thinking: Great job, NYT, you really pick up on stories quickly. Of course I was thinking of the scandal that hit the presses this weekend: Doris Heinze, director of the NDR TV film program, was sacked after she was discovered to have written many of the film scripts herself, along with her husband, under assumed names, with both of them cashing in on the scam. As the TV scripts are mostly miserable, a sigh of relief has gone through the arts world, and there is some slight hope that the quality might perhaps improve just a bit.

But what does the NYT write? None of that. Simply that the Tatort series is very regional and that ordinary relationships are what it’s all about. Ok, but… Newspaper lead times can really kill a nice article.

Spring is here. Tauben and pigeons beware

OK, so it’s still cold out, but spring is here. Along with blackest humor. “Taubenvergiften im Park” was written by Georg Kreisler, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” was penned by Tom Lehrer. So: Did Lehrer steal the song from Kreisler, or was it the other way around? Lehrer had more chutzpah, and thanked Kreissler for “popularizing his songs in German”. Kreissler was sehr böse darüber.


Doitcha shpraka

I hate translating complicated inversions from German into English. German academics love them, probably because it proves that they can juggle an idea in the air for minutes on end. Ok, guys, yes, you are geniuses. Can we go home now? You see, then a poor translator gets it, and those academics need the translators because who has time to learn German? I love German, yes I do, but on some days, you know… augh! I enjoyed this video by Ze do Rock (teil 1 der trilogie ‘fom winde ferfeelt’), which says it all.

Rebecca Casati is the best

Hey, you English speaking learners of German – read the best German lifestyle journalist around, Rebecca Casati. Just the intro to her interview of Mickey Rourke in today’s Süddeutsche Zeitung is so nice:

“Er stemmt sich aus der Couch, bis er seine beeindruckende Bärenstatur erreicht hat. Langsam fährt einem eine Art Hand entgegen. Die Finger sind gewölbt wie Klauen, die Nägel um die Kuppen herum gewachsen. “Herzlich willkommen”, sagt er feierlich. Der eigentliche Händedruck von Mickey Rourke hingegen, er ist überraschend zart.
Er wohnt schon seit einigen Wochen im Londoner Hotel Blakes. Trotzdem wirkt er, als sei er soeben unfreiwillig in dieses seidentapetenbespannte Ambiente versetzt worden. Als sei er in Wahrheit aus einer Zeit, in der Schauspieler noch nicht in schnöseligen Londoner Hotels organische Säfte bestellten, sondern mit Planwagen über Land rumpelten und auf Märkten auftraten.”

Teacher talk: Her texts are fun to use for translation tasks with young adults.