Michael Mittermeier Gilded Balloon 2140 until 25th August Reviewed 14th August £12.50 2 stars
Michael Mittermeier is one of German comedy’s biggest names, and certainly its most famous export. He’s a part-owner of the largest comedy club in the country, has two decades of prize-winning international tours under his belt, and has Wikipedia pages in Bavarian, Latin and Esperanto.
Much has been made of Eddie Izzard’s recent drive to internationalise the art of standup, with Mittermeier as probably the top billing in his quartet of auslander acts this year. Being peripherally aware of Mittermeier beforehand, I found this choice somewhat surprising – despite whatever you think about the immutable funniness of observational standup, Mittermeier mixes his in with plenty of parochial humour and some very Alemannic sensibilities that don’t necessarily translate.
He has, for example, a great recurring piece about the history of Austrian nuclear power, which is enormously funny if you know anything about the history of Austrian nuclear power. I don’t, and judging from the audience reaction very few do. Even then, his Austrian accent is tone-perfect and his mocking of Austrian mannerisms practiced to a well-balanced degree of caricature.
Whenever he does this routine in Austria, he admits, the reaction is a lot stronger.
In another show he might be able to switch ‘Austrian’ with ‘Welsh’ and just about get away with it. But Das Blackout demands that we respect its Germanness. We talk about the old tropes and stereotypes incessantly. Moreover, Mittermeier’s built a fairly convoluted structure with a lot of interplaying parts, and each of them works together with the fearful symmetry of a precision cuckoo clock or sports car. There are constant callbacks and plenty of proleptic irony, which backfire when a weak bit turns out to be a pivot point that we return to again and again.
I can sense the jokes behind the jokes. Bits on his Bavarian friend are a sure winner in the German version of Das Blackout, but two-dimensional here. The Boarisch lumbering oaf is a classic stock figure in the vein of Punch and Pulcinello, but like them relies on recognition and situational comedy. Mueller at the World Cup might have been hilarious, but most of us were left with awkward grins at best.
Then there’s the occasionally hammy delivery, which is an element of German comedy that English speakers might find clownish and contentious (Jim Carrey vs. Carrot Top, for example). Germans can be surprisingly puerile, sprinkling their conversations with hand-fart sounds, and I suspect it’s endearing only to the initiated.
The tired old gag that “Germans take their comedy seriously” is genuinely true in Mittermeier’s case. The man actually has a Master’s degree in American Standup Comedy, which is a great setup in and of itself. Das Blackout is probably a fantastic show in German, or maybe even to the American audiences who are more familiar with his material and style. Here, however, Mittermeier is demanding too much of his audience.