Gaudi: The Austrians have a word for all things fun and silly. Sitting around over a few beers and a Brotzeit (“snack”) with your friends can be a real gaudi; for a riesengaudi (“a lot of fun”), telling each other jokes from the renowned Austrian cabaretist Karl Farkas (1893-1971) could do the trick: His aphorisms are still popular to this day and, in part, helped shape the furiously funny outlook on life and society contemporary Austrians still harbor.
The Austrians are more than happy to mock their own folk and its mentality with dry punchlines and sarcastic remarks, but they’re perhaps even more game to target other countries and cultures as well—the Piefke (Germans) in particular. While many people would probably agree that the Austrians are very welcoming to foreigners—and most people find the Wiener Schmäh (Viennese charm) extremely engaging—the Austrian sense of humor isn’t for everyone, especially those who may find offense at such self-deprecating and often macabre senses of humor.
If you count yourself in the latter group, we’ve chosen ten different comedies that will confront you with typical Austrian Schmäh at its best!
10. Indien (India) (1993)
Director: Paul Harather
Hygiene inspectors Heinz (Josef Hader) and Kurt (Alfred Dorfer) spend their time driving around the Lower Austrian province, inspecting country inns day after day. Not too shabby a job, right? You get to spend your time in the car chatting, going from village to village, town to town, without a boss looking over your shoulder. But if you don’t like your colleague…
Heinz is rather bourgeois and not one for small talk—or big talk, for that matter. Kurt, on the other hand, is a bit of a gobshite who can’t stop talking about useless trivia and Indian philosophies. Heinz is happy enough to drink beer all day—paying for the libations with bribes he’s taken for overlooking hygienic breaches—and so he’s often overwhelmed by Kurt’s constant need to impress him and others with his intellectual anecdotes and psychological analysis, never shying from telling Kurt to Geng’ans scheissen (“Go take a hike”; literally: “Go take a shit”). That is, until Heinz stumbles into Kurt’s room in the middle of the night, pissed drunk and emotional. In tears, he opens up about his failed marriage and the son that is not his. The next day, Kurt finds out that his girlfriend has betrayed him and follows Heinz´s example by joining in the hefty beer consumption. Now that they’re finally moving on the same wavelength, the two men develop a tight bond, and their daily road trips turn into an exploration of their selves and their friendship
Based on Dorfer and Harder’s 1991 play, Indien combines comedy and drama in a manner typical of Austrian culture, and shot Hader and Dorfer to fame in Austria and the South of Germany. It was also the first Austrian film to enter the film archive of Süddeutschen Zeitung, a prominent South-German Newspaper.
9. Hinterholz 8 (1998)
Directors: Roland Düringer und Harald Sicheritz
Living in a city can be great when you’re young and single and public transportation is everything you’ll ever need—but once you have a family and the mini-van becomes somewhat obligatory, circling your urban neighborhood for an hour every night to find a parking space can become a monumental chore. Which is what happens to the Krcal family: Their apartment in Vienna may be centrally located, but it doesn’t offer them the peace and tranquillity they are after.
So, head of the family Herbert (Roland Düringer), in looking for somewhere new, is drawn to a so-called “fixer-upper” in the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods). And there are plenty of things Herbert doesn’t consider before buying the house: First and foremost, he seems to have forgotten that his DIY skills are pretty much non-existent. He’s in way over his head financially (“Mir wochst des Haus übern Kopf”—the house is “growing over my head”) and, due to his unrealistic expectations regarding the official move-in date, the Krcal’s apartment in the city has been rented out already, so they are forced to live with his wife’s (Nina Proll) parents. Everything that could possibly go wrong, does—even Herbert’s rental car gives up on him and he ends up beating it, yelling, “Made in Japan, destroyed in Sulz im Wienderwald!” This is rogue and arch-sarcastic Austrian comedy at its finest.
8. Saison in Salzburg (1961)
Director: Franz Josef Gottlieb
Working as an actor has its ups and its downs—work isn’t always easy to come by, and it’s a rather competitive profession, but as an actor, slipping into different characters comes rather naturally, especially when you take on a job with which you don’t actually have any experience. That’s what out-of-work actors Heinz Doll (Peter Alexander), Toni Mack (Gunther Philipp) and Hans Stiegler (Peter Vogel) do when they become desperate: Unable to find any new roles in the world of film and theater, they apply for jobs as a waiter, a doorman and a liftboy, respectively, for the hotel Zum blauen Enzian (“To the blue Gentian”). They are promptly hired and treat their jobs very much like acting roles, performing their duties with a lot of gusto and enthusiasm, much to the delight of their boss, Theres Stolzinger (Waltraut Haas). The boys work extremely hard, but they find time for play too: Hans and the chambermaid Vroni (Helli Servi) can’t keep their eyes off of each other; the hotel’s cook Walpurga (Sissy Löwinger) spoils Toni’s tastebuds, as well as his heart; and Heinz finds a happy end atop of the Großglockner Mountain.
Saison in Salzuburg is based on Fred Raymond’s operetta of the same name, which first premiered in Kiel in 1939. The film features original songs like “Salzburger Nockerln,” a musical ode to a typical Salzburger dessert, a sweet soufflé covered in powdered sugar. In Gottlieb’s film adaptation of Saison in Salzburg, Peter Alexander, one of Austria and Germany’s most renowned entertainers, performs this classic piece with his indescribable charm and flair for comedy. The song’s intro lists various regional recipes, each verse sung in the according regional dialect: Vienna (Schnitzel), Frankfurt (Würstl; “sausages”), Königsberg (Klopse; “meatballs”) and the Rhine with its jolden (“golden”) wine.
7. Kottan ermittelt – Den Tüchtigen gehört die Welt (The Uppercrust) (1982)
Director: Peter Patzak
In the mid-seventies, a certain TV police major by the name of Kottan spurred a lot of controversy, especially amongst the police union. But the Austrian and German public loved the lazy and politically incorrect officer and, after its first episode was aired in the spring of 1976, Kottan ermittelt (“Kottan Investigates”) was promptly picked up for a whole series. Consisting of eighteen episodes in total, most of them at a feature length of 90 minutes each, the show ran through the gamut of stars: Initially, Kottan was portrayed by Peter Vogel (episodes 1 and 2), followed by Franz Buchrieser (episodes 3 through 5) and finally by Lukas Resetarits (episodes 6 through 18).
Early episodes of Kottan ermittelt bathe the city of Vienna in a gritty light, only brightened by quirky personalities and their coarse sense of humor. Kottan is usually quite impassive towards drama, hysterical or cocky suspects, and work in general, living with such characters as his wife Ilse (Bibiane Zeller) and his mother (Gusti Wolf), who has dedicated her spare time to reading bad crime books and developing theories about the perfect murder. What began as a TV series with a critical approach in its portrayal of the police union and related politics, lost its satirical stance and suspenseful pace when it started moving more towards slapstick and the surreal.
In 1981, Franz Buchrieser again took on the role of Kottan for the film Den Tüchtigen gehört die Welt, an Austrian/American co-production. In the film, Kottan drops the silliness and goes back to his usual, callous self: It was a delight for viewers and a chagrin to the police force—and according to Filmtipps, Peter Vogel (the first Kottan actor) and director Peter Patzak were beaten up by several police officers when they finished shooting the film. In 2010, Patzak directed another film for the series, Kottan ermittelt: Rien ne va plus, which was heavily criticized for its incoherent plotline and bizarre attempts at slapstick comedy.
6. Poppitz (2002)
Directors: Harald Sicheritz und Roland Düringer
“Poppitz, Poppitz, who the fuck is Poppitz?”
That’s what successful car salesman Gerry (Roland Düringer) would like to know. Ever since the senior manager of his firm died of a heart attack, his colleagues—and even his wife Lena (Marie Bäumer)—all seem to be talking about this mysterious Poppitz character, who may or may not have to do with a German company buying Gerry’s firm. Desperate as he may be to find out what’s going on, first things first: a well-deserved holiday to an all-inclusive club hotel in Cosamera with his wife and grufti (gothic) teenage daughter Patrizia (Nora Heschl). As is typical, the club isn’t quite what the advert made it out to be; what’s more, Gerry can’t seem to get this Poppitz guy out of his mind. When it’s rumored that Poppitz is actually staying at the hotel, Gerry lets his imagination run wild…
The cheapo package holiday in countries like Italy, Greece and Spain has always been a target for mockery, but even more so when those ridiculing the concept are the same kind of people who are guilty of having turned pool-sides and hotel restaurants into a shameless reality show. Tourists of various nations have a bad rep for their holiday behaviour—just think “The Ugly Americans” for example—but as it turns out, the Austrians (or at the very least, Gerry and his family) are just as bad. Although Poppitz covers a bunch of tired clichés—the feud between Austrians and Germans, the National Lampoon style disaster holiday, and language/dialect barriers—the film does so with upsetting and often hilariously strange plot twists.