Why can Danish humour be so confusing?

Apr 30, 2021 1:01 pm


If you’ve ever spoken at length with a Danish person, chances are that their dry sense of humour has resulted in instances of confusion rather than fits of laughter.

While Danes seem to have a peculiar pride in their dry sense of humour, many non-Danes struggle with the irony and don’t get if their Danish counterpart is trying to be funny, or is just being a bit weird.

This week, we unpack why Danish humour can be so confusing.

Irony, all the time

There are many angles that we discuss that you can read about in this episode's blog post. The short version is:

  • Shared understanding: Danes can be ironic because of their relatively homogenous culture
  • Janteloven: Self-depreciation comes from putting people on the same level
  • Pushing the limits: There is pride in being outrageous as it tests the limits of freedom of speech...
  • Too far: ...though this sometimes goes wrong (i.e. Muhammad cartoons)
  • Failure is funny: Olsen Banden is popular (also in East Germany) because the bandits never quite make it
  • Humour is inclusive: it is like sitting around a campfire
  • No distinction between private and public: we discuss a great anecdote of a French man living in Denmark who got offended when his (Danish) colleagues suggested he divorce his French wife and marry a Dane in an effort to improve his Danish

Our expert guests were

  • Lita Lundqvist: Professor Emeritus at CBS and author of Humour socialisation. Why the Danes are not as funny as they think they are
  • Mette Møller: PhD in Humour and Rhetoric

Joke time

In my efforts to learn Danish I wrote a joke for this episode.

Hvornår er en pirat mest glad? [When is a pirate most happy?]

You can listen to the episode hear the punchline!

Behind the scenes...

This is the first episode where we experimented with a slightly different format.

Aske Knudstrup, a journalist in Copenhagen took on the role of "Researcher". He interviewed our expert guests and then came into the studio to present his findings to me and Josefine.

What The Denmark is all about inclusivity, and we see this as a great way for us to give (aspiring) journalists experience in storytelling/ podcasting. Soon we'll be sharing info on how people can apply to be the researcher for future topics, and so if you know someone who would be a good fit - ask them to subscribe to the newsletter to get updates!

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