Polish humour is no laughing matter

And our next story is no joke. It's about the Polish sense of humour. Has anyone even heard of a Polish sense of humour? Do you know any Polish jokes? How about this: a Russian, a German and a Pole meet on the twentieth floor of a high-rise building and decide to have a competition… You'll have to keep listening.

Recently an advert on Polish television caused a stir among many different groups, notably members of the older generations in Poland.

Now, John Cleese, thinking that he speaks Polish for a commercial advertising bank loans, was obviously aimed at a particular social group. Especially one that is well versed in the humorous antics of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, or Hotel Zacisze as it is known in Poland. But do Poles and Brits have a similar sense of humour?

‘I would say that we are quite similar because we both like this abstract sense of humour. We both like making fun of strange situations that are not particularly related to reality. But of course there are some differences but more and more we are borrowing some specific sides from Anglo-Saxon or from American types of humour.’

Doctor Dorota Brzozowska, a specialist in Polish and British humour from the University of Opole, thinks that the two sense of humour are getting closer.

‘All this black humour that is specially British, I would say, we are more and more eager to enjoy it as well, even if several years ago all those sick disaster jokes were quite strange for us so we wouldn’t appreciate it. Now more and more often we try to laugh at it, so I would say that it is changing because the world is getting is getting smaller and smaller, but we generally appreciate all those Monty Python, let’s say, or any other kind of British comedy if they are in Polish cinemas they have a good response and viewers because we like this. So I guess we have this in common.’

In order to get his bank loan, John Cleese had to pretend he was Polish, and claimed that his aunt came from the small southern town of Pcim, which is on the road to the Zakopane ski resort from Kraków. The result? An outcry by Pcim’s mayor, who failed to see the humour in the joke. But after consulting with some PR agents, the mayor U-turned on his accusations and now Pcim wants to use Cleese’s image to promote the small town, with a slogan stating ‘Thanks for remembering us – Your aunt from Pcim.’

“First we felt we offended but now we started to repeat them and those scenes with all these kinds of strange advertisements. We are getting more and more used to it and we try at least to have some distance or self-irony, or to try and appreciate it. Of course it’s quite difficult to say those things in general because maybe some people would feel offended but it always happens, but others would appreciate this kind of humour.”

But what about the jokes? Jerzy Postawka, a tourism specialist from Kraków:

‘You know, Polish jokes are very funny but I don’t really know them, I mean I can listen to them, I don’t remember them: I’m not a good joke teller. Concerning English jokes, I know one Polish joke which uses English words as part of the joke and the English wouldn’t understand it but for Poles it’s funny. It’s like there was a hotel guest from England in a hotel, and he wanted to order tea to his room, and he said ‘two tea to room two’, and the front office answered ‘tam tara tam tam’, so in Polish it’s funny, but for the English it’s like ‘blah blah blah’, it doesn’t mean anything.’

A veritable Polish classic: and to finish off let’s get back to our Russian, German and Polish friends:

‘So, a Russian, a German, and a Pole meet on the twentieth floor of a high-rise building, and decide to have a competition. Each one of them had to throw their watch out of the window, run down the stairs, and catch it before it fell on the ground. First up was the Russian. He threw his watch, but before he got downstairs, the watch was already lying in pieces on the ground. Then the German threw his watch, and, lo and behold, his watch also ended up in bits. Then it was the Pole’s turn. He calmly went downstairs, even taking his time to drop into the cafeteria on the eighth floor. After his coffee, he walked out of the front doors, waited a minute and caught his watch effortlessly. ‘How did you manage to pull that one off?’ ask the Russian and the German. ‘Easy!’, replied the Pole, ‘I just put my watch back two hours!’

Not quite what the Americans would think is a typical Polish joke, because the Pole always wins and is seen as cunning: but to please our American listeners, how about the Polish loan shark who skips town after lending out all his money?

I hear laughter in the aisles…