Can you joke in a crisis? The question is more political than it might seem at first glance. If something connects the extreme right and extreme left, it’s their terrible lack of humor.

An editor of the “Junge Freiheit” conducted an interview with me. It was about the situation in Germany or as you would say in the case of “Junge Freiheit”: the pressing issues of the time. So: the impoverishment of the country in the energy crisis, coming civil uprisings and the re-education of young people through public television – in that order.

I think the editors were a little surprised that I accepted right away. Many people consider whether they should talk to Junge Freiheit and then say no. The hand is considered to be so right that it is best avoided.

I’m not a regular reader. But every time I picked up the newspaper, I couldn’t find anything that wouldn’t have been a matter of course in the CDU ten years ago. That’s enough today to make yourself impossible. I would also talk to leftists like Junge Welt or Neues Deutschland if they asked me. Why turn down an opportunity to reach readers you might never reach otherwise? I think like Dunja Hayali.

The interview was announced on the front page. For the headline, the editors had chosen a sentence that I had uttered in connection with the gender nonsense and which the editors considered so provocative that they hoped to get maximum attention if they printed it large. “Dear people, relax!” was the headline. I had to laugh when I saw that. That said a lot to me about the state of mind in the right-wing conservative milieu.

Energy has never been as expensive as it is now. But instead of panicking, you should calmly check potential savings at home. As our guide shows, there are many of them.

On the other hand: The editor-in-chief knows his readers, as I found out. The reactions proved him right. I obviously had no idea what was going on in the country, wrote one visibly upset subscriber. Another asked angrily whether I had been frozen somewhere for the past ten years or had been sent on a circumnavigation without a cell phone. My objection that even during the crisis I was sticking to the wisdom of the Indian guru Osho, according to which awareness and relaxation are two sides of the same coin, did not help to calm things down.

Can you still joke in the crisis? Or is that too frivolous? And what would be the appropriate attitude? Affected sympathy? silent anger? Open outrage?

The interview with “Junge Freiheit” also went beyond the limits of humor. In my columns I would always talk about things in a nice and humorous way, but is that appropriate? Many Germans would find themselves in need due to inflation and energy prices, some would lose their jobs or homes, others their life’s work, the responsible editor countered. “Some will die from it because fear and pressure are accelerators of cardiovascular disease, and experience has shown that some will take their own lives.”

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It’s never the right time for humor, you can reply. Something terrible always happens somewhere. When people aren’t killed by cardiovascular disease, they’re drowning as refugees in the Mediterranean, or a fire is raging in France, or a devastating drought is ravaging Africa. One can take the position that distance to the event matters: the geographically closer the horror, the more problematic the joke word. Or that humor has to end where Germans are affected. That would, however, be a humorous extension that would have to be discussed again.

Humorlessness is the scourge of our time. It used to be the left who pointed out the plagues of the world with holy seriousness, today it’s the right. In panel discussions from a distance of 50 meters, I recognize the guy who will monopolize you after the event if you don’t say goodbye in time. Practical casual wear, over 50 rather than under 50, short haircut, chin tilted.

The topic is almost irrelevant. It is either the Corona measures (a crime!) or public broadcasting (compulsory fees!) or the economic war with Russia (no weapons for Ukraine!) that are causing outrage. There’s always something likely to enrage you when you’re prone to tantrums.

Am I never upset? But of course I do. That comes with my job. Anyone who looks at everything with the serenity of the Buddhist monk will never write a sentence that has momentum and power. But I try not to let my outrage show. I’m also not prone to excessive pessimism, which also helps.

The motto I adhere to is: “Feared to death is also dead”. It was written by the Austrian dramatist Johann Nestroy, who is not without reason considered to have accomplished popular theatre. If Germany goes under, I can’t change it either. But I can avoid losing my head over it.

If you were to ask me what makes the political representatives on the far left and far right so unpalatable, my answer would be: this terrible tension in their appearance. I may be terribly wronging Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla. They may be the funniest people in the world. But I’m afraid if you were to sit next to them, you would first have to listen to a lecture on how we are lied to and cheated on from the back and front.

I once heard Alice Weidel laugh in the Bundestag. Unfortunately, it has to be said that it wasn’t a happy laugh, more of a triumphant stamp of the foot. If you stare into the abyss for too long, he will eventually look back. That’s the problem with anyone who dwells too much on doomsday scenarios.

Maybe this time we really get it. Who wants to rule that out? I too get a little dizzy when I see the rescue packages that they are putting together in Berlin to get the crisis under control. There will soon be more money in the various shadow and subsidiary budgets than in the regular federal budget. What his special operation is for Putin, the special fund is for the traffic light. Everyone knows it’s debt, just don’t call it that.

If something irritates me, it’s the strange surrender to fate that has spread in parts of politics and the media, as if relegation is a foregone conclusion. Three weeks ago, the “Spiegel” published a cover story about the forces that are tugging at Germany. I have no doubt that everything that colleagues have described is correct. But I missed a sentence on how to defy fate. Instead, I only read thoughts on how the shortage could be distributed as fairly as possible.

Can you imagine that the Americans would just take it if you predicted their downfall? Of course not. They would do everything in their power to stop the descent. Even the Russians have managed to cushion the collapse of their economy. At some point there will be no more Lada and no Tupolev to cannibalize for spare parts. But until then, they’re keeping things going even in Russia.

Humor is a way of gaining distance, also from oneself. Just as manners and manners make life with others more bearable because they spare us from direct confrontation, irony and self-mockery also ensure distance and thus bearability.

I’ve always been a huge Boris Johnson fan in that regard. He might not have been the best choice as prime minister, but as an MP he was in a class of his own. I think the reason why Johnson antagonized so many was that even when everyone expected him to finally grovel in remorse, he kept cracking jokes at his own expense.

That too is an advantage of the ironic view of the world that should not be underestimated: you always have one more ace up your sleeve than those who think you’re blank think

• Read all of Jan Fleischhauer’s columns here.

The readers love him or hate him, Jan Fleischhauer is indifferent to the least. You only have to look at the comments on his columns to get an idea of ​​how much people are moved by what he writes. He was at SPIEGEL for 30 years, and at the beginning of August 2019 he switched to FOCUS as a columnist.

Fleischhauer himself sees his task as giving voice to a world view that he believes is underrepresented in the German media. So when in doubt, against the herd instinct, commonplaces and thought templates. His texts are always amusing – perhaps it is this fact that provokes his opponents the most.

You can write to our author: By email to or on Twitter @janfleischhauer.