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23.08.2021

“Who Defines What Funny Is, Anyway?”

Astrid Aschenbrenner is an exciting young cabaret artist. On stage, she calls herself wienerkind (child of Vienna), also because she’s been shaped by Vienna’s dialect and well-known sense of humour. As a child, her role model was Hans Moser – and she didn’t even notice how few funny women were to be seen on television and on the stage.

Now she performs in order to challenge such preconceptions. “Of course there are unfunny women, but there are also unfunny men,” she says. “Humour has absolutely nothing to do with gender.”

Astrid Aschenbrenner
Photo: Astrid Aschenbrenner

Your stage name as a cabaret artist is wienerkind. How important is Viennese humour to you?

I can’t imagine my life without Viennese humour. I like the language itself, dialect expressions such as einen Bahö machen (making a commotion) or verwordagelt, which more or less means distorted. I try to include such turns of phrase and words in my everyday life and in my programme. I grew up in Vienna and have been heavily influenced by the city – and by this malicious sense of humour. As a child I watched lots of Hans Moser films with my parents, I was a huge fan of his.

Alongside Hans Moser, you also name the US film comedian Jerry Lewis and, later, the Viennese cabaret artist Josef Hader as role models. Did it ever occur to you that there were hardly any women?

In old films, women tended to play sweet roles. As a child and young woman I simply didn’t question this. It was only when I began to study acting myself and unconditionally wanted to play comic roles that I rapidly noticed how few funny plays there are for women. And this failure to find any was the reason why Patrizia Wunderl and I started to write a cabaret programme ourselves.

Humour is up to the individual

Women are still a minority in the field of cabaret. Why is this?

There aren’t as many platforms as there are for men. And the cliché that women simply aren’t funny still prevails. This was recently written as a comment below a video of mine on Instagram.

It’s absurd; lots of men aren’t funny either. But despite this they’re not considered absolute and representative of their entire gender.

Of course there are unfunny women but there are also unfunny men. And who defines what funny is, anyway? Humour is completely up to the individual. And has absolutely nothing to do with gender, at least in my eyes. Women certainly don’t have the same opportunities on the cabaret scene as men. There’s a big gap to make up here.

Women also want to be able to be nasty

Do women face different issues in your programme?

One can’t generalise here. For the past 15 years, the German comedian Mario Barth has focussed on the dynamic between man and woman. His programme makes use of stereotypical gender relationships. And no one has a problem with this. If a woman did the same, she’d be frowned upon. And she also wouldn’t be as successful.

Why is that?

Women are forced into roles. No one trusts them to master this Vienna sense of humour in the same way. No one understands why they should want to be nasty and use such powerful expressions. Many in the audience simply don’t really understand what women are doing there at all. Why they’re making fun of themselves.

Photo: Astrid Aschenbrenner

The jokes come of their own accord

Humour is under scrutiny anyway at the present time. Whom are we allowed to make fun of? Is it okay to be negative about minorities? Or should humour always look upwards, take on the powerful? How do you see this?

My main motive for performing cabaret was that this would enable me to offer a critique of society. In my opinion, this should mainly be directed upwards. On stage, it’s not my objective to point a finger at anyone. Cabaret is a platform that allows one to use humour as a means of making this social criticism digestible to the audience. And maybe even change something for the better.

As a cabaret artist, do people always expect you to be funny in private?

I’m generally a funny person, who likes to laugh, but I can also easily separate my job and private life. I don’t put myself under any pressure to write jokes. The humour has to come of its own accord.