Although humor is often used to disparage ethnic groups, it is sometimes used by members of an ethnic group to draw laughs about people from their own background. This article describes the cultural and linguistic contexts of Pennsylvania German/Dutch humor and jokes. An exemplary and influential example of Pennsylvania Dutch English humor can be found in Ted Rickenbach, who performed as “Professor Schnitzel” from about 1927 until his death in 1969. He was very popular during his lifetime and continues to influence contemporary Pennsylvania German comedians. The article contextualizes the main linguistic and cultural themes in Pennsylvania German humor and then discusses Rickenbach’s Schnitzel in terms of his broad discourse features, demeanor and overall presentation. His discourse is a constructed one that expresses or enregisters a Pennsylvania German identity. His presentation both makes fun of himself as a Pennsylvania German while also expressing a regional authenticity and, for many, an endearing ethnic identity.
Laughing at Ourselves: Professor Schnitzel and Pennsylvania German Humor
William W. Donner is Freyberyger Professor of Pennsylvania German Studies at Kutztown University. He received his PhD (1985) in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania based on 2 ½ years of ethnographic research among the Sikaiana people of the Solomon Islands. Since 1990 he has been learning about and Pennsylvania Germans. His publications include a book, Serious Nonsense: Groundhog Lodges, Versammlinge and Pennsylvania German Heritage (Penn State 2016), many articles, and he has developed an archival website about Pennsylvania German culture and language, https://research.library.kutztown.edu/pa_german_dutch/
William W. Donner; Laughing at Ourselves: Professor Schnitzel and Pennsylvania German Humor. American Speech 2023; doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-10867207
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