“Witzerland”, a guide to Swiss humor

The Swiss are known worldwide for being clean, discreet, for sure the best in the world in ensuring secrecy of trading and money. In an ideal world, if the French should be responsible for elegance and romance, the Germans for precision of transport systems, the Italians for all that deals with la dolce vita, the Swiss should bear the burden of making it all run swiftly and smoothly. With a maniac precision, as with their cuckoos clocks. Not quite the best, these Swiss, if what we are looking for is someone to glue an audience to their seat and make them laugh till death. Our friends the Swiss are the ones who take themselves – and their own national characters – so serious there have been instances of long-time foreign residents, known and appreciated for their work and their support to the Swiss community, who have been refused the citizenship because they once happened to behave impatiently before a cow – a Swiss cow! – blocking their way on the mountains.

What makes the Swiss laugh, then? Which jokes, trick, treak, and play makes them put aside their seriousness and return to childhood? This theme is the main topic of «Witzerland», a temporary exhibition held at the Swiss National Museum in Zurich. A multimedia look on Switzerland with humor as its central focus.

In a one-of-a-kind compilation, and using samples from the history of radio and television and cinema, the exhibition deals with how the sense of of humor in this landlocked country has evolved. Or kept unchanged over time: a way to thrust a non-serious look at Switzerland and its people.

Works like Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1963 «Die Heimat im Plakat» («The Motherland on banners»), whose very author used to describe as «Ein Buch für Schweizer Kinder» («A book for Swiss children»). It does seems as Dürrenmatt could be a source of the youth movements and the punk graphics.


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