Henning Wehn review – Brit-baiting banter from Germany's comedy ambassador

Henning Wehn.
‘Noticing skin colour is not a problem!’ … Henning Wehn. Photograph: Anthony Upton/REX/Shutterstock

In the age of Brexit, is self-styled German comedy ambassador Henning Wehn an immigrant, a Londoner, or both? “I woke up on 24 June thinking, ‘Cor, blimey!’,” he says, setting the sly tone for a show – Westphalia Is Not an Option – that is determined to disrupt simplistic definitions of what an immigrant is and isn’t.

Wehn never considered himself one, he says, partly (cue supercilious smirk) because the word immigration implies a step up in the world. There are plenty of trademark mocking gags about Britain’s inferiority to his home country, including an old Wehn favourite about our non-German tendency to self-deprecation, and another marvelling at British buildings’ external plumbing.

But this touring show sets its sights higher than the comedy of national stereotypes, as Wehn asks: what makes a good or bad immigrant? Is there a pecking order? From the Vietnamese cabbie gone native to the Saudi princelings bulk-buying London penthouses, what does the incomer owe to Britain? And what does naturalised Britishness look like? Wehn offers his own guide, leading us from darts matches, via the “high-stakes pub quiz” that is the UK citizenship test, to the semiotics of the St George’s flag.

It’s a playful, upbeat set that whizzes by, even if, by Wehn’s own admission, it yields few consequential insights. Having undermined the idea that he, and the Royal Family, might be immigrants, Wehn doesn’t dig deeper, leaving wider assumptions about immigration and citizenship intact. But we can’t say we weren’t warned: “I’m worried,” he confesses, with disarming candour, that “my opinions might be guided by what works as a joke”.

Most of them do work as jokes, particular those that toy with bien pensant pieties. A standout routine, drawing on a newspaper’s Odd One Out quiz about England footballers, ribs Britain’s well-meaning silence around race. “Noticing skin colour is not a problem!” Wehn insists. It’s in this teasing of liberal propriety, rather than in investigating immigration per se, that Wehn’s heart – and talent – lies.