The man who discovers

 how to die with humour

 will reach the peak of civilization.

Curt Goetz, How To Die Laughing

The first English translation of Curt Goetz’s Dr Job Praetorius.

Curt Goetz (1888-1960) was a celebrated stage and film actor, director, and playwright. In his early career he acted in various plays, including works by Shaw, Sardou and Shakespeare. Such literature proved an inspiration to Goetz, who began writing original plays which drew on these influences; he married the romanticism of writers like Schiller and Goethe with the expressionism of playwrights like Strindberg and Wedekind – the artificial repartee of Oscar Wilde with the natural drama of Ibsen.

His personality and his works show restraint and refinement, elegance, and quick wit. His plays are not sentimental but emotional; not intellectual but intelligent.

After the last curtain call, in a speech commemorating his career, Goetz admitted that he had no literary ambitions but rather had written his plays ‘… obsessed with the need to induce laughter’. His obsession proved well placed; no other writer’s comedies have been as frequently incorporated into the repertoire of the German theatre in the last seventy years.

A distant relative of George Bernard Shaw, and the translator of Noel Coward’s works into German, the “frivolous moralist” Goetz remains an unknown quantity to the English stage. Until now.

What we are missing is joy,

what we require is hope,

what we need is confidence,

what we long for is happiness!

Curt Goetz, How To Die Laughing


How To Die Laughing is a play in seven acts.


Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are left defeated by the circumstances of the mysterious death of Dr Praetorius – a celebrated professor killed in a car crash.

The sudden appearance of Mr Shunderson, Praetorius’ factotum, only serves to confuse them further. But when Shunderson begins to tell the unbelievable story of his master’s demise, the fate of Dr Praetorius gradually unfolds – as the four months before his eventual death are retold in flashback.


However not everything is as straightforward as it sometimes seems: for instance, why was the respected physician hauled in front of a Board of Ethics the day before he died? Could it have something to do with the treatment of his student Maria Violetta? Or does it go further back to the opening of his practice in Peepnest?

And why is Shunderson so secretive about his own past?


How to Die Laughing was written in 1932, at a time when democracy was being challenged by extremists. The surface of the play is almost untouched by that turbulence. But underneath lies a deep resentment of the unfolding political climate – his main targets being envy, greed and stupidity.


Against stupidity

the gods themselves contend in vain.

Friedrich Schiller, The Maid of Orleans


How To Die Laughing was translated between May and July 2005 with the instrumental contributions of the English actors Sarah Jane Wolverson and Andrew Keatley.


Translating a play is rather like writing one. The first principle, surely, is that each line should be what that particular character would have said at that particular moment if he had been a native English-speaker. This involves inhabiting that character, or trying to, as intimately as if he were one’s own. The second basic principle, it seems to me, is that every line must be as immediately comprehensible as it was in the original; there are no footnotes in the theatre, and no turning back to a previous page.

– Michael Frayn


The translation has been approved by Curt Goetz’s estate, Dimufidra AG in Zurich, and the first public reading took place on 9 July 2005 in London.


Translating a play, not transcribing it into another language but translating it, causes more headaches than writing a play – provided that one is able to write a play in the first place. And it is only when one is capable of writing a play that one is capable of translating one. Because many figures of speech, which on purely linguistic terms are delightful in the mother tongue, cannot travel to foreign countries. They require a poetic licence – which can only be the duty of a poet.

– Curt Goetz

We are investigating performance opportunities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The publication of How To Die Laughing shall coincide with the British première.

Humour cannot be learnt. On top of intellect and wit,

it requires great measures of kindness, patience, love and compassion

– which is why it is so rare.

Curt Goetz, How To Die Laughing


Curt Goetz’s classics available on DVD


Edition Filmmuseum released in 2007 four Goetz’s classics of film comedy: Napoleon ist an allem schuld (1938), Frauenarzt Dr. Prätorius (1950), Das Haus in Montevideo (1951) und Hokuspokus (1953). “From a UK perspective the Edition Filmmuseum label is getting more and more interesting with each release. It would appear as though they're unearthing gems solely for our pleasure” wrote Anthony Nield, on


“Extremely proficient dialogue...”


In London, the Gate Theatre assembled a panel of playwrights, translators and literary managers to judge contemporary play translations. About How To Die Laughing, they wrote on 10 May 2006: “Extremely proficient, well flowing, light and speakable dialogue. L’atelier Spectaculaire absolutely encapsulated the style and the dialogue is extremely convincing. They have done a fine job and we are interested in seeing more of their work”.


"… in a league with Oscar Wilde"


“[How To Die Laughing is a] sassy, timeless social commentary, in a league with Oscar Wilde. Rixhon’s translation, the first in English, is delightfully playful, with brilliant repartee that artfully conveys Goetz’s sophisticated explorations of the human psyche” wrote Eric Liebetrau, in a Kirkus special report published on Broadway on 22 March 2006.


"Precise and carefully realised pre-production planning"


This is the verdict rendered on How To Die Laughing’s production concept by a jury of three stage directors including Leon Rubin. The work has been presented by L’atelier Spectaculaire on 9 January 2006. It includes creative contributions from Julie Caty (costumes), Anne-Lise Galavielle (set), Bernard L'Hoir (music), Philippe Rixhon (directing) and David L. Sadler (lighting).


Curt Goetz - Chronology and Plays (PDF, 319 KB)

How To Die Laughing - Cast and Synopsis (PDF, 121 KB)

How To Die Laughing - Kirkus Discoveries (PDF, 18 KB)



Curt Goetz’s books (

According to the rule that the antidote of a sickness will always be found

when that sickness has reached its peak and become unbearable,

the germ of human stupidity must be found today or tomorrow.

Curt Goetz, How To Die Laughing
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