FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Tomorrow night in Germany, tens of millions of people will observe an annual New Year's Eve tradition that seems just a little odd. They'll sit in front of their TVs and watch an 11-minute, English-language, black-and-white comedy sketch from 1963. The same ritual is being observed in countries from Scandinavia to South Africa to Australia. Go into any German bar and nearly everyone will know the sketch's English catchphrase.
(Soundbite of sketch)
JAMES: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie.
Miss SOPHIE: Same procedure as every year, James.
CHIDEYA: And yet, almost no one in Britain or America has ever heard of this sketch called "Dinner for One." Joining us from Berlin is Jude Stewart, who's written about the "Dinner for One" phenomenon for the online magazine Slate.
JUDE STEWART reporting:
Hi. Thanks for having me.
CHIDEYA: So explain the premise of this sketch.
STEWART: Miss Sophie is very old and she has a dinner party every year. But the problem is that she's outlived all her friends, and luckily, she has her butler James who takes up the slack as being both the butler and playing all the roles of the four guests and drinking all the drinks, of course.
CHIDEYA: So he gets stumbling around drunk. Let's hear a little bit of that.
(Soundbite of "Dinner for One")
Miss SOPHIE: ...(Unintelligible).
JAMES: Cheers, Miss Sophie.
Miss SOPHIE: Admiral Von Schneider.
Miss SOPHIE: Mr. Pomeroy.
JAMES: Happy new year, Sophie, me girl.
Miss SOPHIE: Mr. Winterbottom.
JAMES: Well, here we are again, all lovely and ...(unintelligible), bless your old heart.
Miss SOPHIE: I think we have champagne with the bird.
JAMES: Champagne, yes. Champagne. Same procedures as last year, Miss Sophie?
CHIDEYA: So, Jude, how did this whole phenomenon get started?
STEWART: Well, it's been a cabaret act for a long time; it started in the '20s in England, and in the 1960s Peter Frankenfeld had his own live German TV show; discovered this sketch in Blackpool and invited the actors to come and do a live broadcast in front of a studio audience. That's where the recording that we see today has come from. It's really short, so it's been a great little filler for years between other broadcasts, and then in 1972 people decided to run it every year on New Year's Eve, and it's become a ritual ever since. And now we estimate maybe half of Germany watches it.
CHIDEYA: It's hard to imagine an obscure 40-year-old sketch in German becoming something that as many as half of Americans watched each year. Why do you think "Dinner for One" has endured?
STEWART: For one thing, it's very much based on physical comedy, which means that you need to know practically no English to understand it. Don't ever underestimate the power of physical comedy, not to mention drunkenness. It's a wonderful little sketch; it's a great starter to your night. A lot of people do drinking games to it, drinking along with Miss Sophie and the butler. It's something that really rewards a lot of rewatching, which certainly Germans are doing quite a lot of.
CHIDEYA: Last question. Do you plan on watching "Dinner for One" this year, and will you be playing a drinking game at the time?
STEWART: Of course. The same procedure as every year.
CHIDEYA: Well, here's wishing you the same procedure as every year, and I'll hoist a glass. Jude Stewart is a writer based in Germany. You'll find her article with links to clips of the sketch at slate.com.
STEWART: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand return next week. I'm Farai Chideya.