Americans get a lot of culture and customs from their close cousins, the British. While the two cultures have so much in common, it’s interesting to see how their comedic senses have so many slight, yet obvious differences. British comedy is generally more pessimistic, realistic, self-deprecating, absurd, contemplative, and tragic than American comedy. Find out why this makes British humour funnier than American humour.
Seeing the Comedy in Tragedy
British comedy is rife with serious themes. It tackles everything from politics to tragedy to self-doubt. The fact that the best British comedians can take these themes that you generally don’t associate with comedy and make jokes out of them is part of their brilliance. Simply put, the British are better at turning tragedy into laughs. Remember that this is a population that was bombed during World War II, yet, the resolute British responded with the slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Perhaps this closeness to tragedy and ability to apply a lighthearted note to such a somber subject is what spurred the greatest British comedians. British humour, British humour
Any discussion about great comedians must include Monty Python. The legendary comedy troupe consists of a number of legends, including John Cleese and Michael Palin. The 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is often considered to be one of the comedies of all time. While the film did grab them an international audience, it is just a small portion of the troupe’s work.
What sets Monty Python apart from much of American comedy is the subject matter. The move “Life of Brian” is not only absurd, but it is also a surprisingly accurate historical portrayal of regional politics and society during New Testament times. The Pythons were history buffs and English majors, and it shows in their work. They often handled very advanced subjects, but even those who aren’t necessarily well-read will appreciate the absurdity of it all. British humour, British humour
“The Office” is a perfect case study of the differences between American and British comedy. Over the years, it has become common for U.S. TV and film studies to remake well-established British shows for American audiences. The American version of “The Office” starts off as a frustrating scene-by-scene copy of the British version. The show eventually got legs and gained an audience when it branched out on its own and began to Americanize the characters.
In the British version, the painfully awkward David Brent, played by Ricky Gervais, has to be one of the greatest TV characters of all time. In reality, Gervais’ character is probably too painful for most Americans to enjoy. He never finds redemption, he’s always wrong, and he remains a dunce throughout the series. This is perhaps the starkest difference between American and British comedy. In the U.S. version of “The Office,” Steve Carrel’s Michael Scott character ultimately gets his happy ending a new job. David Brent gets fired, which is so very British.