“Rather comical, dude”: American vs. British humor- an academic perspective


Just watched a captivating Salman Rushdie interview in which he repeats a telling quote on the difference between American & British comedy.

British comedy is based on the question “Wouldn’t it be funny IF?” whereas American comedy is based on the question “Isn’t it funny THAT?

American humor is up-front, expressly stated, with laughs readily available and reflection rarely required. Conversely, British humor requires a curious sort of patience. It unravels itself slowly, titillating the imagination. It requires relationship-building- a character or mannerism may not seem funny until its been expressed over time and in many situations. For these reasons, it’s more intimate, and more likely to strike a lasting chord. You might guffaw hard at Zohan’s antics now, but in 20 years, you’re more likely to remember Basil Fawlty and chuckle.

Sybil Fawlty: You’re looking very happy Basil.
Basil Fawlty: Happy? Ah yes, I remember that.

ant-sexyIt’s sort of like a supermodel’s bare bottom versus the same celestial clad in a slit mini-skirt. While it’s amazing to have the instant gratification of the former, one somehow yearns for the artful allure of the latter.

3 responses to ““Rather comical, dude”: American vs. British humor- an academic perspective

  1. very interesting, very you.
    love the supermodel metaphor.

  2. Modern Commercial American Humor may be more upfront but that stuff is created for the broadest possible audience, thus why it appeals to the lowest common denominator. I love Fawlty Towers and was raised on it, in America, but its certainly not any less up front than the work of Jerry Seinfeld. And don’t forget the Father of modern Satire, my fellow St. Louisan, Mark Twain:

    • Padraig,

      I agree that American humor can sometimes be very tasteful, as in the case of Office Space/Mark Twain etc. Also enjoyed the chat we had about Rushdie’s video in which he states that the phenomenon of a uniquely national humor is eroding. However, British humor is also targeted to the lowest common denominator, it’s just that what appeals to the masses there is generally a little bit more subtle than what works in the States. Even out-and-out Brit comedy such as Mind your Language and Fawlty Towers often rely on understatement and wit to get the message across.

      You are far more informed than the average TV viewer, in that your shows span an entire range of cultures, etc. with what your Korean murder dramas and all that:) I really enjoyed your comments, keep em’ coming. And kudos on the new blog!

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