Wednesday, December 30, 2009

British Humour

Mark W. Danielson

I thought I’d end the year with a chat about British humour. (That’s how they spell it.) I love how they laugh at themselves. Hugh Grant has made a career reflecting bungling, polite characters. Their humour is sophisticated, satirical, raunchy, and silly as they poke fun at their royalty, the absurd, their class system, and the constant battles between parents and their children. Their parodies, skits, stand-up routines, theater productions, television, and big screen movies are full of silliness. TV Shows like Benny Hill, Monty Python, and Mr. Bean, found international audiences because of their universal appeal. There is nothing mean about it.

A recent web video features the Hampshire Fire Department’s “Red Sparrows”, which is a spoof on the British Air Force Red Arrows flight demonstration team. This brilliant production features a squadron of World War I bi-planes piloted by firefighters. Their marvelous aerial stunts precede several “dogfights” against German fighters. Smoke, flames, and gunfire make this compelling piece a must-see. Who else but the British could come up with such cleverly performed antics? Check it out at:

I’m not sure why American comedians must get their laughs at the expense of others. Lyne and I went to a Comedy Club a while ago and people started walking out because of the entertainer’s foul and hurtful language. If the HBO comedians were broadcast on network television, every other word would be bleeped out. If you want an idea about where we’ve gone wrong as a society, check out Mean Girls. Thankfully, we still have witty programs like The Daily Show which find humor in current events.

Perhaps the Brits’ ability to laugh at one’s self is a by-product their politeness. Take, for example, Kelly Osborne’s recent performance in television’s reality show, Dancing with the Stars. One might think that the daughter of a rock star would be totally warped, but instead, she swept the judges and audience off their feet with her ever-present smile, dedication, grace, and politeness. True, she occasionally let her guard down and spouted some four letter words, but they were always self-directed, not at others on the show.

Ride in a British cab and you’ll find a polite driver with a witty sense of humor. Do the same with a New York cabbie and your heart will be racing five minutes into your journey as they cuss and gesture while weaving through traffic. We can probably learn a few things from our friends across the pond.

What’s most interesting about British humour is its level of sophistication. Much of it involves current events so if you’re not tuned in, you won’t “get it”. It is also fast-paced, so pay attention.

Humor is found around the world, though. Japanese television airs hysterical slapstick game shows, Indian Bollywood movies are hilarious, South American game shows are raunchy, but funny, and let’s not forget the Canadian actors who have added so much to Saturday Night Live and other shows. Since most people ring in the New Year laughing, why not do the same for the other 364 days? Happy New Year everyone!


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Happy New Year to you, too.

Bill Kirton said...

Nice to be appreciated, Mark. Thanks for the plug (except that I find the Benny Hill and Mr Bean sub-genres embarrassing). When I directed a play in the USA a few years back, I discovered that not all your compatriots share your appreciation. In feeble attempts at humour, I made the sort of self-deprecatory remarks that you allude to and was taken aback to find that some of the cast were at pains to reassure me that the deficiencies I identified in myself were imaginary.

Satire comes easily to us but, given the pressures from some areas of US society, I'm far more impressed with the tiny, killing barbs on display in programmes such as The Simpsons.

But, wherever it comes from, laughter's an essential ingredient (maybe even the most important one) in life, so I'm with you.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Bill, The Simpsons and The Muppets still stand out as some of our best shows for sophisitcated humor. Ironically, they are both labled "kid shows".

The hillarity we used to get from entertainers such as Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Red Skelton have vanished, but those of use fortunate to have seen them at least have our memories.

It was easier to laugh back then, but perhaps we can all contribute to reversing that trend.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree with my Scottish friend, Bill, about self deprecating British humor. I think that we, in this country, often take ourselves too seriously and laughter is an essential ingredient in life (as well as the best medicine).

I also miss the old comedic TV shows and rarely watch the current slapstick episodic programs. They're written mainly by the very young who seem to think that acting like a moron is good theater.

Beth Terrell said...

My favorite example of British humor is BLACK ADDER. Brilliant. I especially like the one about the witch sniffer.

As for American humor, of course the muppets are pure genius. For anyone familiar with STAR TREK, the movie GALAXY QUEST is both touching and hilarious. Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub, and Sigourney Weaver all turn in wonderful performances, and the actor who plays the leader of the aliens who come to them for help is an absolute delight.

Anonymous said...

My favorite of all the Brit shows is Fawlty Towers, with John Cleese. Memory pricked, I just watched an episode called "The Hotel Inspectors" on YouTube and got some good laughs. (Good for the stomach muscles.)

Going back even further, when I taught high school English I soon learned that my students had no sense of humor. My occasional comments were met with wide-eyed looks. They simply didn't get it.
It was my first clue that I really preferred the company of adults.

This country is still too young and raw to produce many comedians like John Cleese.

Pat Browning

Bill Kirton said...

I think it's worth putting in a plug for a couple of your writers too. I find Janet Evanovich and Carl Hiaassen hilarious.