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How to understand British Humour

How to understand British Humour

British Humour is unique and can seem baffling at first. The key is not to take yourself too seriously.

Understanding British humour is not to take yourself too seriously, make light of your failures and flaws, clumsiness and embarrassing moments.  The British are good at teasing and taking the piss, out of themselves and others. As a nation we are famous for being very polite, but a surefire sign that they like you is to happily ‘offend’ you with a witty, tongue in cheek comment, “I can’t be seen in public with a Manchester United supporter!!!”.

How is British humour different from others……………

British humour is more diverse than American, as well as surrealism, sarcasam and irony, slapstick, use of language.  It also tends to take more risks, but American shows tend to rely very heavily on formulaic jokes and general sarcasm.

British comedians and British sitcoms tend to relate their material on ‘the absurdity of everyday life’. Some of the best British films and sitcoms are broadcast worldwide, but not every country understands the humour.

Fawlty Towers, a show that was made in the 1970’s, centred around a fictional hotel in a seaside town, with the staff attempting to run a hotel amidst farcical situations, with an array of demanding and eccentric guests and tradespeople. This show was ranked number 1 on a list of 100 greatest British TV programmes, an although it was made 40 years ago, is a ‘must view’ series.  You will see British humour at its best.

In early 2000, British comedian Ricky Gervais joined forces with Stephen Merchant to write The Office, which is classed as a ‘mockumentary’ (a type of show depicting fictional events). The show is about the day-to-day lives of office employees in a branch of the fictional paper company, Wernham Hogg, and centres on themes of social clumsiness, the trivialities of human behaviour, self-importance and conceit, frustration and desperation.   This series has been sold to over 80 countries, including a pan-Asian satellite channel.  The Americans made their own series, off of the success of the UK series.

Top British comedians

Many comedians start their career as ‘stand up’ often at local comedy clubs, moving on to festivals, like Edinburgh. All have very different types of material.  Jimmy Carr is Britain’s number 1 and is known for his deadpan delivery, dark humour and heckler interaction. His subjects tend to be about politics, sex, celebrities and current events, and he has lots of ‘one liners’.

“I’m not being condescending. I’m too busy thinking about far more important things that you wouldn’t understand”….Jimmy Carr

Combine self-deprecation with a dose of understated sarcasm and you have the key ingredients of British humour. Sarcasm and irony are ingrained in our DNA. They are produced with world-class timing and nearly always with a deadpan delivery that will leave you wondering as to whether it was indeed a joke (or not?).

Sarcasm can be hard to spot in a new language and a new culture, and in Britain the usual clues of hyperbole (exaggeration) and an overemphasis on adjectives are stressed even less, making it harder to pick up. Luckily, sarcasm is used so often in day-to-day life that you will soon be a natural at detecting it. Be sure to use the tone, context and non-verbal clues such as the proud smile that spreads across the speakers face (Brits struggle to hide their delight at a perfectly timed sarcastic comment) as a guide.

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