What Is British Humour?

1553 words (6 pages) Essay in Film Studies

28/04/17 Film Studies Reference this

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In popular culture, British humour is a somewhat general term applied to certain types of comedy and comedic acts from the United Kingdom. Many UK comedy TV shows typical of British humour have become popular all around the world, and for good or bad, have become strong representatives of British culture to an international audience. Also, it is expressed through a lot of books, comic cartoons, and all the media.

The British sense of humour is an ability to laugh at ourselves and others. It is not based on any particular belief or attempts to put any person or group down, but merely to observe some of our own odd habits and mannerisms which once highlighted in this way prove to be funny. It is unique in the sense that non-British people will not find any of it funny the first time they hear it. It is dry, it is sarcastic, and sometimes dark and macabre. Emotions are often not shown, and at first sight, most of the humour is hidden deep in the messages of the people expressing it.

British humour has helped the rest of the world to understand British people, and to get to know them better, and it is one of the most recognizable elements of the British culture.

What are the themes of British humour?

”A strong theme of sarcasm and self-deprecation, often with deadpan delivery, runs throughout British humour. Emotion is often buried under humour in a way that seems insensitive to other cultures. Jokes are told about everything and almost no subject is taboo, though often a lack of subtlety when discussing controversial issues is considered crass. Many UK comedy TV shows typical of British humour have been internationally popular, and have been an important channel for the export and representation of British culture to the international audience.” [2] 

There is a variety of themes that are used to express British humour. Some of them are naturally used more, some less, but essentially, all of them form a unique type of humour.

One significant element in the British sense of humour is that they dare to tell jokes about everything. No topic seems to be taboo as long some people laugh about it. A large part of British jokes is at someone else’s expense. British jokes often include a sort of wordplay that is based on multiple meanings of a word.

Over the last couple of decades, the best representative of British humour has been the television, and the BBC. Through many TV shows, they have portrayed the typical British men and women, their everyday life, their culture, and their sense of humour.

The most used themes for British TV comedy are:

– Smut and innuendo with sexual explicitness and scatological themes (used a lot in British sitcoms of the 70s)

– Disrespect to members of the establishment and authority (through satire)

– The absurdity and banality of everyday life (very often, and most successful, Monty Python, The Mighty Boosh, Red Dwarf etc.)

– The embarrassment of social ineptitude (Mr. Bean comedy TV series)

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– Making fun of foreigners is especially common in television sitcoms and films. (It can be seen in TV comedy series ‘Allo ‘Allo!, which mocked several national stereotypes, the British and the French.) British jokes often include a sort of wordplay that is based on multiple meanings of a word.)

– Macabre or dark humour, in which topics and events which are usually treated seriously are treated in a humorous manner.

– Humour inherent in everyday life, which is the humour, not necessarily apparent to the participants (Only Fools and Horses, The Office, The IT Crowd)

– British class system, where class tension between characters has been shown through comical situations ( most famous, Blackadder)

– Racial jokes and stereotypes ( Englishman, Scotsman and the Irishman jokes are the most popular, and also the stereotypes involving the French and the German people)

Most popular TV comedy shows in Britain

Monty Python

First, the most important, and the most popular comedy show in Britain is certainly the ”Monty Python Flying Circus”.

Monty Python comedy group is considered to be the main pillar of British humour. The group’s influence on comedy can be compared to The Beatles’ influence on music. The group is best known for its absurd humour that is also called “pythonesque” – which has become a byword in surreal humour, and is included in English language dictionaries. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was comedy sketch show that combined surreal skits, deep sarcasm and dark humour. It has been called “the most influential TV comedy of the post-war era [3] “.

Besides the TV series, they made movies such as the ,, Monty Python and The Holy Grail” and the famous ,,Life of Brian” with its song, ”Always look on the bright side of life”.

Mr Bean

When it comes to embarrassment or social ineptitude, no one can beat ”Mr Bean”. It is a television comedy starring Rowan Atkinson. The series follows the exploits of Mr. Bean, described by Atkinson as “a child in a grown man’s body”, in solving various problems presented by everyday tasks and often causing disruption in the process. Bean rarely speaks, and the largely physical humour of the series is derived from his interactions with other people and his unusual solutions to situations. [4] The show has had a huge international success, and it has had a spin-off in form of an animated cartoon and a couple of films that were well-received by the audience.

Only Fools and Horses

This classic comedy show belongs to the category of ”Humour in everyday life” and its characters are so called ”loveable rogues”. These characters are people who have a lot of wrong characteristics, a lot of flaws, and yet we love them, even if sometimes we fail to see why. Del Boy and Rodney Trotter are just these types of characters. The show itself is about a family of two brothers and their grandfather, who are trying to get rich by selling cheap, contraband merchandise, that is either stolen, or low quality. They come from Peckham, and they have a strong Cockney accent, which became worldwide famous after the show.The series had an impact on English culture, contributing several words and phrases to the English language. It spawned an extensive range of merchandise, including books, DVDs, toys and board games. A spin-off series, The Green, Green Grass, ran for four series in the UK from 2005 to 2009. [5] 

Popular British jokes

As said before, not a lot of people get British jokes, and not a lot of people find them funny. It is not the kind of humour that ”slaps you in the face”, but you have to have a knowledge of a certain political, social and historical references in order to understand the humour.

Also, some non-British people will not be able to understand it simply because they are not British. Others might, but they won’t find it funny.

Still, it has been widely accepted as one of the best types of national humour in the world, and the internet and the new TV shows are making it even more popular and accepted.

Finally, here are some examples of classical British jokes, hope you will find them funny.

– What is the longest word in the English language?

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“Smiles”. Because there is a mile between its first and last letters!

– An Englishman, roused by a Scot’s scorn of his race, protested that he was born an Englishman and hoped to die an Englishman. “Man,” scoffed the Scot, “hiv ye nae ambeetion (Have you no ambition)?”

– An English man and an Irish man are driving head on , at night, on a twisty, dark road. Both are driving too fast for the conditions and collide on a sharp bend in the road. To the amazement of both, they are unscathed, though their cars are both destroyed. In celebration of their luck, both agree to put aside their dislike for the other from that moment on. At this point, the Englishman goes to the boot and fetches a 12 year old bottle of whisky. He hands the bottle to the Irish man, whom exclaims,” may the Irish and the English live together forever, in peace, and harmony.” The Irish man then tips the bottle and gulps half of the bottle down. Still flabbergasted over the whole thing, he goes to hand the bottle to the Englishman, whom replies: ” no thanks, I’ll just wait till the Police get here!” [6] 

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