We all love comedy.
Comedy induces laughter, and laughter is a powerful antidote to stress and pain. It’s so powerful, scientists even claim that it complements the process of curing cancer.
I personally, love a good laugh at the end of the day after long hours at the office, regardless in the form of TV shows, memes, blog articles, and even silly cat funny videos on the internet.
Growing up when American and British classics comedies were frequently aired on TV like Seinfeld, Annie Hall, Mr. Bean, Monty Python to the more recent The Office, both UK original and US adapted versions, became my favorite go-to entertainment.
The punchlines, one-liners, slapstick, and cheesy dad jokes, I found them all amusing.
Then I began to wonder, are comedies universal in their elements of humor across both cultures? If not, can we tell the differences?
Before we dissect the unique distinctions and dive deep into the conversation…
Let’s do a test. I want you to close your eyes and imagine the type of American characters played by Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen, or Steve Carrell.
Got it? Great.
Now do the same for Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, or Ricky Gervais.
Breaking Down The Characters
You’d almost always see the comedic heroes in American TV who believe that they’re smarter than the people around him.
These narratives commonly feature a classic wise guy who always have funny one-liners for every scene.
In contrast, the characters in Britain comedies consist of what we commonly see as a “loser” among their peers. These anti-heroes’ sense of dignity are challenged on a daily basis.
Typical scenarios including…
Getting yelled at by the boss…
Having trouble talking to the ladies at the bar…
The parents are bugging them to move out of the house…
Ricky Gervais said that the big difference is, “the Americans are more optimistic. That stood the fact that they’re told, they can be the next president of United States, and they can.”
In comparison, “the British people are told, it won’t happen to you” he explained.
Therefore, British comedy relies heavily on the characters who are inherently funny, rather than the witty things that they say.
In other words, the joke is on the characters so we’re laughing at them as compared to the jokes that the American comedic heroes say whom we laugh with.
The Social Interpretation Of Humor
America, land of the free.
The first thing that pops into our mind is the notion that everything is possible in the optimistic American Dream.
Stephen Fry, the English comedian observes that the biggest section of bookstores in the US is self-help and improvement.
He suggests the idea that life is refinable and improvable the way we desire by acquiring knowledge and techniques from cooking to entrepreneurship.
So you have variations of Martha Stewart, Tony Robbins, and Robert Kiyosaki on how to attain certain skill sets.
This behavior is similar to the influence of Protestant Churches that information is passed down through text and works, advocating the spread of literacy to the masses.
This is a contrast with the European counterpart where submission to the high church and the doctrines of Catholic Church were practiced.
We can see that the American comedic heroes begin as underdogs in an attempt to rise from failures as the story develops into a happy ending.
There’s a feeling of hope in the characters versus the dark British reality.
When Michael Scott (Steve Carell) wraps up his time on The Office US (spoiler alert!), he quit his job and moved to Colorado with his fiance. In the UK version, David Brent begs for his job back.
However, this is not to say that the Brits are pessimists in nature.
The dark reality presents them a realistic perception of life that keeps them grounded. They celebrate failures and the flaws of these characters that we can relate to.
After all, aren’t we all only humans?
Perhaps in the recent American comedies, there is a shift from its past sitcoms as a critic of false hope in the American optimism.
Millennial generation faces harsh reality of mounting student debt, competitive job market, and the decline of welfare state.
Comparative Cultural Behavior
The types of humor differ from both countries.
Sarcasm and irony are intrinsic part of jokes and banter in conversations in the UK. In the US, there is less suspicion of sincerity.
The Brits assume that you’re joking unless otherwise indicated.
This enables humor to be diverse from irony, dry humor, slapstick, to the use of language.
Conversely, the positive attitudes deep-rooted in American optimism may correlate to their negative reactions towards sarcasm.
The population in UK was made up of a relatively cultural homogeneous society. Until recently, irony and humor on subtle cultural cues can be picked up by the audience at large.
The underlying cultural cues based on such homogeneity cannot be replicated in the US has it always been a melting pot since its inception.
Punchlines and one-liners work in American comedy as a result of sincere and non-ironic characteristics whereby creating the possibilities for such humors to be placed in between conversations.
Hence, you have the American comedic hero who is above it all and says witty things.
Moral Of The Story
There are 5 learning points we can take away from these findings on American and Britain comedies movie.
1. When in doubt, be confident.
Just like the American protagonists, confidence enables them to get out of trouble and get the things that they want.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Failures and flaws are inherent to our personal growth. Don’t beat yourself up when things get in the way and remember to take a step back before you can take a massive leap forward.
3. Knowledge is power.
Intelligence is sexy. Keep on learning so that you can be independent and self-reliant. Better yet, help the people around you by giving them the knowledge they might need.
4. Sincerity saves the cat.
Nice guys finish last. Being sincere nurtures trusts between two people. Don’t cheat on your partner. Don’t backstab your friends. Honesty is the key to a lasting relationship.
5. Read between the lines.
There is a fine line between humor and offense. Learning how to be sensitive and knowing where the lines are drawn can make you a likeable person among your peers.
What’s your take on this?
Write on the comment section below if you have opinion on comedies in other cultures!