Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

“…and what’s the deal with this airline food?”

September 15, 2009 · 1 Comment

Some say laughter is the best medicine. Others say “Laugh, and the world laughs with you.”

To be honest, I am not too sure what the British say.

My parents introduced me to British humour early on in my life (not too early, mind you), and after years of patiently watching and listening, I have no bloody clue what it all means. You know it is supposed to be funny, but what is there to laugh at? I still have no idea sometimes.

One of these moments occurred during my freshman year at Dickinson. I was in a show by N. F. Simpson, a well-known British playwright under the direction of a senior who had just come back from a year abroad in…you guessed it – England. She can safely fall into the category of anglophile, as indicated by her love for Monty Python – one of the most famous comedy troupes in the entire UK. She showed us a collection of famous clips from the group as “inspiration” for British humour (much of which appeared in the play I was in). Needless to say, the next 30 minutes were painful, for many of the skits went over our heads, never to be understood. We simply could not relate. Our director understood the humour, however, and laughed heartily at the sketches, occasionally stopping to look over at us as we sank into utter confusion.

Parrot Sketch

I do like some parts of British humour, do not get me wrong. There are sketches I reference in conversation, such as the one above, to either the delight or (as seems to be a regular occurrence here) utter confusion of the people around me. I laugh at Eddie Izzard, enjoy the humour of John Cleese, and I wish I could afford the 110-pound tickets for the Monty Python reunion at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

Is there really a better way to understand British humour? Will this be the one barrier that forever distinguishes us as American tourists? I will stop before my lamentations turn philosophical, but it something very important to reckon with. Take a moment to consider the enormous market for comedy in our generation. You have huge a huge fan base for the likes of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Tracy Morgan, Jeff Dunham (random, but he is a very funny ventriloquist), and so on. We even have an entire channel dedicated to comedy (Comedy Central)! If the British market for comedy is half as large as that in the US, it will be a force that we will have to reckon with, whether we understand it or not.

The Ministry of Silly Walks

The skits and acts embedded in this post are very funny, at least to me. It has taken some awkward and often forced encounters with British humour for me to gain any interest in viewing it. Some surely can say it is just one variation of a larger, more universal type of humour, but I do not agree. Britain has established some very funny acts and humour that breaks free from any type of standard with which I am familiar. Quirky, interesting, and downright strange, these comedians, comedic actors, and others have been the pride of British society. I plan to discover why this is so.

Supermarket Psychology

Categories: Brandon
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1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 19th 2009 at 15:37

    You need to check out “Mock the Week” on BBC2(?). You can check out the previous week’s show on bbc.co.uk/iplayer
    This is my new fave in the UK.

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