According to Watching the English, English humor tends to be focused on irony, self-depreciation and used in all situations, but it is different to English comedy. While I was a little dubious of the differences and the quirkiness of English humor, experiencing it first hand helped me understand what Kate Fox meant in her book.
I received my dose of English humor on the train from London to Lancaster. Having received my ticket electronically through a QR code on my phone, I had assumed that it would be scanned when the staff asked for my ticket. Yet when I showed the man the QR code, his reply was a muttered “I have a university degree, but I can’t read that.” Eventually, I figured out what he needed to see, but his response threw me for a loop. But then I recalled the section of Watching the English on humor and spent the next half hour of my trip analyzing his statement (nerdy, yes, I know). It really ticks all the boxes for ‘standard’ English humor – satirical, some what modest and self depreciating and also used in an everyday situation. Looking back, I wish I was more prepared to engage in conversation and respond to the witty statement.
English comedy was a more recent experience, when we went to see “The Play that Goes Wrong.” Fortunately, comedy translates better to foreigners. The characteristic of the play that stood out was that the comedy was based upon all the things that did not go according to plan and would have been an embarrassment to any other play. This is supposedly typical of English comedy, where it is all about embarrassment. Fox mentions that the English are harder to amuse, which results in a lot of comedy and some of that definitely came through in the play. There were very few times when a minute would go by without a comedic scene and the audience could observe both comedy on the main stage, but also where the “sound controller” (who is actually another actor) was sitting. Hopefully, I’ll be just as fluent in English humor as English comedy by the end of the trip.