In one sense, Kate Fox’s discussion on humor in British society can be seen as a rough outline of the rules that dictate the UK’s unique brand of humor. In another sense, it can be interpreted as a discussion of the fact that humor itself rules British society. Since my first day in London, I’ve picked up on the peculiar sense of humor of the British, and noticed that its a staple in their daily interactions. Its fair to say that aside from the accents and driving habits of the British people, their humor was one of the first things that I noticed about their culture. Perhaps the reason that its stuck out to me so much is the fact that it’s much different than American humor. To illustrate this point, I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the defining features of British humor that I’ve picked up on; some of these observations reiterate Fox’s points, while others are those that may be limited to my experiences in this country.
What I’ve noticed about the Brits and their humor is:
1.) An almost uncomfortable dryness. Often, Brits will make jokes mid-converstaion, without any change in inflection of their voice nor any visual signals to suggest that they might be making a joke. At first, I had a hard time deciphering when a local was joking with me, or if I was just failing to pick up on unfamiliar social cues. After spending a few weeks here, however, I realize that this must stem from my second point…
2.) Sarcasm is the go-to form of humor. Such sarcasm can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) “banter, teasing, irony, [and] understatement,” (25). Put simply, when all else fails and you feel the need to make a joke, be sarcastic. The Brits will understand.
3.) A sensitivity towards being politically correct. Though Brits are constantly joking, they are careful not to be offensive. In my opinion, this differs greatly from American humor, where poking fun at different groups based on characteristics like religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference is, regrettably, a common practice. Just yesterday, I watched a video of a popular American stand-up comedian on Youtube, and then watched another of a popular English comedian. Though both were hilarious, the material from which they drew their jokes could not be more different. The American made dirty jokes about about men and alcohol, while the Brit made dry jokes about working in an office.
4.) Americans are the Brits’ easiest and most popular target for the butt-end of a joke. Fox admits this to be true, and it’s hard not to pick up on when living in Britain. Joking about Americans is always in good taste. I’ve even found good use for this area of humor – there have been a few times in my office where I’ve made a mistake, and rather than apologize or be embarrassed, I’ve simply blamed it on me being a “dumb American.” My coworkers seem to love when I do this (it is, after all, a form of “humorous self-depreciation”), and they quickly forget about whatever mistake I’ve made.
Though British humor is quite different in substance and style than that of Americans, I still enjoy it. I find Ricky Gervais to be absolutely hysterical, and feel as if he is a pretty good personification of what British humor is all about. Dryness, wittiness, and irony are the central features of humor in the UK, and I’ve gotta say I really like it.