The British sense of humour
By Gary Marsh
May 4, 2019 3:27am CST
British humour. The British are a rather reserved race and are well known at keeping the stiff upper lip in times of stress and disaster. However when it comes to humour we are quite straight up about it and without realising half the time will take the micky out of ourselves and others. Perhaps the most confusing part of British humour however, is that there is a no ‘off’ button. Almost every conversation between the British is bound to feature some form of irony, teasing, banter, sarcasm, self-deprecation or mockery. This should not be seen as trying to hurt someone it is just our way. I am sure that many non-British English speaking people will find this quite peculiar. When every word exchanged has an undercurrent of humour, it becomes difficult to decipher when someone is joking or being serious. I often used to get away with murder at work because I would be saying things with quite a straight face, making whatever I was saying quite plausible and serious. Some people used to cotton on but I would insist that it was a true tale I was telling. I have managed to get away with things for a few days until in the end I have to burst the bubble. How can we joke and yet keep a straight face. We do, it is how we interact with one another and yet many people will not get the subtlety. Self-deprecation We do not parade or boast about our achievements although some nations will boast about their achievements to us it is viewed as being pompous when someone does. Instead of boasting and blowing our own trumpets, we tend to make light of our shortcomings by being excessively modest and putting ourselves down. Obvious examples of self-deprecating humour include one’s accent, age, physical build, skinny or fat, tall or short, baldness or wearing glasses and prominent features like big ears or nose! Irony and sarcasm Irony and sarcasm forms a large part of our repertoire and if you are talking to someone who may have a straight face the likely hood is that there will be an element of humour in there it may be subtle but it will definitely be there. Understatement. We tend to be underwhelmed by things and resort to dumbing down statement such as “Not bad” really means, “That’s actually quite good”. British speech is full of understatements using such terms as ‘quite’, ‘rather’, ‘a bit’. A ‘spot of bother’ may understate that things are disastrous. Seaside humour. Our humour can be seen particularly at the seaside there would be postcards on sale with cartoon caricatures with some quite smutty sayings on them but they were meant as harmless amusement. I think these days they are mainly very tame because of the PC brigade. The BBC made some brilliant comedies which were full of innuendos and sarcasm. The following programmes will give you some idea of the type of thing I mean. 1. The vicar of Dibley 2. Keeping up appearances. 3. To the manor born. 4. Are you being served. 5. The Good life. These programmes will give you some idea of how daft we can be but at the same time are absolutely hilarious. So what I am trying to get across is that our sense of humour whilst not being full of praise there is definitely approval to some of our comments on posts here! It can be quite easy to misinterpret what we are saying if you are not able to tune into our witty retorts! Tomorrow I may give some examples of some of the sarcasm, irony or banter I have personally used! The picture is an example of the type of cards that were once upon a time great fun from the seaside!
26 people like this
• Bunbury, Australia
That woman in the post card should have bruised knees as well. I love British humour but have never cottoned on to American humour. The shows you listed are all hilarious and when they were on, we were very careful not to miss any. Australian humour is very similar to British. We take the mickey and use all the tricks you've mentioned.
9 people like this
@JudyEv You've answered the question I wanted to ask concerning American humour. I've listened to some American humour programmes and couldn't even smile. The audiences laughed but I don't know why or what about. It's logical that the Australian humour is similar to the British one considering the history of your country.
6 people like this
• United States
@garymarsh6 my parents talked about one show in particular, not a comedy, called "Carnation Street", and a few other shows that I'm trying to remember. Just the other day daddy was talking about living in England and about putting coins in a box to watch television and some kind of vehicle driving by with a radar of some sort to see if people had paid . Not sure what he was saying exactly.
• United Kingdom
@Tampa_girl7 Arr you mean Coronation street. It is the longest running soap in the world. It started the year I was born and I have grown up with it. In the early days it was filmed live but that all changed. The characters on the street are really quite funny! Some very odd characters at times. It is quite good as they also incorporate life issues with in the story lines such as cancer, dementia, deafness and other topical subjects too!
• United Kingdom
You've explained our humour very well Gary. When I first started to try to write funny poems I was told not to expect the Americans to find them amusing, as they didn't get our sense of humour. I have to tell you that they do - I've had some great reactions from them, both on this site and another one I am on.
• Sutton, England
Well I am so ugly. I have crows landing on my face every night There are some people irrespective of nationality will take a situation and blow it up out of proportion Many Brits on the other hand take a ridiculous situation and enjoy a joke but with a straight face. Our humour is drier which is difficult for people to deal with Good old Frank Spencer deserves a mention here.
• Los Angeles, California
@garymarsh6 I never heard of Baxter before. He is typical of the style. What is it about Brit comics loving to dress in drag? I do know the Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise and Tony Hancock. And way back the Goonies (Sellers etc.)
• Gainesville, Florida
As an American, it took me a very long time to watch British comedies, because I didn't understand British humor. But once I began to understand, those shows suddenly became very funny! There's no doubt there is a huge difference between British humor and American humor.
• Daytona Beach, Florida
My all-time favorite is Keeping Up Appearances I just love Hyacinth Bucket insisting that the last name is Bouquet and quite often she comes up not smelling so good. I have seen all of the series and sometimes enjoy watching it all over again.
• United Kingdom
Haha I Certainly do and do you know that there are actually people here like her. We usually nickname them Hyacinth! My secretary was one such example. She used to ask me if I would like a cup of tea. I used to reply would one be served in the Periwinkle porcelain or the Royal Doulton country roses ! Sorry but it was like a red rag to a bull! In the end she even used to answer me calling her Hyacinth!
• United Kingdom
OH my Mind your language. I don't think that they would show this again because the UK has become too PC. Yes that was hilarious but you know people from other countries used to love this show too. This is quite a funny clip which may give you a little laugh actually probably a big laugh!
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