EmbrACE Online

British vs American humor


British vs American humor: The devil is in the details

              Whether it is a British comedy series or an American comedy show, the audience consumes anything that is somehow engaging and provides entertainment making us forget the boring routinization of everyday life. However, it is fascinating how the cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S. are portrayed in media or more specifically TV shows and movies. One illustration of that difference is The Office, which was in the beginning a British show, later adapted into the American media market. Both shows have the same premise, however their execution produced different yet equally entertaining jokes. There is a significant cultural difference portrayed in the way they approach comedy.

The tone of the series:

              One of the key differences is the tone of the show. It is clear when you compare British shows like the Peep Show, In-Betweeners with Friends, and How I Met Your Mother, that there is something contrasting to the way jokes are structured and delivered. It is not to say one is funnier than the other, though it might seem that way for some, it is simply whenever the style of humor aligns with your personal taste. Imagine you are watching Friends - the audience witnesses funny, over-the-top, quirky, and sometimes stupid situations where people watching from behind the screen almost feel as if they’re part of this tight-knit group laughing with them. However, in a show like the Peep Show, the situations characters end up in are somehow embarrassing, not ideal, and even cringy, and the audience rather laughs at them, not with them. It is somehow the misery in the situation that the Brits are able to laugh about as opposed to the wholesome atmosphere created by American shows. It is the juxtaposition between the self-deprecation, the unescapable bleakness of life versus the wholesome stupidity combined with the knowledge that everything is going to be all right in the end.


              It is precisely how the two managers in the Office are portrayed that makes the shows so different yet both equally hilarious. The American Michael Scott is embarrassing and tactless, however in the end, something happens, reviving him in the eyes of the audience, bringing him back from his bad qualities. However, the British David Brent does not get any redemption as he is still the unlikable guy that confuses popularity with respect. Another example is Chandler from Friends who is stuck at a dead-end job that he has no passion for. However, he is not portrayed as someone you should take pity on; instead, he is a lovable character surrounded by his friends who, by the finale, marries his best friend and ends up with a successful career. American comedy underlines the idea of hope, that people can improve and be better and succeed in the end. The opposite can be said for their British counterparts. Mark from the Peep Show is an insecure man stuck at a job he doesn’t like, fancying his co-worker whilst making unsuccessful attempts at winning her over. Yet, Mark does not get the girl, David Brent from the Office ends up getting fired, and characters do not get better, cooler, or smarter. The underlying idea is rooted in the despair and misery of the characters and their situation which produces comedic outcomes. It is the belief that terrible things are bound to happen so we might as well have a laugh about it. Whilst American humor portrays an ideal scenario where you strive to be as funny, successful, and lovable as those characters.

              There are plenty of other features that distinguish between American and British humor and even more media content to exemplify that. Nonetheless, this text was not to put down or scrutinize any of the respective comedy styles but simply to appreciate the cleverness in their differences.