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What is it that gives the British sense of humour its international renown?
When it comes to dissecting the British sense of humour there’s more to it than identifying our leading comedy talents and finding what they do right. The British sense of humour is ingrained in the nation. Our propensity for self-deprecation, sarcasm, irony and a particularly biting wit inspires a begrudging admiration; it must be the spirit of the underdog.
From Billy Connolly to Jimmy Carr, the British Isles has always produced comedians who know how to garner a laugh. But it’s not always the classic sense of humour that is what makes these people funny; often it’s their ability to push things further than most would dare.
Clearly there are times when too far really is too far (think Connolly’s British hostage joke back in 2004) but in the comedy world, these are the qualities (rightly or wrongly) that get the rest of the world chuckling in shocked disbelief.
Travel the world and you’ll soon realise that the illusion of the British as a mixed isle of tea drinking, cucumber sandwich eating, and stiff upper-lipped prudes is somewhat still prevalent. Playing on our stereotypes rather than rejecting them wins us a lot of laughs.
This is by no means a solely British condition; take the examples of Fosters Adverts. The protagonists of Brad and Dan reflect an overblown example of a whole host of Australian stereotypes that keep the laughs flowing, with the idea that the beer will follow in turn. Playing up to your stereotypes is an inherently British ideal that just seems to tickle the funny bones of other nations.
Sarcasm and black humour go with the British like blockbuster movies belong to Hollywood. There is nothing funnier, and in turn strangely endearing, than self-deprecating humour. Our glass of beer is always half empty, every silver lining has a cloud and we can’t distance ourselves from success fast enough.
We may have an atrocious footballing record, we still act as if we are a major world power and talking about the weather remains akin to a national pastime; and yet we are the first to point this out, earning international comedy points as we pick ourselves apart. National pride deserted us and left in its place was a sense of humour.
Probably just as important an export as the likes of David Brent and Monty Python is the British love affair with satire. Programmes like Have I got News For You and magazines like Private Eye support the fact that the British love to wax satirical. However, the US has been on the case and in Jon Stewart and The Daily Show they have ended up delivering our own dry sarcasm back to us, with comedy bells on.
Finally though, if nothing else proves the British have a highly individual brand of humour, then perhaps science might. Back in 2008 the Independent reported, ‘Our taste for biting satire and withering one-liners is in the genes’, with a survey to prove it.
So there you have it, the export of self-deprecating spirit, satire and science is what has the rest of the world laughing at us, or should that be with us?