The Difference Between American and British Comedy (2 min read)

Catashrophe

Humour tells a lot about a culture. I notice it a lot in comedy shows either side of the pond. The contrasting British and American versions of “The Office” show this in stark form. The British version had a very sad and irritating protagonist (Ricky Gervais), while the American lead (Steve Carell) was sweet (though misguided). The British one showed work to be a waste of time, while the American version had to drop that theme.

A recent edition of “The New Yorker” magazine captured these differences well in an article on one of my favourite British shows, “Catastrophe“:

The hallmark of the British sitcom is a quasi-unbearable protagonist who is an Everyman, only insofar as every man can laugh at him. The unrepentant snob Basil Fawlty, the beastly glamour-pusses Edina and Patsy, the fatuous narcissist Alan Partridge, and the thirsty buffoon David Brent: these classic British characters are all flawed in the unapologetic manner of contemporary edgy American comedies…

U.K. sitcoms tend to be darker than American ones, encouraged by a powerful public broadcasting system whose aim is to serve the varying tastes of taxpayers, not the upbeat preferences of advertisers, and by a national psyche fixated on the immutability of the class system, not on a dream of self-improvement. Americans believe that things will get better. Brits laugh at how things stay the same.

“Catastrophe”…[plundered] some British comedy traditions, mostly of hatred, self-loathing, and repression.

Keep an eye on British and American shows and you’ll see what I mean!

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