Friday, March 06, 2009

American Humor

While I do not like to stereotype things, I’m forced to admit that I like British humor better than American humor. I like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Monty Python, Coupling and Doctor Who. On the other hand, I can’t name anything off the top of my head that’s American and funny. This has troubled me for a few years now and I have kept thinking about why that is. Now that I’m in the US and am watching a lot more American TV than is good for my health, I might venture to make a few guesses.

I think there are three broad things that are funny to American writers:

1. Insults: if you insult someone, it’s somehow funny. Things I can think of – Southpark, Family Guy, The Daily Show and Russell Peters. Lots of scenes there of insulting people which are supposed to be funny. I don’t know if people actually laugh at them. At least I don’t.

2. Irritation: if you do something irritating it’s funny. Make silly faces, imitate irritating people, scratch your nails on the black board. Things I can think of – Saturday Night Live. They do a lot of sketches in which irritating things or people are depicted. Family Guy – some scenes in which the same irritating thing is repeated over and over again.

3. Dirtiness: if you mention anything related to farting or pooping, it again, is somehow funny. Add ejaculation and sexual fluids to that too. Yuck.


  1. I agree...american funny is not funny!
    Or maybe you're just the result of British colonization of india ;)

  2. Hmm.. It takes time to get used to. Its like Wine, acquired taste. Ok, Wine is a little too classy. Lets say, Taco Bell. I think it grows on you.

    PS. You would love Taco Bell. Own good time, honey. Own good time :)

  3. The dirtiness point is surely bang on! I was watching this so-called cult sex-comedy a few days ago, American Pie, and found it completely unfunny and gross. On the contrary, I have always laughed on Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Coupling till my intestines hurt. (Interestingly, though we can categorize these three as 'British' they are very much different in themselves.)

    I guess a person's sense of humour is, in some ways, a reflection of his overall nature and personality too.

  4. @ Deepa - Given the number of people who like British stuff, I'm forced to suspect that British rule has got something to do with it. Although I have no idea what.

    @ Instinctivecuriosity - Oh, come on. We all grew up on American stuff. If I don't get it till now, I don't think I ever will.

    @ Hussain - A person's sense of humor is a reflection of his nature and personality but only to the extent of it being embedded in his society. American people might make a certain kind of jokes because that's all they see on television. It might not really reflect on anything other than their sense of humor.

  5. Brit humour totally does pwn American humour. It is subtle and witty, not silly and repetitive like its American counterpart.

    Coupling is brilliant. Add Black Adder, Mind Your Language, Yes Minister to the list.

    Only American TV series which comes close in my opinion is Seinfeld.

  6. @ Sankalp - Whether one likes American humor or British humor is a matter of personal taste. I'm more interested in finding out why so many Indians seem to like British better.

    I haven't seen Black Adder. I need to.

  7. to add some more Britcoms to the ones mentioned already : Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister, My Hero, 'Allo 'Allo. Each different, each subtle, each funny. :)

    While I broadly agree with what you've said, I think you do a little bit of injustice to the American humor scene. You need to factor in the likes of Woody Allen and other representatives of Jewish and Irish American humor, Hollywood dark humor and the like. I do find some TV serials like "Sex and the City" and "Two of a Kind" mildly funny.

    As to possible reasons for why we tend to like British humor more, I'll hazard some :

    a)It's wittier, clever-er and derives from a more intellectual literary tradition boasting the likes of Oscar Wilde or G.B.Shaw.

    b) it's slow, subtle, old world, rooted in class identities and conventions, that educated indians can relate to. (in fact any "old world" society with set norms and conventions) This may or may not have to do with colonialism, for I tend to like Italian and French and other European cinema humor more than American stuff too.
    b1- Brit society is especially droll with a lot of stereotypes that can be poked fun at. :P

    c) americans are too full-of-themselves to be self-deprecatory

  8. @ cringe-all: Yes, I've probably been a bit too harsh on American humor. I've been watching The Daily Show and Colbert Report and enjoy the political satire in these shows.

    Thanks for that insight into British humor. Hadn't thought about the 'old world' angle.

  9. How can you assume that 'Indians' do not like american humor. I board with people who thrive on F.R.I.E.N.D.S ( heck, the dots definitely do not better the experience)and their friends love friends. Everybody has heard of south-park and even believe that English TV series means the stuff that comes on CBS and FOX. And the funny part is that most people do not get half of the jokes. But then we're more in a hurry to become American, and at the same time to not be 'British' anymore. So most of the new Indian comedy soaps ( the apparent oxymoron is intended, i dare you to watch any of the 'Indian' comedies being aired currently) are more leaning towards the American stereotype than the British one.
    Hussain says dirtiness, i think the insult element is more loudly pronounced, and not just in comedies; look up a show called The Moment of truth.

  10. @ Aneesh - Indeed. In stating that Indians like British humor better than American, I'm committing the same folly as Boris in the previous post. :) Let's put it this way - how is American humor different from British humor, because _that_ it definitely is.

  11. Look at the commercials! They're just retarded!

  12. @ Ankit - Yes, me too found commercial to be a bit retarded. But I'm wondering if I've not seen the best ones. Hulu par dekhta hoon -- edge shave gel ke commercial mein koi kya dimag lagayega? :P

  13. Bhagyashree BiswalJuly 16, 2009 11:28 PM

    Hello Sir,

    Even I belong to the British-writing-liking-Indians category.. One of the reasons that most of the Indians prefer British over American is "the historical/cultural" aspect, to which I want to draw your attention..
    Britain has history as compared to newly formed U.S... Britons like to pass their culture on to their next generation. For e.g; wearing tie at most of their family gathering/celebrations etc.. compare it to Indians wearing turbans and other such stuffs.
    Bottomline is Indians can't connect themselves to Americans...

    Thank you.