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Customer Discussions > Humor forum

British humour v American humor

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Showing 1-25 of 102 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 23, 2012, 1:24:29 AM PST
J Cawley says:
What would you say were the main differences between British humour and American humor?
My book More Ketchup than Salsa gets great feedback in the UK but I think the humour goes over the heads of American readers.
Is there such a gulf in what makes people laugh either side of the Atlantic?

Posted on Feb 23, 2012, 3:31:02 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 15, 2013, 12:51:14 AM PST]

Posted on Feb 23, 2012, 7:58:12 AM PST
Tom Tiding says:
>The British like the understated, the implied.

Absolutely. Benny Hill is a prime example.

Posted on Feb 23, 2012, 8:59:37 PM PST
J. Owen says:
Although its a gross generalisation Americans like to laugh at others the English like to laugh at them selves. Maybe if you changed the narrative from first person to third person they might get it.

Posted on Feb 23, 2012, 10:26:36 PM PST
Tom Tiding says:
Jonathan, if you'd like to appeal to Americans, maybe you could make a few tweaks to the summary:

"Little did they expect their foreign fantasy to turn out to be about as exotic as Grimsby on a wet Monday morning."

That's not likely to mean much to Americans. I suppose Grimsby sounds sort of grim, but it's not likely to mean "boring and provincial fishing town" (I assume that's where you're going with that.) You could use a more generic description.

"Amidst a host of eccentric locals, homesickness and the occasional cockroach infestation, pint-pulling novices Joe and Joy struggle with `Brits abroad' culture and learn that, although the skies might be bluer, the grass is definitely not always greener."

Nice. I'm not sure it screams "humor", but rather sounds like a slightly sentimental fish-out-of-water story. It's a nice description and I might read it if I were in the mood for that, but not necessarily if I wanted to laugh.

"A hilarious insight into the wild and wacky characters of an expat community in a familiar holiday destination,"
Ok, but saying it's hilarious and full of wild and wacky characters doesn't really give us much of a sense that the book *is* hilarious.

Also, Tenerife ceratinly isn't a familiar holiday destination in the States, so an American audience wouldn't know what you mean there. So, again, perhaps a more generic description of Tenerife would be better.

" More Ketchup than Salsa is a must-read for anybody who has ever dreamed about jetting off to sunnier climes, finding a job abroad... or anybody who has even momentarily flirted with the idea of `doing a Shirley Valentine' in these trying economic times."

I think a reference to a film from 1989 that grossed less than US$10 million in the US probably also isn't the best way to connect with a US audience.

Incidentally, the film (and the play) aren't perhaps the best example of subtle British humor, what with their broad characterizations of foreigners and the film's Keystone Kops-style sped-up love scene.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 2:37:56 AM PST
J Cawley says:
Ooh. Controversial stuff Kerry. Perhaps we've just not written the right book for the US market. That's what I'm beginning to think. Will take a look at Literary Licence. Good luck with it, wherever it sells!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 2:39:37 AM PST
J Cawley says:
Thanks for the suggestion but I think the difference in humour appreciation runs deeper. Not saying either is a more superior form of comedy, they're just different.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 2:43:42 AM PST
J Cawley says:
Thanks for the comments and suggestions Tom. I think you're absolutely right. My book is very UK-centric, but I think that's why it works well in the UK as the Brits can see themselves in it. If I 'de-anglified' it, I might gain a few more US sales but I think I'd also lose some UK ground too. I think it's just down to the fact that More Ketchup than Salsa is not that is written to sell well outside the UK market. I still have plenty more words left in me though, so perhaps the next one will bridge the gap.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 2:47:24 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Apr 5, 2012, 12:07:40 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 3:10:58 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 24, 2012, 3:12:23 AM PST
Tom Tiding says:
You'll note that I didn't actually suggest changing your book-- just the description on Amazon US. Some Americans would undoubtedly enjoy the Britishness of it. But the description might not entice them in the first place. Tenerife and Grimsby have scarcely more resonance with American audiences than holiday spot Lake Havasu and fading industrial town New Bedford would outside the US, but that doesn't mean that Americans wouldn't understand the concepts you're trying to get at.

But if it's not written to sell well outside of the UK market anyway, is it really a case of the humor "going over the heads" of American audiences as you first wondered?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 4:05:43 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 15, 2013, 12:51:24 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 4:23:50 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Apr 5, 2012, 12:07:46 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012, 4:40:23 AM PST
Tom Tiding says:
> British humour is clever - USA is more laurel and Hardy

How about an example?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2012, 4:03:08 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 15, 2013, 12:51:28 AM PST]

Posted on Feb 25, 2012, 6:20:16 AM PST
Margana S says:
In my opinion (an American), American humor aims at being funniest the first time around, without a lingering thought. American comedies strive at making instant laughs in the movie theater but when you get the DVDs and watch it without an audience, it just is not as funny. American authors, such as Christopher Moore, do a much better job at tickling our brain and not just the funny bone.

British comedy is so subtle that it needs to ferment in thought. As a lifelong fan of all things Monty Python, this proves true because it is funnier every time I see it. In literature, Shakespeare tossed in wit in such clever ways. "Asses are made to bear, and so are you" Essentially, British humor is just more seasoned.

Posted on Feb 25, 2012, 2:02:10 PM PST
I feel that you would need to write a rather large book to discuss this subject and while there are subtle differences between UK and USA there are also many sub-genres of both countries sense of humour, therefore while some US books, films and tv shows work well in UK not all of them do and visa versa. I feel its hard to define the difference as so many times we see crossovers, don't forget Terry Gillgham when mentioning Monty Python, he was American and all those british guys took heed from Harvey Kurtzman, our cultures are to interwinned to defiine these differences. I have two books here and i'm a true Brit with cutting edge sense of humour, please check them out as i'd be interested to hear how well they travel to your side of the pond.
That Night This Night
The Hargreaves Code
p.s. i am nothing like benny hill!!

Darren Worrow

Posted on Feb 26, 2012, 12:39:59 AM PST
I think if you're trying to break the American market, it's not just a case of the sense of humour being different, it's just a case of finding the right subject to write about; something that both cultures have experience with. Like Tom Tiding said in his comment, British cultural references are lost on anyone outside of the UK. And regards the other comments about Americans preferring 'instant' jokes rather than something to think about, I think that this too is subjective. There are plenty of good American writers who 'get' the idea of the lingering joke. Comparing the humour of a book to things like American films is kind of a moot point because they're entirely different media. A lot of British comedies these days are very much up-front with jokes rather than harbouring deeper meaning. And irony and sarcasm are very difficult to convey in the written form, although it's obvious that self-deprecating humour is very much the domain of the British. My book is aimed at the UK market but is selling quite well min the US at the moment. If you want to check it out it's:

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012, 7:38:29 AM PST
Tom Tiding says:
>Just think of Yes Minister -V- I love Lucy.

Or... just think of Dad's Army v Seinfeld.

Or Ab Fab v the Simpsons.

Who are the dry and clever ones then?

Of course, I can see what you're trying to say. But choosing a much-loved, but toothless, American sitcom from 60(!) years ago to match up against Yes Minister strikes me as tipping the scales. Amid the onslaught of crap sitcoms from America, it's also easy to underestimate the US audience: if indeed Americans don't get British humor, then why is there such a large market for British humor in America? Monty Python remain much loved in America after all these years, and the US is the only place where Ricky Gervais is still tolerated.

I suspect that many people outside of the US don't actually know very much about American comedy. And why should they? Humor, unlike literature, is not universal. Instead, what people outside the US see as American comedy are only those representatives that are most universal-- the slapstick, the obvious. And when you're watching comedy from another country, it's always worth asking whether it's *you* who doesn't get the joke.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012, 1:05:26 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 15, 2013, 12:51:33 AM PST]

Posted on Feb 28, 2012, 4:10:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 28, 2012, 4:10:31 PM PST
Thanks to all for a very informative discussion. I've been debating about whether to distribute my book, "The Little Pink Book of Cancer Cartoons" internationally. I think it would be well-received in other English language countries, but perhaps the content is too US specific.

Posted on Feb 28, 2012, 6:55:27 PM PST
I do think there is a way in which humour can be made universal. After all, US shows wouldn't come over to the UK and be big hits if plenty of people didn't appreciate the humour.
There are definite differences in our tastes, but it doesn't mean we can't find each other's stuff funny, I would think perhaps it's less an issue about the comedy value of the book and more about the setting or general 'Englishness' of the characters. I had a great review from someone who said they loved the book 'apart from the really British-y bits'! I can well appreciate this, as when I'm reading American books I often don't get the references to politicians or brand names, which could mean I'm missing subtle clues put in on purpose to compliment the story.
But if the 'Britishness' bits were kept to a minimum (perhaps in the next book) it might appeal to a wider audience?
Mine is (luckily) doing well on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps because it's set in Ecuador, and the feeling of foreign-ness I experienced there would be similar whether you were from England or the States...
Well, just my 2p/2c - I don't think this is a topic which will be easily decided!
I do a bit of situation-type comedy in my book, describing the

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2012, 8:07:15 PM PST
Tom Tiding says:
Tony, I agree-- I think sitcoms crossover well because they use basic premises and characters. So I've always felt that it's unfair to criticize a country's comedy based on the comedy that it is universal enough to cross-over.

But I also think (and this was the OP's objection too) that you lose something when you take out the Britishness. Some American readers actively seek it out. I find things like 'Allo 'Allo to be rather like American sitcoms and I don't really like that, but I love Black Adder and Yes Minister for their Britishness.

Posted on Feb 28, 2012, 9:44:00 PM PST
I'll take American humor and twenty points.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 2, 2012, 5:23:14 AM PST
I just spent a month crossing the states from New York to Los Angeles on a train towards the end of last year and also spent an extra month or so over there getting to know several American people and learning about their everyday way of lives. My book entitled 'Excuse me, are you British?' which is a witty and descriptive take on all things America over the course of a month seems to be selling more copies in the states than in the UK for some reason. From what i learned in my short stint over there, it seems that it all depends on what area of the states is being offered the British style of humor. For instance, the mid-west loves ALL things British it would seem, including our sense of humor (which they may not always get, but are kind enough to pretend that they do) the East and West coast on the other hand seem to prefer it a little bit more simplified and quick fire one liners (think Seinfeld, Friends, Roseanne etc...) although in saying that, Curb Your Enthusiasm seems to have done exceptionally well, which isn't as much witty one liners as drawn out humor about everyday life that a lot of the American public seem reluctant to talk about, and with this they enjoy reading about the bold, brashness of other peoples lives and can relate to it. One part in my book i talk about being caught with my pants down half asleep in a hotel bathroom during a hilarious incident, and as i'm sure this may have happened at one time throughout 5 out of 10 of the readers lives, it's not something that a member of the American public may want to admit to...but on the other hand loves to read about as things like that do happen when you forget to lock the bathroom door! I'm British, and in Britain we don't have a curfew on comedy as such, everything is no holds barred, whereas in America it isn't, so i've learnt that honesty and more importantly shock value is a BIG selling point. America is a HUGE place and has seen a lot come and go throughout the years, so you can't just tap someone on the shoulder anymore if you want to get their need to be caught with your pants down in the bathroom of a swanky hotel and tell the world about it! :)

Posted on Apr 4, 2012, 11:12:56 PM PDT
That's absolutely correct. As an English author, I think one of the primary strengths of British humour is that it contains a sense of irony and much of that stems from writers being happy to include their own experiences. I certainly apply that thinking to all of my work, especially my novel Billy's Log - The hilarious diary of one man's struggle with life, lager and the female race which is almost autobiographical!
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Discussion in:  Humor forum
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Initial post:  Feb 23, 2012
Latest post:  Mar 7, 2013

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