The Influential Cultures of Humour

By: Adrian Saunders

Throughout the world, humour has been presented through several forms. Various cultures have emphasized different aspects of humour and have made it their own. In this article, we will take a brief look at four different cultures and the main characteristics of their brand of humour and how they have sometimes influenced another culture’s humour.

American humour: American stand-up comedians use a wide variety of comedic forms in their routines. Their humour can be categorized as more slapstick, improvisational, and oftentimes observational, especially due to the influx of Jewish comedians like Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, and Jerry Seinfeld during
the latter part of the 20th Century. African-American comedians also play a very big part in American humour and some of the country’s most-celebrated comedians like Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy hail from that community. Compared to British humour, American comedy tends to be more direct and less subtle. It can also be more risqué and profane than British humour with topics ranging from drug consumption to sex with lots of profanity in order to shock and offend the audience.

British humour: British comedians often use satire, irony, innuendo, and absurd elements to make their audiences laugh. There isn’t any subject that is taboo to British humour, though comedians tend to be more subtle about controversial topics like sex than their American counterparts. They also make a lot of jokes about stereotypes of different cultures present in the United Kingdom. The television series Monty Python and Ali G are good examples of this. In fact, British television comedy shows have been so influential that a lot of them have been remade for American audiences, such as is the case for The Office, All in the Family, and Three’s Company.

Jewish humour: Due to its vast influence on American comedy, Jewish humour plays a very large role in comedy on this side of the pond. As mentioned above, their humour is very much observational, anecdotal, and self-deprecating, with lots of references to Jewish culture, their religion, and even sometimes anti-Semitism. When Jews began to immigrate to the United States following World War II, they were having a hard time finding mainstream success, but they eventually came to acceptance with the emergence of American radio and television sitcoms. In the 1950s, Milton Berle, a Jewish comedian, became the first major television star during TV’s golden age. Today, Jewish humour is still very much a part of North American comedy, thanks in part to the success of television sitcoms like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Canadian humour: Partly because of its many regional cultural differences, Canadian humour is influenced by various themes and trends. English-speaking Canadians often make jokes at the expense of French-speaking Canadians, and vice versa. “Newfie” jokes are also very popular throughout Canada and have become
part of Canadian culture. Canadian comedians also enjoy poking fun at the numerous differences between Americans and Canadians. One example of this is Rick Mercer’s comedy routines, Talking to Americans. Like British comedy, satire is one of the most evident characteristic of Canadian humour, specifically in political comedy shows such as Royal Canadian Air Farce and The Rick Mercer Report.

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Adrian Saunders is the brains behind Five Minutes Live. The idea is an amalgamation of Adrian's love for both online community building and stand up comedy. He is committed to providing up and coming comedians with the opportunity to be in front of a global audience.

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