British Versus American Television Comedy

Despite sharing a language, there are a lot of things which are culturally different about the united States of America and the United Kingdom. British fiction tends to have different themes to its American counterpart, and nowhere is this more true than in comedy. British comedy is very different from American comedy. Because humour is such an innately cultural object, it’s easy to see where the differences are.

Aspects of British Comedy

Before we talk about British Humour, we need to describe British culture. It is a reserved culture – with a lot of politeness principles built into both the behaviour and language. For instance, British people repeatedly use the phrase “sorry” when compared with their American counterparts – even if they are not at fault. Similarly, British people do not generally talk about their achievements or failures in any great detail.

Their comedy is based around these principles. Much of British humour is self-effacing; because nobody talks in polite society about their failures, most characters in British comedies are lovable failures who also run into trouble. This is true from Only Fools and Horses through to the present day. Love Actually, a romantic comedy that was a hit across the globe, showcases numerous characters who are all failures in love.

As so much of British politeness is about what remains unspoken, so is their comedy. For instance, British comedy relies heavily on main characters having to traverse through and converse with a backing cast that is ridiculous in nature. Sitcoms such asThe Vicar of Dibley and Only Fools and Horses show this, as well as Blackadder.

Also along the unspoken theme, a lot of British comedy relies on the artistic direction of comedies as well. Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead are British made films starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and they rely on parodying various film genres – crime and horror – but without using any overt parodying. Instead, the actors play the characters straight, and the situation itself is where the parody occurs.

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Finally, the British have a more stoic relationship with their political and ruling class. Whereas things like the American Constitution and the Government of America are not generally considered subjects for comedy, in pitain, the government, monarchy and establishment in general are considered good material for comedic relief. Shows like Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week and Spitting Image both make use of current events to create comedic sketches both from domestic politics as well as international affairs.

Examples of British TV Comedy

To The Manor Born, As Time Goes By, Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army, Keeping Up Appearances, Red Dwarf, The Likely Lads, Fawlty Towers, Allo Allo, The Good Life, Are You Being Served?, Yes Minister, Only Fools and Horses, Absolutely Fabulous, The Vicar of Dibley, The Mighty Boosh, Father Ted, Blackadder, One Foot in the Grave, Some Mothers Do Ave Em, Porridge, The Thin Blue Line, The Office, The Young Ones, Coupling, Outnumbered, Game On, Mrs. pown’s Boys and Miranda.

Aspects of American Comedy

In comparison to British culture, America is a more open nation than its Atlantic counterpart. The American Dream is central to American identity – the idea that ambition is greatly admired, and failure is greatly avoided. This means that the comedy is completely different, for the most part.

Whereas a British comedy might make fun of a main character for being too ambitious, an American comedy would see that character as a hero – and would mock instead the surrounding cast for not being ambitious enough. Most American comedies therefore have a different feel; failure is considered the ultimate sin in American comedy, and is roundly derided for being so.

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Take Two and a Half Men, where Charlie Sheen plays a man who is a major success with women. He is considered the success in the case of the two main characters, whereas his pother, a failure in love, is considered the comedic character. This would be reversed in British comedy.

Also, American comedy is more influenced by slapstick. With notable exceptions, such as Mr Bean, British humour rarely relies on slapstick humour. American humour will often include slapstick elements, whereas British humour in contrast tends to more heavily rely on complicated set pieces which lead to a more complex humorous outcome – generally involving wit and sarcasm.

Finally, American comedy tends to differ in format. Whereas the British comedy set up includes using the set and the like as discussed above, American comedy is driven mostly by dialogue. Also, American comedy tends to come in a variety of formats – including comedy-dramas, where the show has aspects of both comedy and drama – such as Friends, Californication and even shows like Dexter, which is a crime/horror show but with a lot of elements of black comedy.

Finally, the American format also includes cartoon shows, which are not present in the United Kingdom, where cartoons are generally reserved for children’s shows. Instead, in the US, the shows on primetime television that are comedy and animated include King of The Hill, South Park, American Dad, Beavis and Butthead and Family Guy. The most notable example of this is The Simpsons.amy schumer bill hader

In Conclusion

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In conclusion, there are a huge amount of differences in the two approaches to comedy. Of course, there are crossovers – but even those are significantly different. The Office is a show that has been written for the two different markets, and the show differs completely – both in terms of casting, jokes and the various dramatic and comedic aspects of the show.  Add this at the end of the last paragraph of the article:  Find fascinating information about how to watch all kinds of entertainment at