Ricky Gervais: Difference between American and British humor

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by mpal2, Nov 30, 2011.

  1. mpal2

    mpal2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2002
    Messages:
    9,279
  2. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2005
    Messages:
    16,819
    I enjoyed that but I think he underestimates how much Americans like to take the piss out of you and root for the underdog.
     
  3. Jot the Dot Dot

    Jot the Dot Dot Headstrong Buzzard

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2007
    Messages:
    2,529
    (Sid): "I had a dream about you."

    (Barbara) "Did you?"

    (Sid) "No, you wouldn't let me."
     
  4. Prancer

    Prancer Dysteleological Staff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2001
    Messages:
    38,869
    I think he's right on, for the most part. A major part of my thesis dealt with Americans and irony, and, er, we really don't like irony all that much; small doses, occasional forays, that's all fine, but irony as a way of life? No. Americans are sentimental people for the most part (which is really more to our credit than not, IMO); that is what inspires our sympathy for the underdog, but it also means that we prefer our irony to be tempered. What the British consider "taking the piss" is often taken as "going for the jugular" here (Exhibit A: allezfred (and yes, I know he isn't British)). We also don't much care for self-deprecation except in the rich and famous, and we prefer it delivered with a light hand even there (because we think it's insincere if it's laid on too heavily), and we do indeed prefer the cheerful, the optimistic, the polite insincerities and, most of all, genuine sincerity; we're very big on promoting the positive.
     
  5. mpal2

    mpal2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2002
    Messages:
    9,279
    I think it's a different type of underdog though. I have a couple friends that love the BBC America channel like I do so the rest put up with us every now and then and let us indulge. The reason the others say they don't like the underdog character is because they feel embarrassed for them instead of wanting to laugh at them. I haven't completely put my thoughts together on what makes the difference but it's there.

    ETA: Prancer posted when I was typing but I think she explained part of what I'm trying to say.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2011
  6. mpal2

    mpal2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2002
    Messages:
    9,279
    Sorry for the double post but I just figured it out and I'll be saying the same thing Ricky said. :lol: Americans like the underdog that is fighting for respect or something beyond their current state even if it's a small victory. The British underdogs my friends feel embarrassment for are the people that will never be more than the underdog. There is no impression that this poor soul will ever find respect. I don't think we Americans want to see that. I think we know that real life can be like that but we use our tv shows and movies as a route for escape which heavily influences the more positive happy endings.
     
  7. Prancer

    Prancer Dysteleological Staff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2001
    Messages:
    38,869
    Yes, we don't like the idea of eternal failure. At all. Americans hate sad endings. And we like our underdogs to be endearing and deserving, so that we want them to triumph and are happy when they do.

    I must say, though, that Ricky Gervais's movies kind of exemplify that kind of thing :shuffle:.

    This is not to say that there isn't an audience of Americans who don't fit that mold and do enjoy irony, realism, black comedy and dark themes. But consider how many books with dark themes or black humor are bleached and rewritten for movies, which are designed to appeal to a broader audience.
     
  8. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Messages:
    2,727
    What popped into my mind was that british quiz show "Never Mind the Buzzcocks". I think it's hilarious, but I have a feeling most Americans would find it to be too mean-spirited.
     
  9. mpal2

    mpal2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2002
    Messages:
    9,279
    I always hear people talking about needing to be in the mood to see some of the darker themes. Maybe I'm just hanging out with a more pessimistic crowd and remember the more pessimistic movie reviews.

    Out of curiousity, how many Americans reading this thread find themselves going to those darker themed movies when we've had relatively good weeks and are in a better emotional state to absorb them? I know that I personally go for escape when I've had a long or stressful week. If I wanted realism I could have stayed home and saved money.
     
  10. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Messages:
    2,727
    Well my mother works in onocology and she never ever wants to watch anything but comedies or inspirational movies. If we want to watch something remotely dark or dramatic, forget it. She'll go on about how that's too depressing after doing 6 tube feeds for patients who don't have 3 weeks left. She is the real life Debbie Downer. If Rachel Dratch was still willing to play that character I'd be sending my mother's many gems as potential lines for another sketch.
     
  11. mpal2

    mpal2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2002
    Messages:
    9,279
    My sister used to work in oncology and she was the same way. She worked nights and weekends so all of her patients were basically there to die. If she wasn't in the mood for comedy or inspirational themes we went for action films. Those were normally the weeks when family members were fighting to keep their loved ones alive longer than their living wills specified.

    I have a lot of respect for people who work oncology. That's a very tough job.
     
  12. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Messages:
    2,727
    Oh my mom does a great job at the hospital, but I'm not sure where the compulsion to say things like "It's a good thing we're not going on vacation in August, that's when the terrorists are most likely to attack the US" comes from. Like I said, I wish they still had the Debbie Downer sketch going.
     
  13. Andrushka

    Andrushka New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2004
    Messages:
    3,114
    That so does not even describe my family lol We diss on eachother for the fun of it when we get together and it's all entirely in good fun and no one gets mad. Because if we "get" them the general phrase used it "Sorry,you left yourself open for that one" We are generally realists and prefer the straight up truth rather than polite insincerities. If you are having a horrible day,you may not dump the whole thing on someone but you don't say "I'm fine"...because it's not true lol.

    Perky films(and people) actually get on my nerves.I'll take irony,realism and dark themes over perky,annoying comedy. :)

    I actually don't care what kind of day I've had. I had a realitively tiring day yesterday,but instead of watching My Fair Wedding and all the fru fru stuff...I watched White Chapel on BBC America(guy shot himself in the head,a hanging etc...).
     
  14. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Épaulement!!!

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2002
    Messages:
    31,006
    For some reason, the one that bugs me the most is Disney's The Little Mermaid. She did not get to marry the prince! The prince married someone else! And the little mermaid died.

    Yeah, that would have gone over well with the Disney audience.

    Conversely, the ballet Swan Lake was reworked from its Western version where Odette and Siegfried die together to fit the Soviet propaganda. In the Soviet version, they live happily ever after. My mom was shocked to find out it could be otherwise.
     
  15. Rex

    Rex Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2004
    Messages:
    25,887
    It's funny how classic US sitcoms like All In The Family, Sanford & Son and Three's Company, were all based on UK sitcoms. I wonder what changes were made from the original shows.

    But then you have shows like Coupling, or that awful attempt to recreate AbFab with the usually funny Jean Smart, that crash and burn like atomic bombs.
     
  16. Andrushka

    Andrushka New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2004
    Messages:
    3,114
    I liked Coupling,My Family and Not Going Out. I wish BBC America would show more British comedy sitcoms and a little less Primeval.lol Coupling had quite a bit of naughty in it,so not surprised it didn't go far in the US. Although,it really wasn't that bad lol ;)
     
  17. aliceanne

    aliceanne Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2010
    Messages:
    2,299
    I always thought the movie versions of Pride and Prejudice (both American and British) missed the point of the book. They tend to turn it into a fairytale with Darcy as Prince Charming. I thought Austen's characters were less lovable and sympathetic, and more absurd. The girls were hopelessly romantic, the mother hopelessly materialistic, and the men hopelessly cynical. Ironically they all end up together.
    same place.
     
  18. Andrushka

    Andrushka New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2004
    Messages:
    3,114
    The girls in those books are the reason I could never get through them LOL Because in real life they are the type of girls I would find annoying.lol
     
  19. Cachoo

    Cachoo Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2010
    Messages:
    2,512
    Well first I would commend the Brits for making comedies that star older people. I look at someone like Geoffrey Palmer in "As Time Goes By" and don't know if we have someone ironic, droll, wry and very funny in an understated way STARRING in an American sitcom. I don't know if irony comes with age.

    As for Gervais I have enjoyed everything he has done that I've seen and was truly moved by the "Extras" finale.
     
  20. Rex

    Rex Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2004
    Messages:
    25,887
    I loved Coupling, Chef and The Vicar of Dibley....
    The US version of Coupling was godawful bad; something got lost in the translation. Maybe 'cause it didn't need to be translated I guess.
     
  21. triple_toe

    triple_toe Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2005
    Messages:
    1,266
    I definitely prefer British humour to American humour. I found the British version of The Office to be much funnier than the American version which I found lacking in bite compared to the original.

    Black Adder is a good example of Brit humour. It is, IMO, the most hilarious show ever made and A Black Adder's Christmas Carol is one thing I must watch around Christmastime. But it's basically horrible people saying and doing horrible things and then dying at the end of the series. It's witty, dark, and sarcastic, and a far cry from typical goofy American comedies. I've tried introducing people to it, but half of them don't get it and think it's just cruel and depressing. I think that's one of the main differences between American and British humour- British humour isn't afraid to have main characters that are unlikeable. Take Basil Fawlty for instance. In an American comedy, he would just be a clueless goof that has bad things happen to him and his hotel. That way, we would be able to sympathize and root for him. But he's not. He's rude, bitter, and just all around not a nice guy. In fact, none of the characters in Fawlty Towers are all that likeable but the show is still enormously funny. My Family is the same, most of the characters are unlikeable or at best annoying. It's not a lovey-dovey family comedy where they all hug at the end of each episode having solved the problem at hand.

    Coupling is also fantastic but waayyyy too racy for American TV. Honestly, who thought that would work :lol:? Steve's speech about Lesbian Spank Inferno? The trip to the sex shop to buy "Junior Patrick", which was then given to Steve's mother-in-law? A whole two episodes on The Melty Man? Even the whole thing about checking Susan's remote controls for batteries. Characters on American sitcoms just don't talk about these things, unless it's Sex and the City on HBO.

    A great American black comedy from recent years is Thank You for Smoking but I believe it was largely unsuccessful, which is a shame because it's great. Not surprising though, since it also doesn't have a clear good guy to root for, with all the characters rather, err... morally ambiguous.
     
  22. danceronice

    danceronice Corgi Wrangler

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2006
    Messages:
    6,478
    I commend them for casting ordinary-looking people who can ACT over attractive bubbleheads I find hard to believe can even read their scripts let alone think just because they're pretty (male or female.) I don' think there was a notably above-average looking actor over the entire run of "Last of the Summer Wine" (I may have missed someone; it was a VERY long run) but it was funny and sad at times and well-done. I credit my alleged 'odd' taste in men to watching mostly British shows on PBS and TVO when I was little (and Peter Davidson and Christopher Timothy probably also have a lot to do with my thing for vets but let's not open up THAT OCD fixation).

    I don't think American versions of something like Fawlty Towers would fail because Americans don't appreciate a complete jerk like Basil (clearly we do or it wouldn't be as popular here) but because American SHOWS and actors are very hesitant about committing to a character who's completely a rat bastard or who's a total loser or completely OTT in some way (Mr. Humphries would be a hard sell in an American version, too.) The various BBC networks and ITV (love 'em or hate 'em) also appear willing to go with shows that are not 100% neatly categorized--As Time Goes By could slip in very serious sweet romantic moments in the midst of VERY silly plots, LotSW did much the same, Coupling had moments that were more real about relationships than most US 'family dramas' ever manage, there are dramas that aren't afraid to verge into silly...here, if you pitch a show to anyone but the pay-cable movie channels you better have a really short neat description and it better fit "drama" or "comedy." You can start blurring genre lines if and when you last long enough.

    If nothing else the staggering popularity of Monty Python and to a somewhat lesser degree Blackadder (even when both series have sketches or jokes that sometimes require a better grasp of British history or politics than most Americans have, simply by virtue of not living there) says that there's something about British humor we clearly GET and appreciate--in Monty Python's case, we WILL do absurdist borderline-inappropriate humor ("Oh, Mr. Hilter has great plans for Minehead." "Like what?" "Well, for a start he's going to annex Poland..." "That nice Mr. McGoering called, he's found a place where you can rent bombers by the hour." "IF HE OPENS HIS FAT MOUTH AGAIN IT'S LAMPSHADE TIME!") In Blackadder, we'll sort-of root for the jerk while still having sympathy for his victims who deserve sympathy (Baldrick) or want to see him win over the ones who don't (Melchett.)

    OT: aliceanne, I think you're right both versions of P&P missed the boat, the American one more so (though it suffered from having to cram everything into a theatrical film, too) but I think you missed the whole point of the BOOK--Jane and Lizzie are not especially romantic--Kitty and Lydia are, but we're not supposed to like or approve of them. We're supposed to think they're silly, that Mary is rude, and that Mrs. Bennett is a flakey twit. Mr. Darcy is in fact NOT a prince--Lizzie's right to find him rude as he was judgmental and rude at the first dance and he was completely in the wrong with Jane and Bingley, but SHE is wrong to take Wickham (a rake we're supposed to find an idiot) at his word and judge Darcy on her first impression (the 'prejudice' of the title and the book's working title was 'First Impressions.') Way too many people think Darcy and Elizabeth are supposed to be a slap slap kiss relationships--hostility standing for something else. They're not. They really dislike each other, for the wrong reasons. That they get past that is proof they are NOT as silly as Elizabeth's family (who, except for Jane, are all exactly what Darcy calls them in his letter explaining himself. Jane and Bingley are well-matched in they're nice people but not exceptionally bright.) It's not a romance, it's a social satire. But that doesn't sell well when you have Colin Firth playing Darcy.

    Now you want an Austen book full of idiots, there's Mansfield Park, where the message seems to be "be a doormat and karma will reward you", or Northanger Abby where even the HERO thinks the heroine's a bit of a twit.
     
  23. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Épaulement!!!

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2002
    Messages:
    31,006
    It's sometimes hard to convey the nuances of the literary character onto the screen. I don't find the one with Keira Knightly to be too fairy tale-like but not exactly as I imagine Elizabeth either.
    Can't stand Fanny Price.
     
  24. AndyWarhol

    AndyWarhol Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,208
    I LOVE buzzcocks. Noel Fielding is such a babe :hat1:
     
  25. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Messages:
    2,727
    OMG I know. I never been attracted to his type before but my god what a sexy sexy man. We could do each others hair. :hat1::swoon:

    Also would like to chime in that I love Coupling, and I love The Vicar of Dibley. I know they tried to do an American crossover of the Vicar with Kirstie Alley but it thankfully never made it to the air.
     
  26. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2005
    Messages:
    16,819
    I'm definitely one of them... But I wasn't just thinking of myself. In almost every job I've had, it's very common for us to sit around at lunch or some other non-work setting and to rag on each other. You see that kind of talking in sit-coms too. It's anything for a joke. I do work in a field that is both male and youth dominated and I do think that this kind of interaction tends to fall out of favor as the group gets more mixed and older. But ribbing each other is a basic part of socializing in pretty much every circle I travel in except figure skating fandom.

    I can believe that there is a difference in degree between the two countries but that isn't what he said. He said UK people do X and Americans don't and I just don't see that.

    I think that's just the way some people are. They are always borrowing trouble and can't be happy right now because something bad can always happen to you.

    Anyway, I'm going to go back to watching Being Human (a UK series) and leave all you Americans to watch South Park. ;)
     
  27. Prancer

    Prancer Dysteleological Staff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2001
    Messages:
    38,869
    Hmmm, I didn't see it as such an either/or article. Like this part:

    There’s a received wisdom in the U.K. that Americans don’t get irony. This is of course not true. But what is true is that they don’t use it all the time. It shows up in the smarter comedies but Americans don’t use it as much socially as Brits.
     
  28. mpal2

    mpal2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2002
    Messages:
    9,279
    OT: I'm a little bit worried about how that's going to turn out now. I'll watch it and give it a chance but the character turnover has got to change the dynamics I loved so much.
     
  29. aliceanne

    aliceanne Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2010
    Messages:
    2,299
    [QUOTE/danceronice]: aliceanne, I think you're right both versions of P&P missed the boat, the American one more so (though it suffered from having to cram everything into a theatrical film, too) but I think you missed the whole point of the BOOK--Jane and Lizzie are not especially romantic--Kitty and Lydia are, but we're not supposed to like or approve of them. We're supposed to think they're silly, that Mary is rude, and that Mrs. Bennett is a flakey twit. Mr. Darcy is in fact NOT a prince--Lizzie's right to find him rude as he was judgmental and rude at the first dance and he was completely in the wrong with Jane and Bingley, but SHE is wrong to take Wickham (a rake we're supposed to find an idiot) at his word and judge Darcy on her first impression (the 'prejudice' of the title and the book's working title was 'First Impressions.') Way too many people think Darcy and Elizabeth are supposed to be a slap slap kiss relationships--hostility standing for something else. They're not. They really dislike each other, for the wrong reasons. That they get past that is proof they are NOT as silly as Elizabeth's family (who, except for Jane,
    are all exactly what Darcy calls them in his letter explaining himself. Jane and
    Bingley are well-matched in they're nice people but not exceptionally bright.)
    It's not a romance, it's a social satire. But that doesn't sell well when you have
    Colin Firth playing Darcy. [QUOTE/]

    I disagree. I think Lizzie is the ultimate romantic, she will only marry for love when circumstances dictate she has a more pressing need (as Charlotte reminds her). She and her father like to think they are the only sensible members of the family, but they behave just as irrationally as the rest of the family.

    I find Kitty and Lydia more horny than romantic, but at least they are honest about their motives.
     
  30. aliceanne

    aliceanne Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2010
    Messages:
    2,299
    Every movie version of P&P that I've seen, from Brit to Bollywood sentimentalizes the parents in a way that Austen didn't.

    There are some things even the British are reluctant to make the subject of irony. Everyone wants to believe in the unconditional love of a parent for their child.