You’d think that comedy could cross borders very easily in the English-speaking world. Look at the big successes of Friends, the Big Bang Theory, and dare I say, Seinfeld. I’m not a big fan of Seinfeld, I prefer shows with a proper story to them and development, but that’s not to say I don’t find it funny, or necessarily the other way round. I enjoy Friends and How I Met Your Mother, but I rarely laughing out loud – not like in modern British greats The IT Crowd, or Green Wing for example.
I know I risk being ostracised for my opinion on American comedy, but I find it milked, there are too many series, too much change almost. British comedy tends to finish on a high, with the actors looking at new projects rather than wrapping up the old. The only one standing the test of time so far is Peep Show, with its ninth and final series starting this year. It’s somewhat of an exception to the rule, The Fast Show, two series of The Office, three of Gavin and Stacey, 80 episodes of Dad’s Army compared to 180 from Seinfeld.
Then we get into stand-up comedy, here I think we excel. There are so many different accents and nationalities that find their niche in the UK. From the Irish Dara O’Briain, there’s Adam Hills, the South African comedian with the prosthetic leg, Tim Minchin’s hilarious piano songs from Australia, British-Iranian Shappi Korsandi, and even Henning Wehn from Germany. And vice-versa Eddie Izzard even does gigs in fluent French!
I can’t do American stand-up, it’s like they say more than they need to, they leave nothing for the audience to think about – or they follow-up a punchline with something unnecessary, like the same again but said in a different way – why? We laughed, we understood, we don’t need it explaining again. It’s like the UK rejects that kind of comedy as though it’s too obvious to be funny. We like clever comedy! There are a few that have made it here though, my two favourite Americans are Reginald D Hunter and Rich Hall, the latter actually we saw recently on stage at the Glee Club in Birmingham. I like that they can poke fun at their own countries, and they know enough about the UK that, being British, we can also laugh when they make fun of ours. I love Hunter’s sketch about sarcasm, that in the US someone says (along the lines of) “well that went quite well”, and it went well, whereas in the UK you hear that and start thinking “what did I do wrong”! That you call your friends bastard and wanker and shithead.
Being a linguist I’m also interested in foreign comedians, however Daniel told me that it really wouldn’t be worth trying to see any comedy when we’re in Mexico because it’s all about “how vulgar can you get?”. If you are learning French, you must look up Les Mots d’Eric et Ramsey. These guys are famous for sketches, and they’ve done a couple of films. It’s like a word-a-day sketch, they have a word on the board and act it out to learn it – but because of all the homonyms in French they always get it wrong!