“You really remind me of John,” suggested the Canadian lady in front of me, looking to her children for confirmation, “doesn’t he girls.” John apparently was an English man the family had met on safari in Kenya. And the common thread between the two of us was apparently our sarcastic sense of humour.
As we probably all grew up on the same comedy diet it wasn’t that surprising that John and I had a similar darker look on humour. Monty Python, Blackadder, Yes, Minister, Allo, Allo, Fawlty Towers the list, and indeed the side-splitting humour, could go on and on. “You English just seem to all have a parallel look on life, and even though we have plenty of your old comedies on our TV, and enjoy them hugely, we don’t really have any local comedians who can emulate that black wittiness,” the Canadian lady added.
And apart from the sarcasm the other thing that connects most of the comedians in the famous shows is that they have all finished some of the best universities in the world, such as Oxford or Cambridge. For although this English comedy may appear at times as wacky and pointless it is actually extremely intelligent. For unless you have a superb understanding of the world around you and current affairs it is impossible to have a dry wit. Even one of the daftest comedy shows ever, Mr. Bean, was dreamt up by Rowan Atkinson whilst he was a student at the Oxford University Dramatic Society. The same actor who went onto play Lord Blackadder.
It isn’t only a darker sense of humour but more importantly it is a self-depreciating one. There is nothing that a Brit likes to make fun of more than himself. Humour is in many ways a reflection of the population. In America the comedy tends to be more optimistic and hopeful, just as the society generally is, well at least they were before Melania’s husband came into power. Italian humour is more physical based, with actions and outcomes. And Japanese jokes are probably the politest you’ve ever heard. But the Brits just love satires.
And no, and I mean no, subject is taboo. From sex, to the church, to disability and especially politicians, everything is fair game and everything is attacked with equal gusto. In fact, I once saw a sketch about a politician having sex in a church with a disabled person, there that covers all those subjects in just one short sketch.
As the great Stephen Fry once said “All the great British comic heroes are people who want life to be better but in fact in reality life shits on them from a great height. They are utter failures, British comedy is based on failure but we bring glory to this failure, we celebrate failure.” This is why comedians are having an absolute carnival with Brexit and Thomas Cook and the current horrible weather, well they have plenty of opportunities to joke about the rain to be fair.
I am currently in the UK on family business and am seeing at first hand just how important the odd witty comment, the sharp jokey remark, is to lighten the mood and break the depression. For comedy can heal. It is better to laugh than cry, or even cry laughing. One of the things that I first noticed when I got off the plane was the dry wit. Even from the border guards and the police at the customs, and indeed the people waiting in the queue. It was a jocularity that I has forgotten, and, once I had rediscovered it, missed.
So I’ll finish with one of my favourite jokes from an absolute legend, Tommy Cooper, - A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The driver says, “Ugh! That’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.” The woman stalks off to the rear of the bus and sits down. She turns to the man sitting next to her and says, “The driver just insulted me!” The man says, “You go and give him a telling off. I’ll hold your monkey for you.” Some times in your life you just need to laugh.