How to understand British humour

4 min read

How to understand British humour
British wit is famous across the world. From its rich history to the quirky characteristics that define it, we unravel the secrets behind the art of British humour
Imagine a land where queuing is a national sport, a good cup of tea can solve almost any problem and self-deprecating humour reigns supreme. Welcome to the world of British humour: a treasure trove of wit, wordplay and eccentricity that has been captivating audiences for centuries.
In this crash course, we will delve into the fascinating history of British humour, dissect its unique characteristics and even provide a bit of guidance for those venturing into the realm of British mirth.

History of British humour

British humour has deep roots dating back to medieval times when jesters entertained royal courts with their witty antics. Over the centuries, it evolved from slapstick comedy to the satirical genius of writers like Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. The British love for wordplay and absurdity found its voice in the works of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.
The music halls of the Victorian era gave rise to stand-up comedy, while radio shows like The Goon Show and Hancock's Half Hour showcased the power of audio comedy. From Monty Python's surreal sketches to today's modern comedians, the history of British humour is a rich tapestry of laughter.

Characteristics behind English humour

British humour is as diverse as a pub menu, but certain characteristics underpin its charm. The British have a knack for self-mockery, and the ability to laugh at oneself is a hallmark of British wit. Sarcasm and irony are close friends, and understatement often delivers the funniest punchlines.
Puns, wordplay and the absurd are common tools in the humour arsenal. Whether it's poking fun at the weather or revelling in the delights of innuendo, English humour is all about embracing the quirks and oddities of life.

Examples of English humour

1. Dry wit of PG Wodehouse
English humour boasts a rich tradition of comedic brilliance, and one of its shining stars is PG Wodehouse. Within the literary realm, Wodehouse's work, particularly the misadventures of Bertie Wooster and his unflappable valet Jeeves, showcases a brand of humour that has delighted readers for generations.
With a lightness of touch and a mastery of wordplay, Wodehouse crafts a comedic masterpiece where witty repartees and absurd situations are par for the course. His characters, from the clueless but lovable Bertie to the ever-resourceful Jeeves, have become iconic figures in the world of English literature, embodying the essence of British humour.
2. British panel shows
British panel shows, such as Quite Interesting and 8 Out of 10 Cats, offer a unique blend of humour and trivia, creating an environment where comedians engage in banter and jest over obscure facts, often with hilarious consequences. These shows tap into the British love for wordplay and intelligent wit, celebrating the quirky and the curious. Comedians navigate the realms of esoteric knowledge and absurd connections, resulting in a brand of comedy that is both intellectually stimulating and side-splittingly funny.
3. Ricky Gervais's The Office
Ricky Gervais's portrayal of the cringe-inducing David Brent in The Office is a masterclass in the uncomfortable, yet irresistible, brand of humour that the British do so well. The series brilliantly captures the everyday absurdities of office life, turning mundane interactions into moments of excruciating hilarity. Through the lens of a mockumentary, the show explores the awkwardness of workplace dynamics and the absurdity of corporate culture. Gervais's impeccable comedic timing and the show's ability to find humour in the banal make it a prime example of the British talent for mining comedy from the mundane.
4. Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder
Rowan Atkinson's cunning and bumbling character, Edmund Blackadder, traverses centuries of history, adding layers of satire and hilarity in Blackadder. The series is a showcase of British historical humour, using wit, wordplay, and irony to create a satirical take on different eras. Each season transports Blackadder and his loyal but dim-witted servant Baldrick to a new historical setting, where they navigate the absurdities of the time with a healthy dose of cynicism and clever repartee. Whether it's the medieval period, the Elizabethan era, or the trenches of World War I, Blackadder demonstrates the adaptability of British humour in weaving satire into history.

What can tourists expect when visiting Britain?

Visiting Britain? Prepare to be pleasantly perplexed. English humour can be disarming, especially if you are not used to the art of sarcasm and the subtlety of understatement. But it is all in good fun. Engage in friendly banter with locals, try your hand at some humour and don't be afraid to enjoy a healthy dose of irony. You might just find yourself laughing over a pint with newfound friends.
In the end, whether you are navigating British queues or deciphering regional accents, embracing the humour is all part of the adventure. So, come with an open mind and a hearty chuckle, and you will fit right in with the Brits.
Banner credit: Big Ben (Andrii Borodai)
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