Understanding humor - the difference between British & American

Do you enjoy comedy? Have you ever seen comedy from another culture and wondered, why is this considered funny? Believe it or not, this even happens to English speakers from different countries.

Two types of comedy

Even though American and British people speak the same language, they find humor in different ways.

A brilliant description can be found in an interview of British comedian Stephen Fry. He outlines a famous scene in the classic American comedy film Animal House, starring John Belushi.

You know that scene in Animal House where there’s a fellow playing folk music on the guitar, and John Belushi picks up the guitar and destroys it. And the cinema loves it.


Everyone watching it laughs; this is classic American humor. It's big, it's physical, and the comedian has the power. In general, American comedy is about winning.

On the other hand, Fry points out that British humor is the opposite. If the Animal House scene was from a British comedy, the comedian would be the person playing guitar.

Well, the British comedian would want to play the folk singer. We want to play the failure.

British comedy is more tragic. According to Fry, in general, the comedian loses.

Comedy in your country

Imagine the guitar scene in your country. Which person is the main character? Is the comedian alone, or is he with a partner? Is he angry, or is he silly? Is he intelligent or not? Is he physically active, or is he focused on talking?

Of course, British and American culture, especially in terms of comedy, are complex. One scene can't cover it all. Can you think of other examples of British or American comedy?

Understanding humor from other countries is a difficult task. But, if we understand what other people find funny, we will be one step closer to communicating better and perhaps enjoying a world of comedy.