Why British Humour Is An Acquired Taste

Abstract Mar 17, 2019

“If you can’t joke about the most horrendous things in the world, what’s the point of jokes? What’s the point of having humour? Humour is to get us over terrible things. ”
~ Ricky Gervais

The ones advocating free speech would know how to embrace the dark, humorous side of British comedy. That, in my opinion, would help the cause, laughing in the face of adversity. As much as I have heard of it to be self-deprecating, the more boastful it becomes.

While interviewing a few young Somerset cricketers, one of them, with a deadpan face asked me straight, “I maybe up for the interview. How much are you paying me? You see, I am very popular among the Mumbai journalists!” On first thoughts, I was horrified. Can you actually say that out loud to a stranger? That’s when it dawned on me that it was just his sense of humour and British humour is definitely acquired so I laughed along.

Ricky Gervais’ stand-up special Humanity provides a glimpse of it all. His repugnant swagger about himself draws you in before his self-deprecating humour kicks in just as effectively. It has just the right elements British humour has retained its originality for. Almost as dark as their coffee. Excuse me for that banal and a hackneyed observation.

Gervais talks about how he tackled Twitter outrages in response to a joke he tried out at the Golden Globe Awards. “People mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target. Because Twitter and Facebook, that’s where this ridiculous notion bred, and became stable, that it was more important to be popular than right. And now, in this post-truth era, people don’t care about the argument, they say, ‘Who’s saying the argument? No, they’re not on our side.’ It’s ludicrous, okay? And it also bred this ridiculous notion we’ve always had. My opinion is worth as much as yours. Now, it’s my opinion is worth as much as your fact, which is nonsense.”

Watching a British comedian do his bit is synonymous to Terence Fletcher, the unorthodox Jazz band mentor from Whiplash. Shredding the subject to bits with wit, a resounding touch of sarcasm, a resentful dose of verbal pasting and a deadpan delivery. At least in our case, the comedian sports a smile sans an apology.
“It’s almost a sign of affection if we like you, and ego bursting if we don’t. You just have to know which one it is.”

When I talk about British humour, it is imperative to point out why it is unique in comparison to the humour from their baseball-loving happy-go-lucky pals, the Americans. They want to make you feel good at the end of the day but the Brits, they want to drag you down to their level of misery. Hence, the acquired taste!

Their style of humour has crept into sports as well. Sledging, as they call it in cricketing terms, has always been expected from an Australia-England clash, if not quality cricket.
One of the classic self-bragging acts on-field has to be credited to England’s former all-rounder Ian Botham who was facing Australian fast bowler Rodney Hogg.
After Hogg lost his balance while bowling and fell at Botham’s feet, Botham quipped , “I know you think I’m great Hoggy, but no need to get down on your knees.”
That’s the deal. The Americans get too sweet but the British, they say, ” We don’t care what offends you, we will say it out loud what we want to.”

Gervais quips, “We’re all going to die someday, so we should have a laugh. If you can laugh in the face of adversity, you’re bullet-proof. Me and my brother, Bob, had one simple rule, and that was if you think of something funny, you’ve got to say it. Win, lose or draw. It might go well, it might go badly. But you’ve got to say it. ”
That’s what comedy is for, what humour is for. It gets us over bad stuff. Right?

-Malhar Hathi

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