By Kerri McGuire
A discussion of both American and British comedy, in aspects such as stand-up and the sitcoms and films we still love to this day.
Laughter. It’s what keeps us going. It’s what makes the bad times bearable. It’s what makes life worth living.
Comedy has been in our lives for centuries and it comes in different shapes and sizes, from all over the world. From stand-up comedy to the sitcoms we see on television every day, there is no shortage of laughter inducing programmes that give us a chuckle and a giggle.
Stand-up comedy is a form of comedy that has been loved for decades and is still loved by many to this day. Comedians like the legendary scot Billy Connolly, the hilarious American Kevin Hart and the “hard” Glaswegian Kevin Bridges have made a name for themselves just by telling funny stories from growing up and making quick puns that have the audience doubling over with laughter. Stand-up originated from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America and consisted of people telling stories of their life and upbringing. It has since attracted many people, with live shows and television skits done by their favourite comedians, sometimes the stand-up world and the television world come together to create something bigger.
Simon Houston is a journalist for the Scottish Sun and a budding stand-up comedian who has been very successful in entertaining the audiences he has spoken in front of so far. He was asked about his opinions on the subject of how different British and American comedy is and how his career in stand-up comedy is going so far.
Initially he became a stand-up comedian as a project for the Scottish Sun, but he enjoyed it so much he decided to continue with it. He has been doing stand-up for around 6 months.
He was questioned about the variety of comedy in the world, so he spoke about whether he thought there was enough.
He said: “It’s something I’ve given an awful lot of thought to in the last few months. I didn’t realise how extensive the amount of stand-up there is. Not just in Scotland and Glasgow but across the board. I am watching it as much as I can. I’m on all the channels and on the internet trying to find people I haven’t seen before. I am amazed at the quantity.”
He was also asked about his experience with stand-up so far.
He said: “It has been surprisingly good. I didn’t go looking for it. It came to me.”
He was challenged to learn stand-up comedy so that he would be able to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2020. However, this has not been possible due to the Coronavirus.
He also spoke about professional stand-up comedians, talking about different techniques used and the talent that they have. Simon admires Milton Jones because of his “rapid fire” jokes.
He also said: “It’s all completely unique and it’s all his.”
Robin Williams is also one of his favourite stand-up comedians.
Further discussions were about British and American stand-up and how different they are. We can see this through the comedians’ performances.
He said: “American people tend to want to be seen as the very best. I think they want to be top dog. British comedians laugh at themselves. American comedians poke fun at other people. I don’t think they want to put themselves down because I don’t think that goes down well with an American audience. An American audience would prefer to laugh along with other people than laugh at them.”
The interview ended with him talking about life experiences and how they might contribute to a comedian’s funny nature.
He said: “You could be 18 and you haven’t seen or done an awful lot in your life because you’ve only lived for 18 years. You could be 50 and you’ve had all sorts of mad, crazy things happen to you. You channel all that and you harness it. You get funnier as you get older, without any shadow of a doubt.
It’s not like a footballer, when you’re great at 20 but at 40 you’re rubbish. It’s quite the opposite because it’s about life experiences and adding them into the bank of the things that make people laugh.”
Simon Mayhew Archer was also interviewed, who is a comedy writer and producer for the show This Country and so much more. Working directly with actors and being hands on in the making of these shows, we can truly call him an expert on the topic. This topic was discussed with him, allowing him to give his opinions and share his experiences in the comedy world with me.
We discussed the differences between British and American comedy within the aspect of comedy he works in.
He said: “I think that one of the main differences I notice is the societal difference. American society is generally a little less cynical than British society and so they’re a bit more adept at doing programmes which are aspirational and where you like the characters and you are rooting for the characters.”
He mentioned that in Britain there are characters that you can still root for, like Del Boy. Del Boy is a character from the show Only Fools and Horses who is known for creating messes for his younger brother Rodney to fix and for getting into trouble with the law. The best characters are the darker ones in British comedy.
I also asked him whether he preferred American or British comedy.
He said: “I don’t have a preference. I just like good comedy and that can be made anywhere. The best comedies are universal and should bridge those cultural differences.”
We also spoke about what inspired him to get into comedy. Our senses of humour can impact our lives amazingly and can shape the way we see the world in so many ways.
He said: “I have two inspirations. My comic hero is a Scotsman called Armando Iannucci who I was a superfan of his work. The other one is my Dad because he was a comedy producer and a comedy writer. So, I grew up being around comedians. It was what my Dad did for a day job.
Comedy is a currency. I’ve always enjoyed trying to make people laugh and also being made to laugh by other people.”
The interview ended with some advice from Simon for those wanting to work within the comedy industry, specifically for his sector.
He said: “What it takes to work in comedy is you have to absolutely know what you find funny and never lose sight of that because it’s easy. From time to time things will come along that knock your confidence or make you question ‘have I lost my sense of humour or have I lost my taste?’
“My advice to anybody that wants to work in it is to watch loads of comedy and go to comedy clubs. Watch stand-ups. And if you want to be a producer or a writer watch the credits at the end and see who wrote it and who produced it. They’re the people that might make something else that you like. The more you watch the more you start to develop your own taste.”
Different countries have different senses of humour, and we can see this through the multiple outlets of comedy. There is a substantial difference between British and American comedy, with British comedy being more self-deprecating and American comedy supporting the heroic and “cool” characters.
A survey of my own creation was conducted to delve further into people’s opinions on the subject of comedy from both countries and to see which one they preferred. There were 18 respondents. The results showed a mixed bag of opinions, with some people liking different aspects of comedy from different countries. For example, 78% of respondents said that they preferred British stand-up comedy over American. Some of the reasons for this were that British humour is more dry and British comedians are unafraid to talk about darker subjects in a comedic way. Comedy fans also expressed why they were not as much of a fan of American stand-up, saying that they can relate to British humour more as American stand-up can be “cheesy” and “cringey”.
Looking at the aspects of these two countries’ comedy overall, we can see that although people might relate to their own country’s humour, as human beings we are all connected through our experiences and we can relate to some of the same humour. Sarcasm is something that is used all over the world, a common type of joking whit that we can all understand and that we may even use in our day to day lives.
Famous and globally loved comedian Ricky Gervais has commented on the subject before, having been the writer and starring in the Office UK. He was also a writer for the Office U.S so he can be considered an expert on the subject.
In an interview Gervais said: “They (Americans) don’t hide their hopes and fears. They applaud ambition and openly reward success. Brits are more comfortable with life’s losers. We embrace the underdog until it’s no longer the underdog. We like to bring authority down a peg or two. Just for the hell of it.”
We can see what Ricky Gervais is saying by comparing the two main characters of both versions of the show, Michael Scott and David Brent. As an audience we notice that even though the characters are similar in many ways, the situations that they are in are very different. For example, when the other characters in the show throw a party without them, Michael Scott from the American version of the show is expectedly very embarrassed and humiliated at not being invited. However, by the end of the episode we see this character having a duet with Jim Halpert. Ricky Gervais’ character David Brent ends up in the same situation in the UK version, but his ending is a lot more different, with him also embarrassing himself in front of his employees but they do not join in with him and they simply stare at him shocked.
The ending for these characters in the show in general are very different as well. Michael Scott moves to Colorado with his Fiancé and they have a happy ending. For David Brent it is very different. The UK Office ends with him wanting his job back and he feels hopeless and broken at the prospect of having no job.
Ricky Gervais spoke about the differences between the characters in the same interview which may justify the different endings for the characters.
He said: “We had to make Michael Scott a slightly nicer guy with a rosier outlook to life. The irony of course is that I think David Brent’s dark descension and eventual redemption made him all the more compelling.
Comedy is such a timeless and necessary thing in this day and age. Without comedy or laughter life would seem hopeless and dark. Laughter and humour get us through the hardest times. Without laughter there is no life.