|When it comes to British humour, the rule of thumb is: If someone is saying something which makes absolutely no sense with a straight face, they’re probably joking. (Photo: learnenglish1-2-1.com)
Bao Tram: Hello, Kieran. Thanks for joining VOV’s Cultural Rendezvous today.
Kieran Dave: Hi, Tram. It’s great to be here!
Bao Tram: Before this talk, you told me that the key to understanding British comedy is how it’s different from American humour. What is the difference?
Kieran Dave: One big difference is that British people are more pessimistic. The main characters in American comedies (like How I Met Your Mother) tend to be likeable, wise-cracking optimists who survive crazy situations. Yet, the most famous British comedies are about deluded, imperfect characters who awkwardly fail in their boring, ordinary lives.
Bao Tram: Why do you think that is?
Kieran Dave: Our societies are a little different too. In America, they are told to aim high, follow their dreams and be a success. But, in Britain, people tend to be more realistic about their position in society. William Shakespeare’s plays were either Comedies or Tragedies – and nowadays we mix the two together. We tend to laugh at stories about how people’s individual flaws cause them to fail.
We also have a Queen, not a President. Plus we have a Parliament that is centuries old! The Parliament building is in Westminster right next to Big Ben. It’s where our leaders and politicians debate using clever language to argue and even insult each other. It’s part of our culture to jokingly criticize one another. Of course, no-one would talk like that to Queen Elizabeth!
Bao Tram: When is the right time to make negative jokes?
Kieran Dave: We complain about everything in Britain. The weather, the transport, bad customer service – it’s kind of a national pastime. In formal situations, we have to express our feelings very politely, and avoid taboo subjects. So, when we are around our friends, we really let our true feelings out. If you want to really get on well with a Brit, then you need to have good banter.
Bao Tram: What is ‘banter’?
Kieran Dave: Banter is when you make jokes with your best mates, teasing or mocking each other. Every group of friends needs good banter, that way everyone can keep making jokes back and forth, be honest, and laugh at everything that’s wrong. Great banter also means laughing when people make jokes about you. We also call it “taking the.. mickey” or Irish people call it “the craic”.
Bao Tram: Kieran, what should I do if a British person tries to have banter with me?
Kieran Dave: British people will be very polite with people they aren’t really friends with. If we hate the service at a restaurant, and the waiter asks if everything’s ok, we’ll say that it was fine – just to be polite.
If you meet a British person and they start mocking you, it’s usually because they like you. If they’re speaking freely, it’s because they feel comfortable. If you can quickly reply to their teasing with a funny comeback, then you’re two mates having a bit of banter! I think that’s something a lot of Brits discover we have in common with Vietnamese people, especially when drinking beer!
|Kieran Dave, a native Brit, has travelled to about 50 countries around the world and has a great interest in foreign cultures. In upcoming academic semester, Kieran will start teaching global cultures at the Institute of Research and Executive Education, University of Da Nang.
Bao Tram: What topics should we avoid joking about with British people?
Kieran Dave: Our most popular comedy characters like Basil Fawlty, David Brent, Mark Corrigan and Alan Partridge are terrible people who make bad choices. If you choose to be arrogant, lazy, or selfish, your British friends are going to mock you.
However, we don’t tend to joke about things people can’t choose. It’s rude to mock someone’s family background, religion, skin colour, weight, disabilities, or who they love. But it is acceptable to mock tastes, hometowns and football clubs!
Bao Tram: Thank you, Kieran, for joining us today and sharing with us some interesting facts about British humour.
Kieran Dave: Thanks so much for having me. See you soon!