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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: June ::
American and British Humor
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0438.  Friday, 2 June 1995.
 
(1)     From:   David Jackson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 01 Jun 95 11:54:01 est
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0435  Re: Fletcher; Caedmon Recordings
 
(2)     From:   Michael Field <
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        Date:   Thursday, 01 Jun 1995 12:42:47 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Am. & Brit. Humor
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Jackson <
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Date:           Thursday, 01 Jun 95 11:54:01 est
Subject: 6.0435  Re: Fletcher; Caedmon Recordings
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0435  Re: Fletcher; Caedmon Recordings
 
As a Brit expatriate who dabbled in stand-up comedy before losing my sense of
humor at law school (and regaining it in modified form after becoming an
actor/director), I agree with Jesus Cora that there are differences between
British and American sense of humor, as well as comic elements such as timing,
inflection, and idiom (as well as accent: the word "banana" is much funnier in
English than in American).
 
As for "punningly", I am sure Nabokov used it somewhere, but he's pretty good
company for an aspiring neologiser to be in.
 
          David Jackson
          Washington, D.C.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Field <
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Date:           Thursday, 01 Jun 1995 12:42:47 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Am. & Brit. Humor
 
Jesus Cora writes that he perceives American and British humor may at times be
incompatible. I couldn't agree more.
 
Fawlty Towers, a British sitcom starring John Cleese and Prunella Scales, was
immensely popular in the U.K., and for a time some of its episodes were the
number 1 video rental in that country. The show has long had a devoted cult
following here in the U.S., but it is not and has never been "mainstream." John
Cleese relates that in one of the many proposals to bring the show to primetime
U.S. viewers, the show was to be recast and his character--Basil Fawlty--was to
be eliminated. Why? "He's too mean." Which is, of course, precisely the point.
 
Another British comedic import currently enjoying a healthy cult following is
"Absolutely Fabulous," a sitcom centering on two women in the fashion/modeling
industry. The show might as well be titled "Absolutely Wicked" for it's leading
characters get drunk, use drugs, and are bitchy (there is no other word to
describe it) with anyone and everyone who comes in their sights. Currently
there is talk of an American version of the same show. You don't need to be
psychic to predict that the American version will not feature women dabbling
with drugs and drinking wine straight from the bottle. "Too wicked."
 
I bring this up because I feel it has direct import on our ongoing discussions
about Shakespeare issues such as Malvolio's punishment or the whole of Taming
of the Shrew; "comedic" exercises which, you will notice, seem to strike a sour
note with many American observers.
 
I think, frankly, that the British are much more willing to accept the true
nature of comedy as socialized hostility, and are therefore better at it.
Personally, I'll stick with Basil Fawlty calling his wife a "benzedrine puff
adder" over "Three's Company" any day of the week.
 

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