Thursday, May 12, 2005

Those Wacky Brits

I have a question: why are the Brits (and the Canadians for that matter) so much funnier than Americans? It's not just the charming accents, though that may be part of it. Middlebrow and I just watched the first season of "The Office" and were quite entertained, though we couldn't always get all the jokes because of the accents. And then there was an ad for another BBC comedy, "Coupling." Both of these comedies were translated for American audiences by NBC (I think) and both flopped. I didn't see the American versions, but I heard they were terrible. But the British versions are hilarious. Why? The show (I'm referring to "The Office" now) doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable silence after a joke that bombs. The whole premise, the bad boss who thinks he's a great boss, is uncomfortable. Plus the British sense of humor is just, well, funnier. Like when one office worker puts the other guys stapler into jello and hides it in his desk. And the uncomfortable sexual politics of the office that make you cringe. I think American comedies are afraid of the real funny material, because true comedy is funny because it makes you uncomfortable.
There is also a pretty funny Canadian comedy on PBS about an American guy who moves to Toronto to do a morning show. I don't know what it's called, but again, funny. And they make jokes about Canadian Zinfandel. Must be good, right?
So what is it? Part of it is the dryness of the wit. Part discomfort. Part lack of laff track? Part poking fun at themselves and their foibles.
Also: BBC world news is far better than anything produced in America. They were covering Sudan when American news was still obsessed with Michael Jackson. (and still are, right?)
Also: My new favorite show, "Spy," is a BBC production that shows on PBS on Saturday nights. It's a terrible time and I've missed more than I've seen, but it's a spy reality show. You know what is great about it? They are forbidden from messing around with each other, so it actually is about spying and the techniques and not about who is sleeping with who and who will get voted off. The only way to get ousted is to screw up. So far, only one woman has. I highly recommend it. And I look forward to your theories on why the Brits are so much funnier than we are. (Is it the blood pudding?)


Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

I actually watch Coupling sometimes, and it's a little startling how many of the plotlines were clearly ripped-off for Friends...

Paulk said...

I did watch the American version of "The Office" (without having seen the British version, so I can't really compare). I thought it was quite funny, but also very painful, precisely because of all the long pauses and uncomfortable moments.

(My favorite lasted for the final 2 and a half minutes of one show, where the whole office waited for the boss to bring out a "great surprise" for them, one he didn't have but couldn't admit. People stood around and waited and waited and waited, and then slowly took off in ones and twos. Painful.)

My understanding (from those who have seen the British original) was that it was different (except for the first episode, which was a scene-by-scene copy) but with the same spirit.

That's my guess for why Americans aren't watching. God forbid you have intelligent comedy on TV.

Cordelia said...

I do hope you are planning on watching Series Two and the Specials of The Office. It only gets better. I have the DVD set.
The first time I watched them, I turned the captions on so I could catch everything they said. Now I've learned how to listen to actors' accents. I had some friends over to watch it for the first time and there I was the only one in the room laughing and it was because the others couldn't understand what was being said, so I turned on the captions again.