Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Humour Is A Funny Thing

I've been meaning to write a post about this for some time but was prompted and arse kicked by yesterday's post about women and humour and the lengthy but considered comment from G12. I don't know how to link to a comment, or I would. And, for the record I used the term "arse kicked" because, in the context of arses I'm British, not American. I'm referring to my arse not my donkey/unicorn cross bred thing.

The Gyppo says:

"I also think it has more to do with where you live than gender. People are just funnier in Britain or in Australia than they are in Sri Lanka. I don't know - just another way of looking at it I guess."

and it made me think, one of my hobbies anyway. These sense of humour things, are they that different according to nationality and is it fair to say that some nationalities are funnier than others?

Despite all my abundant words about identity, all my whining when someone tells me I'm not Sri Lankan because I use the indicators when I turn, that sort of thing, I think I've got a very British sense of humour. I've put a lot of time into trying to figure out what a British sense of humour means, what characterises one and what the recipe is.

Wikipedia has this entry, but it's probably written by an American academic who's just done a PhD on the subject, something that is ironic, something that is a key constituent of British humour. We Brits laugh at ourselves, we parody ourselves and take the piss out of each other in ways that other nations don't, though other nations do take the piss out of the British.

I hesitate to blow my own trumpet bang my own drum but I've been told that the occasional person finds my blog slightly amusing because I scribble things that are about Lanka and Lankan life but with a Brit sense of humour. To me it's just a sense of humour, like Joey and the Chinese food business.

The Brit sense of h is very brain based. That's about the best explanation I can come up with, that its foundations lie in jumping ahead with one's thoughts and then leading the audience along the path that took you there, or took one there. Once the audience sees the connection they hopefully find the joke funny.

In contrast I think the Sri Lankan sense of humour is more about everyone jumping together, the whole crowd being involved in one big leap to funniness, if that makes sense. It seems to be more of a group thing. Lankans have much more belly laughter than Brits, I think, but should add that I'm talking of my observations about Lankan humour in English. I don't understand the Sinhala language so can't make any kind of commentary on Sinhala humour, or the Tamil variety.

Often I feel as if the Lankan flavoured humour struggles to mix with the Brit stuff. There are many occasions when I've watched a crowd of Lankans crack up over something and I just haven't found it funny, despite understanding why they're laughing. There are many more when I've cracked a witticism to a Lankan audience and they've looked at me as if I was at a Michael Jackson fan club meeting and had decided to narrate some of the jokes that we've all heard lately.

Only a couple of weeks ago I was out for dinner with a group of Sri Lankans and I came out with a particularly funny line about a Brazilian. It was a line I'll use again, just with the right crowd. These people, who'd been laughing and joking for pretty much all the time leading up to my corker, went silent and looked at me in disbelief.

I, being the considerate type, mistook the looks of disbelief for looks of "Pardon me but would you say that again as we didn't hear you?" so I did the only thing a chap could do and repeated it. It made things twice as bad. They were young people as well, can you imagine that? There was tumbleweed everywhere and that Clint Eastwood whistling thing going on loudly in my head.

The big commonality between Brit and Lankan humour is the way that they feature in the make up of each society. They may be fundamentally different but it's fair to say that both nations love to laugh. Rarely have I had a good evening, either in London or Lanka, that didn't involve copious amounts of laughter and a little bit of wee leaking out accidentally. Java's like that though and his bag can leak sometimes.

And what about the Americans? Well their's is a different one too. Like most Brits I find American humour to be hilarious at times and totally predictable and boring at others. Friends was/is funny. The American version of The Office was just painful, I know not why. American stand ups always seem too obvious for me. Sometimes they're very funny, they just lack the sophistication that other nations have. Some people might even go so far as saying that about the Americans in general. I wouldn't.

Here in Britland we have a stereotyped view of the German sense of humour. It's possibly unfair, though I can't think of many German funnies or programmes. I do know that the Germans take their humour very seriously indeed. I've also noticed that they do it all in German, how mad is that?

Maybe sense of h is impossible for us to even consider if it's conducted in a language we don't comprehend. As I said before that's certainly the case for me in relation to Sinhala or Tamil but I don't even think about the Danish sense of h or the infamous Spanish one. No one ever expects the Spanish sense of humour though.

So it's fair to say that we can only evaluate a nation's sense of humour if we speak the language. Therefore, when we're translating a "foreign" language back into our own mother tongue, surely we're bound to lose a huge amount of the intrinsic wit anyway?

Or what do you think?

Are some nationalities just naturally funnier than others?


Sachintha said...

"We Brits laugh at ourselves, we parody ourselves and take the piss out of each other in ways that other nations don't, though other nations do take the piss out of the British."

That is some serious humor, RD!

Yes I too sometimes get so bored with American humor. I mean, their comic movies have come to a point where they are all the same.

Brits, on the other hand, makes us laugh either way. That is, we laugh cos their humor IS funny, or we laugh at the "un-funny-ness" of it.

Btw, I think the Japs have the most dried sense of humor ever. They can make Sahara desert look like an overflowing river. No joking, if you know what I mean.

T said...

yech American humor is tres stupid. wil ferrell is testament to that. i love brit humor. peep show is one of my favorite shows. and mind you language! man, that was old school.

Anonymous said...

RD , Firstly for So Lankan SoH. Yes it does exist. And other is damn funny. But the problem is when you repeat an english joke in Sinhala, most times it is not funny. As for british humour, I think it is a bit overated.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Sach - I haven't really been exposed to any Jap humour, I'll try to check it out somehow.

T - Mind your L was a stalwart of my childhood. I saw something about it the other day though and felt embarrassed that it was so politically uncorrect, stereotyping so many nationalities.

Anon - Yes, I agree that the SL sense of H exists, I hope you didn't think I was saying otherwise. The problem of translating jokes or witticisms from any lanhuage into another may well be what makes each nation have its own humour.

If you think Brit humour is overrated, then fair enough. It's not everyone's cup of tea.

David Blacker said...

Yes, I think you're right that Brit humour is brain- or language-based. SL humour is more about the way you say something than what you actually say.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

DB - Although much of the Sinhala / English crossover humour is language based ne c'est pas?

Anonymous said...

As for me THE BIGGEST JOKE or Humour on earth is RD's Blog, an old sorry soul desperately trying all its antiques to rope in whatever little attention it can get. In the process it goes to all weird insane extremes.

Sorry about my crudeness, but i repeat, you are the biggest joke ever to have hit planet earth. Such a sorry sad soul you are !

Sam said...

Hummer even exists in North Korea. No. I don’t think any nationalists are naturally funnier than others. Hummer is a way to tickle the brain. Often done using unexpected twist to the current picture, while we are in a relative comfort zone. Example – “a man walk on to a tree” is funny, because it is a twist to what we expect normally, and we are still in our comfort zone watching that terrible accident. Verbal hummer happens the same way too – punch line always has to be something unexpected by the listener. and when that happen, we make an awful loud sound and call it laughing. i dont know why..

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Anon - Erm, right. Sorry for the ways I've forced you to read my blog.

Sam - Fair enough, but isn't there some humour you appreciate more than others?

Sam said...

yeh. specially my spelling mistakes. :)

Anonymous said...

@ anon
Nope, I disagree.

The biggest joke is the fact despite living in UK and learning English for 42 years, RD is still unable to clearly express himself in English.
I may be wrong. This could be a symptom of attention seeking behaviour.
Which one is it, RD ?
Pray do tell.

By the way as for focing others to read , it is in public space and you can disable the Anon identity if you so wish to.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Anon - thanks for your wisdom as always.

Sachintha said...

It's tagging time, mister RD.

Sachintha said...

Oh and me being me, forgot to give the link.

Java Jones said...

Hey RD - I'll let that 'bag' dig go for now, but wait for it!

I'm partial to Brit humour, but that's because of my conditioning. So I'm sure 'humour' is relative to where one comes from (literally as well as metaphorically). Am I making sense?

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Java - Yes, perfect sense. I think perhaps humour is much more geography specific than it might appear at first. I wonder if people always retain a "home" sense of humour but might get to understand others the more they are exsposed to other cultures.