Member only
Episode
60

The British Sense of Humour

Jun 5, 2020
Arts & Culture
-
17
minutes
Life in the UK
TV
Comedy

People in Britain have a unique sense of humour.

For lots of foreigners it's difficult to understand and confusing. But British people are fiercely proud of their sense of humour, and the UK has produced some of the world's best comedies.

In this episode we take a look at what makes Brits laugh, and tell a few jokes along the way.

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[00:00:04] Hello hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to interesting stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the British sense of humour.

[00:00:30] As you probably know, the British sense of humour is a bit, well different. 

[00:00:38] Today we are going to discuss what makes it different, the things that make up British humour, and of course you'll hear a few jokes along the way. 

[00:00:50] It's going to be quite a fun one, and dare I say it, it could even be funny too.

[00:00:57] Before we get right into that though, I just want to remind those of you listening to the podcast on your favourite podcast app that you can get all of the bonus member-only episodes plus transcripts, key vocabulary, access to live Q and A sessions, and much more over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:19] If you are listening to these podcasts with the objective of improving your English, then I definitely recommend checking out the website, not just because we have all of that great extra content and learning materials on it, but also because there are all sorts of guides and articles on how to improve your English using podcasts.

[00:01:43] So if that sounds like something you'd be interested in and it certainly sounds good to me, then the link to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:54] Okay then, let's get started. 

[00:01:57] If you are a new listener and you can't tell from my accent, I'm British. 

[00:02:04] I've lived in lots of different countries and have friends from all over the world.

[00:02:10] And this has led me to the conclusion that the British sense of humour is firstly an acquired taste, but secondly is indeed superior. 

[00:02:22] Okay, I'm joking, but not really. 

[00:02:26] The British sense of humour is peculiar. 

[00:02:29] It's strange. 

[00:02:30] And if you haven't really lived in the UK or you don't have British friends, then it can be quite difficult to understand, or at least you probably will just find British people weird if you don't know that they are joking.

[00:02:50] So what we will do in today's episode is talk about what makes up British humour. 

[00:02:57] We'll go over the different types of humour that you might encounter in Britain, and afterwards you can decide whether you think it's actually funny.

[00:03:08] To begin with in Britain, we laugh at pretty much everything. 

[00:03:13] There is not really much that is off-limits and even the things that are off-limits, things that are considered too bad or sensitive to joke about, we joke about the fact that they are off-limits

[00:03:30] Laughing about a tragic set of circumstances is a quintessentially British thing to do.

[00:03:38] And while in some other cultures this would be completely taboo, completely forbidden, as long as it's clear that it's a joke there are few things that are actually properly off-limits

[00:03:54] I'll talk about some of the different types of humour that you'll be likely to encounter in a minute.

[00:04:00] But let's just first touch on two of the key themes that exist in almost all British humour. 

[00:04:09] First, sarcasm. 

[00:04:12] Now sarcasm, if you don't know what this word means, is defined as the use of irony to mock or convey contempt, to make fun. 

[00:04:24] It's generally when you say something that is obviously the opposite of what you actually mean.

[00:04:32] An example you might hear would be someone saying, "no shit, Sherlock" if someone else said something very obvious. 

[00:04:42] The idea here is that they are calling you Sherlock Holmes, a famous detective, despite you pointing out something that was very obvious. 

[00:04:52] So that is sarcasm. 

[00:04:54] Brits are famously sarcastic and it's sometimes difficult for foreigners to understand when we are joking or not.

[00:05:05] My wife is Italian, and when we first started dating, she made me a lovely meal. 

[00:05:11] I can't remember exactly what it was, but it was some delicious Italian dish, some sort of pasta, I think. 

[00:05:18] When she brought out, I asked her whether she minded me putting tomato ketchup on top, which was sarcasm, of course, because it was very tasty and tomato ketchup would definitely have ruined it, at least in her opinion - putting something like tomato ketchup on pasta is almost a cardinal sin in Italy. 

[00:05:42] Anyway, I thought it was pretty funny, she obviously thought it was funny enough to eventually marry me, but it definitely took her awhile to understand. 

[00:05:53] So watch out for sarcastic Brits. 

[00:05:56] If someone says something that seems unbelievable, they may well be joking.

[00:06:03] Secondly, a quality that is very common in British humour is self-deprecation, of putting yourself down. 

[00:06:12] What I mean by this is making fun of yourself. 

[00:06:17] In lots of cultures, this really isn't something that is often done as it's seen as a sign of weakness. 

[00:06:26] Not in Britain. 

[00:06:27] There's nothing that we like doing more than making fun of ourselves, and it's one of the most common forms of humour that you will find in Britain.

[00:06:39] You might hear a Brit saying, "God, I'm good at this", if they mess something up or do badly, or just talking about something embarrassing that they have done. 

[00:06:51] Again, this might seem strange in lots of cultures, but it is a crucial part of British humour.

[00:07:00] Another important aspect of British humour is the delivery of the joke itself. 

[00:07:07] It's important, vital even, to deliver it with a straight face, to not laugh. 

[00:07:15] If you laugh when you're delivering a joke, you've failed, or you're American. 

[00:07:22] It's almost like it's a competition. 

[00:07:24] The person hearing the joke first has to laugh and only then are you allowed to laugh.

[00:07:32] Or if you are being very British, nobody laughs, there's just a mutual understanding that it was a joke, it was funny, but that there's no need to physically express your amusement

[00:07:47] For people used to American culture, this is a big difference. 

[00:07:53] While with lots of American comedy TV shows, for example, there is a laughter track, there is the noise of people laughing whenever there is a joke, in the UK, it is pretty rare for TV shows to have a laughter track, especially in the past 20 years or so. 

[00:08:15] There's normally no sign, no signal, about what is a joke or not. 

[00:08:23] This is especially true with some of the most famous comedies from recent decades - almost nobody laughs on screen ever.

[00:08:34] Another component of the British sense of humour is laughing about the most mundane, normal things. 

[00:08:41] Laughing about people's day to day lives, poking fun at people's day to day lives, about how painfully boring and ordinary they are. 

[00:08:54] Some great examples of this in recent years are shows like Peep Show, Gavin and Stacey and The Office. 

[00:09:04] Now, if I were to describe to you what happens in these shows, you would probably think they sound incredibly boring and not funny at all.

[00:09:15] Let's just try. 

[00:09:17] So Peep Show is about two university friends who are both unhappy in different ways and spend their days either doing jobs they hate or doing nothing. 

[00:09:30] Gavin and Stacey is about the relationships between a series of characters in South Wales and East England who just travel back and forth between the two places and don't really do very much at all.

[00:09:46] And The Office is about people who work in a paper company, in a town outside London who all hate their jobs. 

[00:09:56] I guess that none of these storylines sound particularly exciting, but they are, and not just in my opinion, some of the funniest and most popular comedy series over the past 20 years. 

[00:10:10] Why?

[00:10:11] Well, partly because a huge part of British humour is about laughing about the monotony of our lives, and laughing at ourselves. 

[00:10:23] You don't need to be telling elaborate jokes or going on huge adventures to be funny in British humour, you just need to be yourself. 

[00:10:33] Another big component of British humour, which is not as unique to British humour as the previous things I've mentioned, but is something we do a lot in Britain, is the use of innuendo and double-entendre.

[00:10:50] Innuendo is when you see something that alludes to or hints at something else, often something sexual or unpleasant. 

[00:11:00] In fact, there are entire British comedy series that rely completely almost on innuendo, the most famous one is probably a series called the Carry On series, which came out in the late 1950s. 

[00:11:17] So if you want to see some classic British innuendo, most of it sexual, actually, then I definitely recommend checking out the Carry On series.

[00:11:30] So we've had sarcasm, self-deprecation, deadpan delivery of jokes, laughing about boring, normal life, and innuendo - these are some of the classic things that you will find in almost all British comedy, and you'll see coming out in the British sense of humour. 

[00:11:54] One other thing that British people love to joke about is stereotypes about people from different parts of Britain.

[00:12:03] Again, this isn't unique to Britain, of course. 

[00:12:07] All countries, no matter how small, tend to have different stereotypes about people from different areas, but Britain is no exception. 

[00:12:17] The difference with Britain, or rather the UK, is that it's formed of four different countries, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

[00:12:29] And there are stereotypes about people from all of these areas. 

[00:12:35] A classic joke is the format of having one person from three of these countries with the obvious stereotypes about characteristics of people from these places. 

[00:12:48] So normally there is an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman or any mixture of people from the four countries.

[00:12:56] They usually enter a bar, the first two say something, then the third one does something that displays some stereotypical behaviour. 

[00:13:07] And obviously these stereotypes depend on where you come from. 

[00:13:12] In England, at least there is the stereotype that Irish people are not particularly clever, and in fact, there's exactly the same stereotype with Irish people, that the English are stupid.

[00:13:26] A stereotype of the Scottish is that they are quite tight with money and like to make money like to do business. 

[00:13:35] And there are some quite impolite stereotypes relating to the Welsh and their love for sheep. 

[00:13:43] And for all four nations, there is the stereotype that they like to drink, which for those of you that have spent time in any British city on a Friday night, you probably think that there is truth behind every stereotype

[00:14:00] So here's an example of one of these jokes. 

[00:14:03] Two Englishman, two Irishman and two Scotsmen are shipwrecked on a desert island. 

[00:14:11] Within a month, the Irishmen are whiskey, the Scots are selling it at their pub, and the Englishman are drinking on opposite sides of the bar because they haven't yet been properly introduced. 

[00:14:26] Do you get it? 

[00:14:28] Generally a good joke is a joke that you don't have to explain, but I will just explain this one here. 

[00:14:33] Obviously it's playing on the stereotypes that the Irishman like to drink, the Scots are entrepreneurial and like making money and that English people are shy and antisocial. 

[00:14:45] I should point out, of course, that British humour isn't all the same. 

[00:14:50] There are some big regional differences and you won't find exactly the same kind of jokes in Glasgow as you would in London or Birmingham as you would in Belfast, but these are some of the main traits, the main characteristics, that you will see across a lot of British humour. 

[00:15:11] I'm biased here, of course, but I'd definitely say it is one of the more sophisticated senses of humour. 

[00:15:19] It does take awhile to get used to, and it is very different to the sense of humour that exists in lots of other countries, but I would say that it is worth the time. 

[00:15:31] Especially if you want to be able to hold a conversation with a British person in an informal setting, it's important to know a bit about their sense of humour. 

[00:15:43] And if they start joking with you or if they start playing jokes on you, well then you know the conversation is going to go well. 

[00:15:54] Okay then, that is it for today's episode on the British sense of humour.

[00:16:00] I hope it has been an interesting one and it has helped explain some of the strange aspects of this weird sense of humour. 

[00:16:10] I'm going to leave some links in the show notes with some classic examples of British humour, and I will leave you to enjoy those at your leisure.

[00:16:20] As a word of warning, they do rely on a lot of wordplay and innuendo, but there are a lot of pretty great jokes in there. 

[00:16:30] As one final reminder, if you aren't looking for all of the bonus episodes the transcripts, key vocabulary, exclusive live question and answer sessions and more, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:16:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:16:51] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:04] Hello hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to interesting stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the British sense of humour.

[00:00:30] As you probably know, the British sense of humour is a bit, well different. 

[00:00:38] Today we are going to discuss what makes it different, the things that make up British humour, and of course you'll hear a few jokes along the way. 

[00:00:50] It's going to be quite a fun one, and dare I say it, it could even be funny too.

[00:00:57] Before we get right into that though, I just want to remind those of you listening to the podcast on your favourite podcast app that you can get all of the bonus member-only episodes plus transcripts, key vocabulary, access to live Q and A sessions, and much more over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:19] If you are listening to these podcasts with the objective of improving your English, then I definitely recommend checking out the website, not just because we have all of that great extra content and learning materials on it, but also because there are all sorts of guides and articles on how to improve your English using podcasts.

[00:01:43] So if that sounds like something you'd be interested in and it certainly sounds good to me, then the link to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:54] Okay then, let's get started. 

[00:01:57] If you are a new listener and you can't tell from my accent, I'm British. 

[00:02:04] I've lived in lots of different countries and have friends from all over the world.

[00:02:10] And this has led me to the conclusion that the British sense of humour is firstly an acquired taste, but secondly is indeed superior. 

[00:02:22] Okay, I'm joking, but not really. 

[00:02:26] The British sense of humour is peculiar. 

[00:02:29] It's strange. 

[00:02:30] And if you haven't really lived in the UK or you don't have British friends, then it can be quite difficult to understand, or at least you probably will just find British people weird if you don't know that they are joking.

[00:02:50] So what we will do in today's episode is talk about what makes up British humour. 

[00:02:57] We'll go over the different types of humour that you might encounter in Britain, and afterwards you can decide whether you think it's actually funny.

[00:03:08] To begin with in Britain, we laugh at pretty much everything. 

[00:03:13] There is not really much that is off-limits and even the things that are off-limits, things that are considered too bad or sensitive to joke about, we joke about the fact that they are off-limits

[00:03:30] Laughing about a tragic set of circumstances is a quintessentially British thing to do.

[00:03:38] And while in some other cultures this would be completely taboo, completely forbidden, as long as it's clear that it's a joke there are few things that are actually properly off-limits

[00:03:54] I'll talk about some of the different types of humour that you'll be likely to encounter in a minute.

[00:04:00] But let's just first touch on two of the key themes that exist in almost all British humour. 

[00:04:09] First, sarcasm. 

[00:04:12] Now sarcasm, if you don't know what this word means, is defined as the use of irony to mock or convey contempt, to make fun. 

[00:04:24] It's generally when you say something that is obviously the opposite of what you actually mean.

[00:04:32] An example you might hear would be someone saying, "no shit, Sherlock" if someone else said something very obvious. 

[00:04:42] The idea here is that they are calling you Sherlock Holmes, a famous detective, despite you pointing out something that was very obvious. 

[00:04:52] So that is sarcasm. 

[00:04:54] Brits are famously sarcastic and it's sometimes difficult for foreigners to understand when we are joking or not.

[00:05:05] My wife is Italian, and when we first started dating, she made me a lovely meal. 

[00:05:11] I can't remember exactly what it was, but it was some delicious Italian dish, some sort of pasta, I think. 

[00:05:18] When she brought out, I asked her whether she minded me putting tomato ketchup on top, which was sarcasm, of course, because it was very tasty and tomato ketchup would definitely have ruined it, at least in her opinion - putting something like tomato ketchup on pasta is almost a cardinal sin in Italy. 

[00:05:42] Anyway, I thought it was pretty funny, she obviously thought it was funny enough to eventually marry me, but it definitely took her awhile to understand. 

[00:05:53] So watch out for sarcastic Brits. 

[00:05:56] If someone says something that seems unbelievable, they may well be joking.

[00:06:03] Secondly, a quality that is very common in British humour is self-deprecation, of putting yourself down. 

[00:06:12] What I mean by this is making fun of yourself. 

[00:06:17] In lots of cultures, this really isn't something that is often done as it's seen as a sign of weakness. 

[00:06:26] Not in Britain. 

[00:06:27] There's nothing that we like doing more than making fun of ourselves, and it's one of the most common forms of humour that you will find in Britain.

[00:06:39] You might hear a Brit saying, "God, I'm good at this", if they mess something up or do badly, or just talking about something embarrassing that they have done. 

[00:06:51] Again, this might seem strange in lots of cultures, but it is a crucial part of British humour.

[00:07:00] Another important aspect of British humour is the delivery of the joke itself. 

[00:07:07] It's important, vital even, to deliver it with a straight face, to not laugh. 

[00:07:15] If you laugh when you're delivering a joke, you've failed, or you're American. 

[00:07:22] It's almost like it's a competition. 

[00:07:24] The person hearing the joke first has to laugh and only then are you allowed to laugh.

[00:07:32] Or if you are being very British, nobody laughs, there's just a mutual understanding that it was a joke, it was funny, but that there's no need to physically express your amusement

[00:07:47] For people used to American culture, this is a big difference. 

[00:07:53] While with lots of American comedy TV shows, for example, there is a laughter track, there is the noise of people laughing whenever there is a joke, in the UK, it is pretty rare for TV shows to have a laughter track, especially in the past 20 years or so. 

[00:08:15] There's normally no sign, no signal, about what is a joke or not. 

[00:08:23] This is especially true with some of the most famous comedies from recent decades - almost nobody laughs on screen ever.

[00:08:34] Another component of the British sense of humour is laughing about the most mundane, normal things. 

[00:08:41] Laughing about people's day to day lives, poking fun at people's day to day lives, about how painfully boring and ordinary they are. 

[00:08:54] Some great examples of this in recent years are shows like Peep Show, Gavin and Stacey and The Office. 

[00:09:04] Now, if I were to describe to you what happens in these shows, you would probably think they sound incredibly boring and not funny at all.

[00:09:15] Let's just try. 

[00:09:17] So Peep Show is about two university friends who are both unhappy in different ways and spend their days either doing jobs they hate or doing nothing. 

[00:09:30] Gavin and Stacey is about the relationships between a series of characters in South Wales and East England who just travel back and forth between the two places and don't really do very much at all.

[00:09:46] And The Office is about people who work in a paper company, in a town outside London who all hate their jobs. 

[00:09:56] I guess that none of these storylines sound particularly exciting, but they are, and not just in my opinion, some of the funniest and most popular comedy series over the past 20 years. 

[00:10:10] Why?

[00:10:11] Well, partly because a huge part of British humour is about laughing about the monotony of our lives, and laughing at ourselves. 

[00:10:23] You don't need to be telling elaborate jokes or going on huge adventures to be funny in British humour, you just need to be yourself. 

[00:10:33] Another big component of British humour, which is not as unique to British humour as the previous things I've mentioned, but is something we do a lot in Britain, is the use of innuendo and double-entendre.

[00:10:50] Innuendo is when you see something that alludes to or hints at something else, often something sexual or unpleasant. 

[00:11:00] In fact, there are entire British comedy series that rely completely almost on innuendo, the most famous one is probably a series called the Carry On series, which came out in the late 1950s. 

[00:11:17] So if you want to see some classic British innuendo, most of it sexual, actually, then I definitely recommend checking out the Carry On series.

[00:11:30] So we've had sarcasm, self-deprecation, deadpan delivery of jokes, laughing about boring, normal life, and innuendo - these are some of the classic things that you will find in almost all British comedy, and you'll see coming out in the British sense of humour. 

[00:11:54] One other thing that British people love to joke about is stereotypes about people from different parts of Britain.

[00:12:03] Again, this isn't unique to Britain, of course. 

[00:12:07] All countries, no matter how small, tend to have different stereotypes about people from different areas, but Britain is no exception. 

[00:12:17] The difference with Britain, or rather the UK, is that it's formed of four different countries, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

[00:12:29] And there are stereotypes about people from all of these areas. 

[00:12:35] A classic joke is the format of having one person from three of these countries with the obvious stereotypes about characteristics of people from these places. 

[00:12:48] So normally there is an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman or any mixture of people from the four countries.

[00:12:56] They usually enter a bar, the first two say something, then the third one does something that displays some stereotypical behaviour. 

[00:13:07] And obviously these stereotypes depend on where you come from. 

[00:13:12] In England, at least there is the stereotype that Irish people are not particularly clever, and in fact, there's exactly the same stereotype with Irish people, that the English are stupid.

[00:13:26] A stereotype of the Scottish is that they are quite tight with money and like to make money like to do business. 

[00:13:35] And there are some quite impolite stereotypes relating to the Welsh and their love for sheep. 

[00:13:43] And for all four nations, there is the stereotype that they like to drink, which for those of you that have spent time in any British city on a Friday night, you probably think that there is truth behind every stereotype

[00:14:00] So here's an example of one of these jokes. 

[00:14:03] Two Englishman, two Irishman and two Scotsmen are shipwrecked on a desert island. 

[00:14:11] Within a month, the Irishmen are whiskey, the Scots are selling it at their pub, and the Englishman are drinking on opposite sides of the bar because they haven't yet been properly introduced. 

[00:14:26] Do you get it? 

[00:14:28] Generally a good joke is a joke that you don't have to explain, but I will just explain this one here. 

[00:14:33] Obviously it's playing on the stereotypes that the Irishman like to drink, the Scots are entrepreneurial and like making money and that English people are shy and antisocial. 

[00:14:45] I should point out, of course, that British humour isn't all the same. 

[00:14:50] There are some big regional differences and you won't find exactly the same kind of jokes in Glasgow as you would in London or Birmingham as you would in Belfast, but these are some of the main traits, the main characteristics, that you will see across a lot of British humour. 

[00:15:11] I'm biased here, of course, but I'd definitely say it is one of the more sophisticated senses of humour. 

[00:15:19] It does take awhile to get used to, and it is very different to the sense of humour that exists in lots of other countries, but I would say that it is worth the time. 

[00:15:31] Especially if you want to be able to hold a conversation with a British person in an informal setting, it's important to know a bit about their sense of humour. 

[00:15:43] And if they start joking with you or if they start playing jokes on you, well then you know the conversation is going to go well. 

[00:15:54] Okay then, that is it for today's episode on the British sense of humour.

[00:16:00] I hope it has been an interesting one and it has helped explain some of the strange aspects of this weird sense of humour. 

[00:16:10] I'm going to leave some links in the show notes with some classic examples of British humour, and I will leave you to enjoy those at your leisure.

[00:16:20] As a word of warning, they do rely on a lot of wordplay and innuendo, but there are a lot of pretty great jokes in there. 

[00:16:30] As one final reminder, if you aren't looking for all of the bonus episodes the transcripts, key vocabulary, exclusive live question and answer sessions and more, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:16:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:16:51] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to interesting stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the British sense of humour.

[00:00:30] As you probably know, the British sense of humour is a bit, well different. 

[00:00:38] Today we are going to discuss what makes it different, the things that make up British humour, and of course you'll hear a few jokes along the way. 

[00:00:50] It's going to be quite a fun one, and dare I say it, it could even be funny too.

[00:00:57] Before we get right into that though, I just want to remind those of you listening to the podcast on your favourite podcast app that you can get all of the bonus member-only episodes plus transcripts, key vocabulary, access to live Q and A sessions, and much more over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:19] If you are listening to these podcasts with the objective of improving your English, then I definitely recommend checking out the website, not just because we have all of that great extra content and learning materials on it, but also because there are all sorts of guides and articles on how to improve your English using podcasts.

[00:01:43] So if that sounds like something you'd be interested in and it certainly sounds good to me, then the link to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:54] Okay then, let's get started. 

[00:01:57] If you are a new listener and you can't tell from my accent, I'm British. 

[00:02:04] I've lived in lots of different countries and have friends from all over the world.

[00:02:10] And this has led me to the conclusion that the British sense of humour is firstly an acquired taste, but secondly is indeed superior. 

[00:02:22] Okay, I'm joking, but not really. 

[00:02:26] The British sense of humour is peculiar. 

[00:02:29] It's strange. 

[00:02:30] And if you haven't really lived in the UK or you don't have British friends, then it can be quite difficult to understand, or at least you probably will just find British people weird if you don't know that they are joking.

[00:02:50] So what we will do in today's episode is talk about what makes up British humour. 

[00:02:57] We'll go over the different types of humour that you might encounter in Britain, and afterwards you can decide whether you think it's actually funny.

[00:03:08] To begin with in Britain, we laugh at pretty much everything. 

[00:03:13] There is not really much that is off-limits and even the things that are off-limits, things that are considered too bad or sensitive to joke about, we joke about the fact that they are off-limits

[00:03:30] Laughing about a tragic set of circumstances is a quintessentially British thing to do.

[00:03:38] And while in some other cultures this would be completely taboo, completely forbidden, as long as it's clear that it's a joke there are few things that are actually properly off-limits

[00:03:54] I'll talk about some of the different types of humour that you'll be likely to encounter in a minute.

[00:04:00] But let's just first touch on two of the key themes that exist in almost all British humour. 

[00:04:09] First, sarcasm. 

[00:04:12] Now sarcasm, if you don't know what this word means, is defined as the use of irony to mock or convey contempt, to make fun. 

[00:04:24] It's generally when you say something that is obviously the opposite of what you actually mean.

[00:04:32] An example you might hear would be someone saying, "no shit, Sherlock" if someone else said something very obvious. 

[00:04:42] The idea here is that they are calling you Sherlock Holmes, a famous detective, despite you pointing out something that was very obvious. 

[00:04:52] So that is sarcasm. 

[00:04:54] Brits are famously sarcastic and it's sometimes difficult for foreigners to understand when we are joking or not.

[00:05:05] My wife is Italian, and when we first started dating, she made me a lovely meal. 

[00:05:11] I can't remember exactly what it was, but it was some delicious Italian dish, some sort of pasta, I think. 

[00:05:18] When she brought out, I asked her whether she minded me putting tomato ketchup on top, which was sarcasm, of course, because it was very tasty and tomato ketchup would definitely have ruined it, at least in her opinion - putting something like tomato ketchup on pasta is almost a cardinal sin in Italy. 

[00:05:42] Anyway, I thought it was pretty funny, she obviously thought it was funny enough to eventually marry me, but it definitely took her awhile to understand. 

[00:05:53] So watch out for sarcastic Brits. 

[00:05:56] If someone says something that seems unbelievable, they may well be joking.

[00:06:03] Secondly, a quality that is very common in British humour is self-deprecation, of putting yourself down. 

[00:06:12] What I mean by this is making fun of yourself. 

[00:06:17] In lots of cultures, this really isn't something that is often done as it's seen as a sign of weakness. 

[00:06:26] Not in Britain. 

[00:06:27] There's nothing that we like doing more than making fun of ourselves, and it's one of the most common forms of humour that you will find in Britain.

[00:06:39] You might hear a Brit saying, "God, I'm good at this", if they mess something up or do badly, or just talking about something embarrassing that they have done. 

[00:06:51] Again, this might seem strange in lots of cultures, but it is a crucial part of British humour.

[00:07:00] Another important aspect of British humour is the delivery of the joke itself. 

[00:07:07] It's important, vital even, to deliver it with a straight face, to not laugh. 

[00:07:15] If you laugh when you're delivering a joke, you've failed, or you're American. 

[00:07:22] It's almost like it's a competition. 

[00:07:24] The person hearing the joke first has to laugh and only then are you allowed to laugh.

[00:07:32] Or if you are being very British, nobody laughs, there's just a mutual understanding that it was a joke, it was funny, but that there's no need to physically express your amusement

[00:07:47] For people used to American culture, this is a big difference. 

[00:07:53] While with lots of American comedy TV shows, for example, there is a laughter track, there is the noise of people laughing whenever there is a joke, in the UK, it is pretty rare for TV shows to have a laughter track, especially in the past 20 years or so. 

[00:08:15] There's normally no sign, no signal, about what is a joke or not. 

[00:08:23] This is especially true with some of the most famous comedies from recent decades - almost nobody laughs on screen ever.

[00:08:34] Another component of the British sense of humour is laughing about the most mundane, normal things. 

[00:08:41] Laughing about people's day to day lives, poking fun at people's day to day lives, about how painfully boring and ordinary they are. 

[00:08:54] Some great examples of this in recent years are shows like Peep Show, Gavin and Stacey and The Office. 

[00:09:04] Now, if I were to describe to you what happens in these shows, you would probably think they sound incredibly boring and not funny at all.

[00:09:15] Let's just try. 

[00:09:17] So Peep Show is about two university friends who are both unhappy in different ways and spend their days either doing jobs they hate or doing nothing. 

[00:09:30] Gavin and Stacey is about the relationships between a series of characters in South Wales and East England who just travel back and forth between the two places and don't really do very much at all.

[00:09:46] And The Office is about people who work in a paper company, in a town outside London who all hate their jobs. 

[00:09:56] I guess that none of these storylines sound particularly exciting, but they are, and not just in my opinion, some of the funniest and most popular comedy series over the past 20 years. 

[00:10:10] Why?

[00:10:11] Well, partly because a huge part of British humour is about laughing about the monotony of our lives, and laughing at ourselves. 

[00:10:23] You don't need to be telling elaborate jokes or going on huge adventures to be funny in British humour, you just need to be yourself. 

[00:10:33] Another big component of British humour, which is not as unique to British humour as the previous things I've mentioned, but is something we do a lot in Britain, is the use of innuendo and double-entendre.

[00:10:50] Innuendo is when you see something that alludes to or hints at something else, often something sexual or unpleasant. 

[00:11:00] In fact, there are entire British comedy series that rely completely almost on innuendo, the most famous one is probably a series called the Carry On series, which came out in the late 1950s. 

[00:11:17] So if you want to see some classic British innuendo, most of it sexual, actually, then I definitely recommend checking out the Carry On series.

[00:11:30] So we've had sarcasm, self-deprecation, deadpan delivery of jokes, laughing about boring, normal life, and innuendo - these are some of the classic things that you will find in almost all British comedy, and you'll see coming out in the British sense of humour. 

[00:11:54] One other thing that British people love to joke about is stereotypes about people from different parts of Britain.

[00:12:03] Again, this isn't unique to Britain, of course. 

[00:12:07] All countries, no matter how small, tend to have different stereotypes about people from different areas, but Britain is no exception. 

[00:12:17] The difference with Britain, or rather the UK, is that it's formed of four different countries, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

[00:12:29] And there are stereotypes about people from all of these areas. 

[00:12:35] A classic joke is the format of having one person from three of these countries with the obvious stereotypes about characteristics of people from these places. 

[00:12:48] So normally there is an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman or any mixture of people from the four countries.

[00:12:56] They usually enter a bar, the first two say something, then the third one does something that displays some stereotypical behaviour. 

[00:13:07] And obviously these stereotypes depend on where you come from. 

[00:13:12] In England, at least there is the stereotype that Irish people are not particularly clever, and in fact, there's exactly the same stereotype with Irish people, that the English are stupid.

[00:13:26] A stereotype of the Scottish is that they are quite tight with money and like to make money like to do business. 

[00:13:35] And there are some quite impolite stereotypes relating to the Welsh and their love for sheep. 

[00:13:43] And for all four nations, there is the stereotype that they like to drink, which for those of you that have spent time in any British city on a Friday night, you probably think that there is truth behind every stereotype

[00:14:00] So here's an example of one of these jokes. 

[00:14:03] Two Englishman, two Irishman and two Scotsmen are shipwrecked on a desert island. 

[00:14:11] Within a month, the Irishmen are whiskey, the Scots are selling it at their pub, and the Englishman are drinking on opposite sides of the bar because they haven't yet been properly introduced. 

[00:14:26] Do you get it? 

[00:14:28] Generally a good joke is a joke that you don't have to explain, but I will just explain this one here. 

[00:14:33] Obviously it's playing on the stereotypes that the Irishman like to drink, the Scots are entrepreneurial and like making money and that English people are shy and antisocial. 

[00:14:45] I should point out, of course, that British humour isn't all the same. 

[00:14:50] There are some big regional differences and you won't find exactly the same kind of jokes in Glasgow as you would in London or Birmingham as you would in Belfast, but these are some of the main traits, the main characteristics, that you will see across a lot of British humour. 

[00:15:11] I'm biased here, of course, but I'd definitely say it is one of the more sophisticated senses of humour. 

[00:15:19] It does take awhile to get used to, and it is very different to the sense of humour that exists in lots of other countries, but I would say that it is worth the time. 

[00:15:31] Especially if you want to be able to hold a conversation with a British person in an informal setting, it's important to know a bit about their sense of humour. 

[00:15:43] And if they start joking with you or if they start playing jokes on you, well then you know the conversation is going to go well. 

[00:15:54] Okay then, that is it for today's episode on the British sense of humour.

[00:16:00] I hope it has been an interesting one and it has helped explain some of the strange aspects of this weird sense of humour. 

[00:16:10] I'm going to leave some links in the show notes with some classic examples of British humour, and I will leave you to enjoy those at your leisure.

[00:16:20] As a word of warning, they do rely on a lot of wordplay and innuendo, but there are a lot of pretty great jokes in there. 

[00:16:30] As one final reminder, if you aren't looking for all of the bonus episodes the transcripts, key vocabulary, exclusive live question and answer sessions and more, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:16:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:16:51] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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