American and British Humor, What’s the Difference?

What you thought I’d stop posting? Here’s a piece from Richard Gervais that appeared on TIME Ideas. Link here

The Difference between American and British Humour

It’s often dangerous to generalize, but under threat, I would say that Americans are more “down the line.” They don’t hide their hopes and fears. They applaud ambition and openly reward success. Brits are more comfortable with life’s losers. We embrace the underdog until it’s no longer the underdog.We like to bring authority down a peg or two. Just for the hell of it. Americans say, “have a nice day” whether they mean it or not. Brits are terrified to say this. We tell ourselves it’s because we don’t want to sound insincere but I think it might be for the opposite reason. We don’t want to celebrate anything too soon. Failure and disappointment lurk around every corner. This is due to our upbringing. Americans are brought up to believe they can be the next president of the United States. Brits are told, “it won’t happen for you.”

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Walk the plank? No, do the plank!

Plank (n.): a long, thin flat piece of timber, used in building and flooring.

Planking (n.): a “prank that involves lying face down in a public place, with photos posted on social networking sites” (BBC).

Humans, armed with utter boredom and a sense of exhibitionism, have helped spread the phenomenon across continents and cultures–from Australia to Singapore. BBC news comments on the phenomenon:

The growth of planking is an example of the “meme” – an idea that goes viral online and becomes a global trend. Recent examples are Lolcats, Hitler Downfall parodies, flashmobbing and extreme ironing.

“Exhibitionism has been around since the dawn of time,” says Nate Lanxon, editor of wired.co.uk. “YouTube and digital cameras just takes it into a whole new realm. The ultimate goal is for your photo to become the most popular.”

The essence of planking is not lying “stiff as a board” but juxtaposing it with an unexpected place, says Lanxon. The death in Australia will only accelerate the meme of planking, he says, as people become curious and decide to Google the term.

Of course, people–being the competitive creatures we are–have taken this little sport (yes some people claim that it is an  “extreme sport which requires years of constant training to perfect the complex technique”) or art form to dangerous extremes. There has already been a death in Australia that has riled authorities while another planker in Gladstone, Australia has been arrested for planking on a police car. This short video actually gives a nice summary of the different ‘plank’ styles out there.

What does this phenomenon tell you about human nature and interaction? What caused it? (i.e. underlying reasons/social forces?)Is this something  you are ‘proud’ of? Or do you feel embarrassed for humankind? Why?

‘Who’ cares?

If you have some time, watch the video above and ask yourself: why do you find him funny? Is it solely due to his comic ability? Would it have made a difference if he was from another race, gender, age etc. ? Was there anything about this man that stood out even before he uttered a word?

The human mind is conditioned to always expect certain conventions in social life (i.e. you already know what sort of demographic to expect when taking your daily bus to school) and one way comedians try to rattle our funny bone is to simply question or mangle these conventions or expectations to often rather humorous ends – this could be why minorities or prejudiced people often make the funniest comics (look at the Axis of Evil for instance).

Enjoy the shows! But also question why we find them enjoyable as well.