The British sense of humor is characterized by a dry wit, like your mouth after eating a ton of spicy doritos. Since nobody doesn’t want a mouthful of spicy doritos, here’s a brief introduction to our chuckle-inducing style, plus our top TV shows for boosting your English accent and upping your level of ‘funniness’.
So, how do we define British humor?
Well, you can expect a healthy dose of sarcasm and irony – usually aimed at the silliness of life in general. It can be difficult to detect, because it’s often delivered without the use of facial expressions, so you might want to pay close attention. Examples you can look out for include:
- “Thanks for shouting loudly into your phone during our train journey.”
- “I really love watching you pick your nose.”
- “It’s amazing when people push in front of me in the queue.”
Second on the list is self-deprecation; in other words making fun of ourselves. Based on a sort of mild modesty, the English just love putting themselves down. We do it to divert awkwardness away from a situation or person, to make everyone else feel a bit better, or just because we feel uncomfortable boasting about ourselves.
The third and final stage of British humour is mild offence. If we’re really comfortable with you, we’ll flip the ‘making-fun-of-ourselves’ template upside down, and actually start dishing out some dirt on YOU.
Provided we’re not being genuinely nasty and trying to upset you (we have no time for this kind of attitude), you can feel pleasantly smug if a new English friend is making a joke at the expense of your new Autumn bobble hat or stripy socks. We call it ‘banter’, and it dates back at least a few hundred years, because we know Shakespeare loved a good insult.
For even more details on British humor, check out our beginner’s guide here.
Now our definition is out of the way, here are our top seven shows for mastering the above.
1. After Life
If you’re not a fan of Ricky Gervais, then you probably won’t be a fan of this one. The basic premise centers around the process of recovery for a guy who loses his wife. He’s super cynical about life, and in the process basically offends everyone. It might be an acquired taste for some, but it gives you a good insight into some of the ironic and darker elements of British humor.
2. Sex Education
This one is absolutely brilliant; there are so many hysterical one-liners (“wash yo’ hands, you detty pig!”) and the characters are wonderfully wholesome. It also has this strange aesthetic where you can’t really tell if it’s British or American. For example they all have English accents, but they’re at an American-style school and the guys wear varsity jackets.
3. The Office
An absolute icon of British TV and a cult classic. It’s about a really boring British office workplace, where all the characters are totally awkward, and say and do the silliest things. Manager David Brent has become a household name, and it propelled comedians Ricky Gervais and David Merchant to stardom in the UK.
Less a ‘show’ in the traditional sense than a mini-series, this three part reimagining of Bram Stoker’s iconic gothic villain gives a fresh take on good old Drac. If you’re into gothic horror stuff, and you don’t mind a few gory scenes, this might just be the show for you. The lead character leans heavily into a sophisticated British accent, so you’ll pick up some excellent pronunciation tips. It’s a bit camp and silly too, so you can expect a few cringey but funny one-liner jokes, for instance: “You are what you eat!”, and “I am undead, not unreasonable!”
5. Derry Girls
I’ve not actually watched this one, but I’ve heard great things. One review calls it a “pitch-perfect depiction of teenage girls”, and it’s apparently hilarious – despite the show being set in nineties Northern Ireland, during The Troubles. It’s funny because of the communication between the teen characters and their parents, especially so because the parents often seem to act more like teenagers. There’s a satisfying irony in this.
6. The IT Crowd
This one is not entirely my cup of tea, however I added it anyway because some of my colleagues seem to really like it. Supposedly, the characters are a bit ridiculous, their humour is dry and scathing, and they are just ‘so loveable’.
This one is an acquired taste, too, and it’s also technically not British. In fact, it’s actually Norwegian, however they filmed the entire thing in both Norwegian and English. It pokes fun at the absurdity of Viking culture, and the characters are super awkward and random in their interactions. It reminds me a little of the humour of Monty Python (a British comedy classic), and for an English person to make this comparison, it says a lot. Be warned though – it’s a bit crude.