Married to an American wife, we have a lot of fun with accents, Brit. vs American nuances, humour and language. She has been introduced to a lot more British comedy and drama on TV (Fawlty Towers, Dr Who, Coronation Street) and I to FOX News (is that a fair swap?). The funny thing is, our American kids said recently, “Mom…you’re developing a Kiwi accent!” [Yesss, the tran-z-form-a-tion is complete, bwa haha haha]. It took her a couple of years to ask what “Fair Suck of the Sav.” meant, “bring a plate,” (is that a Greek thing, like for smashing?), and she asks me not to say to women, “shall we hook up later?” When our vicar said in her first NZ sermon, “I like to tramp, and usually have two hotties in my sleeping bag with me,” she was most perplexed. Mind you, they worship “Gard.” Rowan Atkinson has never made it in America (they just didn’t get Bean or Johnny English) yet Hugh Laurie (House) of Fry & Laurie has, but as a dramatic actor.
So James Robinson’s column for Stuff Voyages in America got my attention today. “I have been thinking the past few days about the different ways New Zealanders and Americans are funny… “New Zealanders tend to have a pretty dark sensibility…” I agree. Look at our movies, Vigil, The Piano, LoTRings, Hobbit, Once Were Warriors, Out of the Blue:Aramoana, etc.
“People are prone to broad assertions about American comedic sensibilities. I’m not sure if any sane person still thinks this, but there was the prevailing“Americans don’t get sarcasm and irony” sentiment for a good long while.” A good stereotype we like to assert, but blown away by Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Modern Family, etc.
“I’d say that Americans as a people are a little less sarcastic than New Zealanders…” We slow-cooked Flight of the Conchords (they couldn’t ‘make it’ in Nu Zild) but Americans,via HBO, adored them and made them mega-celebrities.
“I think there’s a hint of darkness in the humour of everyday New Zealanders. We like to tease each other.” I really notice this, as do my American family. They think we’re being mean with the teasing, but to us its a form of shared endearment. So I have to stop re-iterating fun US-NZ mis-pronouncements year-after-year (I just love the way my Chico son first said “Wanaka” and it’s now how I say it in my head) as I do with childhood memes with my Kiwi kids (“sach-ets” is about 20 years old in our family) because it comes across as mocking and a put down, which it isn’t in my head. But as ‘Brit.s’ we are always polite and well-mannered (Americans well-manicured).
“Comedians in the US are better at projecting and finding humour in what it is actually like to be a person in America…underpinned by a sincere and relatable honesty about modern American culture.” This is more about relative scales; we’ve only produced a small number of comics who have done this (Billy T.) and our culture is quite new and much less diverse and populous than Americas (Blues to Jews, to the Ghetto to Republicans. We have Maoris and Jaffas!).
“Either that, or it is just broad cowardice on the behalf of our broadcasters. “I’ve been soaking up every new article on The Civilian lately…even if it is a pretty direct lift of (the Chicago-based) The Onion’s fake news template, it satirises our own popular culture and national dialogue perfectly.” How do you compare the differences in funny between New Zealanders and Americans?
There’s no question that Americans are more puritan than we are. Their mainstream TV just does not carry the same sensuality and sexual innuendo that NZ TV does, which is ironic, because their movies and dramas are full of serial killers and yeecch. But their victims look gorgeous, like they’re a sleep with a tomato sauce stain on their Gucci slip, while ours go Jim Taggart Glaswegian-bashed-in-heads with a wheel brace. It feels the same with American humour.
Whatever the differences, and they are less and less with globalised TV led by the US everywhere, I enjoy the divergences. It makes for even more comedy. My wife hates that her masculine husband wears “tops.”