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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Winners of the TBTS Mighty Boosh Essay Contest!

August 17, 2009

About a month ago, we announced a giveaway of newly released The Mighty Boosh on DVD. The catch? You had to tell us what you think the differences are between British and American comedy — no easy feat. Several of you stepped up to the plate, however, and earned yourselves a season of the Boosh compliments of The Brown Tweed Society, Baby Cow Productions and the BBC. And now, in no certain order — the three winners are…


Megan — Bradenton, Florida:

British comedy is a hearty, fresh, and tasty soup rife with the friendly crunchy croutons of satire, surrealism, sillyness, and irony.  Next to said soupy genius, stands the thin, canned American comedy: not half bad in a pinch, but woefully lacking in depth.  Of course there are exceptions on both sides, but in general, British comedy succeeds by having a deeply satisfying comedic story- a joint sojourn with the viewer- while the popular American counterpart is gleeful merely in its ability to string one joke after another.

British comedy affords its viewers the rare courtesy of not assuming they are dim, allowing the writers to place nuanced jokes in an already humorous or absurd storyline.  This creates a layered and complex world, such as eccentric zookeepers venturing into a jungle room, which really is a jungle, and being confronted by a series of camp pop culture inspired characters on a journey to save their zoo. In contrast, American audiences aren’t given a chance to grasp the existentialism of universal absurdity and humor.  The show would run more along the lines of: two of the worst zookeepers in the world get stranded in a real jungle and have to use their mis-remembered knowledge of wild animals to escape the clutches of a leopard in heat. The audience is prompted to laugh at the characters while they relay fart jokes and fresh-out-of-the-fraternity humor, not with them in their surreal turn of events.  There are no nuances.  Silliness and joy are lacking.  And that’s why I can’t go for that American comedy.

 Mark — Lexington, Kentucky:

The difference between British and American comedy can be summarized in a single word: whimsy.   Generally, the best American comedy employs satire as social commentary to make you think while laughing.  Norman Lear’s brilliant social sitcom All in the Family, Lenny Bruce’s stand-up routines about sex and religion, Stephen Colbert’s ironic twist on today’s opinion makers are all fine examples of the American comedic tradition best embodied in Mark Twain’s famous aphorism: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

British comedy, by contrast, delights in the fanciful departure from the everyday.  Monty Python is obviously the most famous and all-too-frequently quoted example, but the whimsical streak can be seen anywhere from Eddie Izzard to The Young Ones.  There’s no self-consciousness to British comedy; even in a profession requiring willingness to say absolutely anything for a laugh, the British will cheerfully embark on a frolic and detour beyond the fields we know without hesitation or, for that matter, without warning, while their American counterparts prefer to leave at least a toe on familiar ground.  The Mighty Boosh, one of the latest and greatest iterations of the English tradition, presents gloriously ridiculous scenarios and rapid-fire banter between characters Vince and Howard bordering on non sequitur in an unforced, offhand way.  It’s difficult to imagine an American show embedding a warning about the dangerous of the icy tundra in a surprisingly catchy out-of-nowhere hip-hop number or having a character design a mirror ball suit (and its more subdued tweed version) while another discovers a note between B and C (presumably B flat) by mixing it with the sound of a crab committing suicide and pumping it out through a shoe to give it an oaky timbre.  Don’t watch it on your computer while drinking coffee without a good warranty.

Emily — Chesterfield, Virginia:

The dictionary defines comedy as ,“a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion”. In life, there are many different examples of this personified all over the world, however, for the purpose of this paper I will examine the difference between American and British comedy.

Often times, American comedy tends to lean towards making racial stereotypes (think, Chappelle’s Show, MadTV, Family Guy or Saturday Night Live). Chappelle’s Show for example, had entire episode (Season 1 Episode 13, “Black,White Supremacist”) in which they elaborated upon white southern stereotypes such as racism against all races and ignorance, and then had white people being black stereotypes by blasting rap music and talking slang. Many comedians in America often draw on stereotypes as well, think Carlos Mencia’s Spanish stereotypes, Margaret Cho’s Asian stereotypes and Chris Rock’s often very pronounced stereotypes on just about every race. Of course because everyone knows the stereotypes, they are often very humorous, and although some do get offended, it is a very typical American style of comedy.

British comedy, however, tends to leave race out, but uses social group stereotypes. In “Nanageddon” (Mighty Boosh Season 2 Episode 3) Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt dress up in a stereotypical goth attire in order to impress two gothic females (both also stereotypically dressed). The humor is how “I’m so goth I’m dead” the attitude of the girls is, and with Fielding and Barratt trying to act similar, it is very humorous. Also, in “The Legend of Old Gregg” (Mighty Boosh Season 2 Episode 5), they draw off of typically trans-sexual stereotypes, seen in Old Gregg’s neediness for attention and affection and of course his “mangina”. In other British shows such as “Fawlty Towers”, there is often stereotypes of French and German characters, such as the episode “Germans” in which the main character continually references Nazi and war-oriented German stereotypes, repetitively saying “don’t mention the war!” and even talking with a faux-German accent when speaking letter’s with a W (saying “Vunderbar”).

Both American and British comedy draw off the same type of stereotypes at time, but whereas American comedy tends to be more racial-oriented humor, British humor is often more based on different social class stereotypes.


Congratulations, Mark, Emily and Megan — you can expect your prizes soon. For the rest of you who entered — great work, and keep your eyes peeled for another great TBTS giveaway soon.

One Comment
  1. foreverpest permalink
    August 25, 2009 8:31 pm

    Eh. Mine was better than at least 1 of those. Thanks though, had fun writing it.

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