I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends in high school for rescuing me from the clutches of American-style humour. I am generalizing here, I realize. American humour varies depending on the comic/show. However, I am talking about the stereotypical style of American humour that can be found in most sitcoms/films and spouted by many comedians. This kind of humour relies heavily on misogynistic jokes, racist or stereotypical jokes, and poop/fart/bodily fluids and functions jokes.
In my childhood, I enjoyed the humour of Nickelodeon shows (particularly All That, featuring Lori Beth Denberg. Let me talk about her for a moment. Lori Beth Denberg was fat…a fat actress in a TV show I watched a lot. That meant so much to me, a fat girl in our world. Here was a fat girl being funny and being successful. She wasn’t being used as a prop or as the butt of jokes delivered by thin kids. She was a jokester in her own right.), Blossom, Full House, ALF, Punky Brewster, etc. Later, I enjoyed shows such as Roseanne (I didn’t see the final season, but I remember reading about it), SNL, The Simpsons, and In Living Color. I fell for some (not all) of the films of Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, and other SNL alumni and alumnae.
However, in high school, my group of geeky, freaky, outcast friends introduced me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and to British humour in the form of AbFab and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That was it. Oh, American-style humour would still hold some sway over my laughter. However, my sense of humour expanded. Yes, British humour has some similar problems of misogyny and racism and stereotyping as American humour.
Since those early days, I have discovered the joys of shows like The Vicar of Dibley (thanks to my British friend Jay for sending me audiotapes of this show long before I actually saw it), Clatterford, Little Britain, and (more recently) 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown. I also discovered and enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
Let me address Little Britain here. Little Britain is a sketch comedy narrated by Tom Baker and starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams. There is one sketch on the show I won’t watch. It is a sketch where an older woman always projectile vomits, a symptom of her gross racism. I just don’t want to watch someone vomit. There are also problematic sketches. There is one where Matt Lucas is dressed and painted to look like Mr. T. “Mr. T” is working out in a gym and, when asked by another gym-goer, claims not to be Mr. T nor to know who Mr. T is (despite that fact that he drives an A-team style vehicle in the end). The disturbing, racist history of blackface makes this sketch uncomfortable at best. Another problematic sketch involves Bubbles DeVere, a large lady who spends all her time at a spa and evades her bill by attempting to seduce the spa manager. Matt Lucas wears a fat-woman suit for this sketch, as the character continually loses or takes off her spa towel in sketches. While I love that she’s confident and sexual, I feel that the audience is meant to go “ooh, gross” when she propositions the manager of the spa or shows her naked fat body. (There is also the problematic bit where David Walliams is dressed and painted to be a large Woman of Colour married to Bubbles’ ex-husband, who is incidentally not fat.)
The introduction to British humour paved the way for my enjoyment of Canadian humour. My earliest encounter with Canadian humour was through the band Moxy Früvous. After I moved to Canada, the political humour of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce won me over.
I still enjoy the exceptional pieces of American humour (The Daily Show for one).
However, in general, I need more than the don’t-be-a-girl, I-want-to-kill-my-mother, gross jokes of mainstream American humour.
There is one American comedy I really wanted to like: The Big Bang Theory. It’s about scientists and geeks. What’s not to like? Sadly, it is so full of the misogyny (period jokes made supposedly funny by Sheldon using big words to say them; Raj being told “don’t be a girl,” because he’s creeped out by bugs). I gave the show a go. I did. I kept hoping it would get better. Mayim Bialik (Blossom) is on the show, for goodness’ sake. In the end, however, the show came across to me as a typical American sitcom with a geek veneer. So I stopped watching.
In conclusion, I will leave you with this video of one of my newfound favourite British comedians Josie Long.