“Are the French as funny as the British?” asked my sister the other day.
I had to think about it, and yes they are but I do see differences.
Of course we British think we have a great sense of humour and are very funny – we have good reason to believe this – Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin -yes he was born in Britain as was Bob Hope, Stan Laurel and Mr Bean to name just a few that I think most people will have heard of. We can be very dry in our humour but what we like most is to laugh at misfortune – of others preferably but we can certainly laugh at ourselves. Go to a comedy club anywhere in the UK and the comedian who gets the most laughs is the one who tells jokes about someone who is suffering – we may sound reluctant, we may gasp but ultimately we laugh in the face of disaster (especially when it is someone else’s).
The best loved British comedian in France is Benny Hill. I doubt if everyone will have heard of him. He was at his peak in the ‘70s and specialised in slapstick, picture postcard type humour that was very visual. Lots of nubile, scantily clad ladies being chased by bald, overweight men to the sound of quirky music. Totally inappropriate for today’s audience.
Apart from liking very visual, slapstick humour, the French, I think, have a quite dry, subtle sense of humour. Often it’s quite quirky – think Marcel Marceau the mime artist who was both funny and sad.
Films like Amélie completely illustrate the clever and artful humour of the French. A young woman with a difficult upbringing who takes an interest in the lives of others which allows the film to delve into their personal lives and display human foibles with a light and comedic touch.