American vs British comedy: What is better for your English education?


TV and film are brilliant ways to learn English. We’ve talked before about how you can try to learn English with movies, but how about learning English whilst laughing?

So, American vs British comedy: which one will help you learn English more? Which one is actually better?

American and British humour has a reputation for being incredibly different, but that’s not to say you can’t appreciate both. It's even fair to say that people from each nation don't necessarily prefer their own brand of comedy all the time. The differences can sometimes be subtle, but they definitely exist.


Why American comedy shows are brilliant for your English education

Examples of American comedy shows: The Big Bang Theory, Friends, Scrubs, Brooklyn 99, Third Rock from the Sun


American comedy can be more obvious

American comedy is a great way to learn English because it can be more obvious when it is trying to be funny.

The jokes tend to be very strongly tied to what is happening on screen, the plot of each episode tends to be more straight-forward and clear, the characters are clearly defined and often there will be a laughter track to let you know when a joke has just happened (especially with older shows).

You should not have to work too hard to find out why something was funny with most American comedies and the shows will rarely step outside of the established setting.


American comedy can be comfortable showing a softer side

If you are given the chance to get inside the head of a character in an American comedy show, you are more likely to get a full range of emotions explored sooner or later if the show runs long enough. American culture has a reputation for being more open and comfortable with a range of emotions, whereas British culture might be more reserved and cold. This comes across in comedies more often and ties in to that idea of being more straight-forward.

Also, American comedies can be less afraid of tackling serious topics and are not afraid to slow down and trigger more emotional responses than just laughter. Whereas characters in American comedies are allowed to cry from time to time, when you get the same sorts of situations occurring in British comedies the joke is normally that the characters act in an inappropriate manner.


Why British comedy shows are brilliant for your English education

Examples of British comedy shows: The IT Crowd, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Green Wing, Spaced, Peep Show, Red Dwarf, The League of Gentlemen


British comedy can be absurd

Some British comedy gets a reputation for being absurd or surreal.  This can provide excellent English learning opportunities through sheer variety of vocabulary  and situations. A surprising change of direction for a plot or joke can catch you out from time to time, but it will help train you to think on your feet.

You might find that it’s not always obvious what you’re supposed to find funny either because you might be looking for individual jokes, when the humour is more derived from the scenario or the setting.


British comedy is less afraid of hurting its characters

All comedies often rely on tragic or pathetic characters, but British comedy will frequently focus on an underdog that just can’t catch a break as a main character. It might not be obvious that you’re supposed to be laughing with some British comedies as humour will often be derived from characters failing horribly.

This can sometimes be taken to an extreme and can get pretty dark and occasionally downright disturbing. Situations can get awkward and uncomfortable and British comedy has been responsible for some of the best “cringe comedy” moments ever created. As mentioned above, inappropriate reactions to serious situations can form the backbone of episodes or even entire shows. 


Why does it have to be American vs British comedy: What about getting the best of both?

Hybrid comedy examples: Arrested Development, The Office (US)

Some shows seem to blend American and British styles of humour together, sometimes as a result of an established show being adapted for a different audience. These could be the best shows to help you with your English language education as they have a mix of straight-forward plots with a mix of absurdity and social awkwardness, giving you the best of both worlds.

In reality, everyone finds different things funny so the real answer is that neither American or British comedy comes out as the clear winner, so why not give some of these examples a try and see what works best for you?