British comedy seems to be at an all time high in popularity across the pond, with shows like The Office, Shameless, Absolutely Fabulous and Little Britain, plus a catalog of British films, appealing to many in the US. However, Brits are known for their rather sarcastic sense of humour and anyone who has visited the US will know that it can be taken the wrong way. So why is it that British comedy is so popular in the US? We caught up with some British actors to ask them why they think British comedy works in America.
Karen Bryson stars as Avril in Shameless, a show that has been successfully transported Stateside, and shares her views: "British comedy does well in the US because the Brits have a warped, slightly off the wall sense of humour. We find the 'funny' in almost anything." However, to make a comedy actually work in the US is a whole different matter. Bryson continues, "the whole thing needs to be transposed. It would prove pointless trying to mix it up. The Brit comedies that work are the comedies that have taken the seed, the idea, the characters and transported them into the right American situation, with an American cast. Otherwise watch the British version!!"
Bryson nails one of the reasons why comedy does so well "Brit comedies (films) tend to depict a slice of British life which is quite stereotypical, a little quaint, starring a slightly buffoonish, loveable lead." She is proud that British shows are being recognised in tinsel town and has a sneaky favourite American show herself, Friends. This talented actress also loves how the US version of Shameless has really worked in America " I think Shameless US has done a fantastic job of transposing the whole thing. So even though the idea, the feel, the characters and even the scripts are the same, it's a completely different show."
No stranger to comedy or drama, popular and talented actress Tanya Franks' comedic credits include Pulling, Skins and the The Cup. Franks openly shares that she doesn't feel qualified to answer, "because I'm not an American to whom British comedy appeals. However, I am in the know so I asked the question of my biz partner producer/lawyer Todd Shill, as he is American and adores British comedy. He hits the nail on the head and I'm sharing with you his answer: "American audiences are very used to comedy being delivered in an open and obvious manner, whereas British comedy is oftentimes more subtle and requires the audience to look deeper into character development to find humor. Not that one delivery method is better than the other, but I think it's appealing to American audiences to search for the comedy rather than just watch and react. Frank adds "or I could've just turned around and said, 'haven't got a clue'". Tanya is a fan of American comedy, naming Taxi, South Park and Girls as favourites.
Two of the Stars from the upcoming British Comedy Amar Akbar and Tony, Rez Kempton and Martin Delaney have their own opinions on why British comedy shows and films shine in the US.
Kempton has a very interesting point, that "Britain has such a long established tradition of blending comedy with drama. If you look even back to Shakespeare's play's you'll have laugh out load comedy, alongside really dark tragedy. More recently if you look at British movies such as The Full Monty or Brassed Off you've got serious issues being dealt with sensitivity, but laughs too."
He shares that the comedy might also work as "American Audiences can relate to diverse community living and sharing life's experiences together, because America has always welcomed people from the globe, to come and pursue their dream." Films like Bend it Like Beckham worked in America, Amar Akbar and Tony has a similar theme, the film follows the story of three friends from different backgrounds who live side by side and share their life's ups and downs together. Kempton loves some of the American comedies too, including Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock and like Karen, Friends.
Martin Delaney adds we do "comedy and sentiment well, without being too cheesy". He feels the Office was show that did particularly well in the US and is looking forward to the American version of Gavin and Stacey. Delaney also shares "British comedy films tend to get all the laughs, whilst finding the truth & heart in the story & performances. It also gives a slice of life from a different culture and I think that's interesting to US audiences".
Martin loves "...New Girl at the moment. I think the whole cast is awesome & the writing; slick. It just has so much appeal. I met Zooey Deschanel this year at a pre-Oscar party in Beverley Hills and she is the most charming lady, I am an even bigger fan now!" He would also love to see stateside Him & Her written by the awesome Stefan Golaszewski, starring Russell Tovey & Sarah Solemani. "I think it would really work as a US format. It's a great comedy and entirely up to date."
Jan Anderson has acted in comedies both sides of the atlantic, including Curb Your Enthusiasm in the US and the new British feature The Fitzroy in the UK. Anderson thinks it could be because US comedy is based more on jokes and set ups, while British comedy is subtle and character based, that makes it popular in the US. She would love to see a "US version of Absolutely Fabulous," but also thinks "it would be hard to beat the UK version." As to her American favourites, Jan loves the unique characters and writing in The Big Bang Theory and New Girl.
So is it our comedy and sentiment, our warped sense of humour, character based scripts or our blend of comedy and drama? Whatever your opinion, it looks like our sense of humour has crept over the big pond and is there to stay.
You can catch up with the UK version of Shameless online and the new British comedies Amar, Akbar and Tony and The Fitzroy will be out at the end of the year. Tanya Franks can currently be seen on stage in Sherlock Holmes, Best Kept Secret.