Charles Chaplin, Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean are examples of famous international comedians - and all of them are British. But why has British comedy been so successful? One answer may be that humour and laughter are very important to the British. The traditional image of a British person for many foreigners is a conventional and reserved person who doesn't show any emotion. However, perhaps because they are generally reserved people, they use humour to deal with life and all its problems. Everybody in Britain is expected to have a sense of humour. And the British use humour and irony in situations which might seem very strange, almost frivolous, for other cultures. Professors giving serious lectures at university often start off with a joke to get people relaxed and interested. Business people mix humour and statistics when making important presentations. Some doctors try to get a laugh to relax their patients. Even priests tell jokes in church!
Why is British humour often difficult for foreigners to understand? Jokes are related to culture. They often refer to people and places that are only familiar to the British themselves. Іf a visitor to Britain sees on a wall "Guy Fawkes, where are you when we need you?" it would probably seem a meaningless piece of graffiti. You need to know that Guy Fawkes was the man who tried to blow up the English parliament building in 1605. Once you know that, you realise that the joke is saying that politicians in parliament are useless and people would be better off without them.
Another thing that makes their verbal humour difficult for foreigners is that British often "play" with words. Jokes often depend on words that sound the same but have different meanings - and they have a lot of those in English.
- Waiter, waiter, what's this?
- It's bean soup, sir.
- І don't care what it's been, І want to know what it is now!
To understand that joke, you need to know that "it's" is a short form of "it is" or "it has", and you need to know that "been" and "bean" are omonyms. A lot of British humour is universal and because of that comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Benny Hill and Mr. Bean have been successful all over the world. Their humour is visual and they express it in situations that people can ail relate to — they can all have a good giggle or fall about laughing.