Courtesy of the late start of the NRL Grand Final (1700 AEST…allegedly), I decided to have an impromptu sitcom marathon.
The sitcom is probably one of the most durable formats in television worldwide. Frankly, everybody wants to laugh. Yet, while laughter is universal, what we find funny and what networks think we’ll find funny varies greatly.
The US: At their core, all US sitcoms are about the tyranny of niceness and character’s relationship to it. The US is–as I’ve said many times on this corner of the Internet–a nation linked together by beliefs (the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are akin to religious texts, and I do not mean that in a blasphemous way, they just are taken and taught that seriously) and not ethnic or religious similarities. The “have a nice day” American politeness is the way we try to overcome those differences. Therein lies the friction and humour. Even in all the “toilet humour” shows, it’s all about finding ways for seemingly disparate people to get along.
The UK: Whereas American comedy is about trying smooth over societal differences, British comedy is interested in the struggle between and within various social groups. This is the land of the Class comedy. It’s also the land of the dark, or perhaps the more appropriate term is cynical comedy.
Canada: Somewhat reflective of Canada’s strong influence from the UK, France, and the US, Canadian comedy is a combination of the absurd with societal (read: current affairs) commentary. From an American viewpoint, Canadian comedy always seems much more mature and cutting than American comedy without being bleak. It says something that a great amount of what the world thinks are American comedy stars are actually Canadian.
Australia: It’s a bit hard to diagnose Australian comedy since the networks have done all in sundry to bury it with the Footy Show being effectively the longest running comedy/variety show still on air.
Again, The Footy Show is the longest running comedy/variety show still on air in Australia.
But my overall diagnosis is that Australian comedy is mostly social commentary, essentially taking its cues from the Burlesque/Vaudeville era and adjusting it to modern times. It’s all about the quick cheeky zinger that captures the zeitgeist.
New Zealand: New Zealand likes to capture the zeitgeist but they also like the payoff of a long witty joke. This is one of the reasons that the sitcom has held on in New Zealand. There also is a bit more daring and cynicism in Kiwi humour.
Please add your own thoughts about sitcoms around the world in the comments.