A very interesting perspective on the difference between British comedy and American comedy from the always-wonderful Stephen Fry.
What do you think?
Although his take is a vast generalization, I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Especially the last part. American actors, by and large, don’t like really playing seriously flawed, damaged characters. He uses FRIENDS as an example. All of their flaws are cute flaws, quirky flaws, amusing flaws. They’re not major fuck ups. British comics are happy to play hopeless losers.
But here’s the key. Here’s what they understand. It’s all about comic dignity. These British misfits will go to any length to preserve their dignity, to try to fool the world into thinking they’re not colossal fuck-ups, and comic dignity is one of the great tropes of comedy.
No one wants to be embarrassed, no one wants to look like a fool, so people will go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their dignity. To me, that’s what makes Oliver Hardy so consistently hysterical.
My all-time favorite moment in BREAKING BAD (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it), is when Gus has half his face blown off, staggers into the hall, and of all things, adjusts his tie before dying. THAT was comic BRILLIANCE.
So there is a difference, but it behooves the smart American comedy writers and actors to study the British model and see what they can learn from them. Not that they invented these tropes, but they sure do them to perfection.