Comedy, SNL & Impressions

It's taken me a bit of time to admit to this, and for the longest time I thought I might be not getting it because I did not grow up in the US, but I'm coming out of the closet to say that I generally don't find SNL funny.

In particular, I think their impressions are weak. I thought that the criteria for a good impression is that it nails one or more signature characteristics as well as the voice and that the comedy lines also bear some resemblance to reality. This makes the impersonator believable and amusing at the same time. I just haven't seen that happen well enough on SNL.

Back in England, I remember there being great impressions. A show called Spitting Image in particular took it to another level using caricature puppets. I know good impressions can be done here as well. Kevin Spacey and Jim Carrey for example are very good at it.

It is very possible that I'm out of touch with how others see an impersonation on SNL. However, when it comes to other forms of comedy here, I've always enjoyed certain shows and comedians as much as I have UK comedy. Roseanne, The Simpsons, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey are a few who come to mind.

Now, having said that, a long while back, I trawled the SNL parodies of commercials and found a few that I found to be hilarious. And more recently, the Melanianade music video and the Fatal Attraction parody (impressions aside) I thought was fantastic. So I've included them here:

SNL Verizon:

SNL Taco Town:

"Moose Lambs." That's comedy gold.

Can't beat British comedy

However that verizon one was good.

A Spitting Image sketch that people here might be able to understand:

I can relate to what you are saying but do not really know how to describe the differences well. To me both American and British comedy are funny but the way they work is not the same.

It seems as if comedy is really culture and time period specific.

Britain society is much more hierarchical than American and I think a lot of the difference in the styles of comedy reflects that.

In chatting with a friend who has never lived outside the US but likes British comedy I got the sense that the difference is partly due to two things. The first is that words play a bigger role in British comedy and the second is gestures, expressions, and movement play a bigger role in American comedy.

Shows such as SNL are written with very tight deadlines and thus try to entertain by getting the audience to react to their own take on very recent events.

It would be interesting to compare some of the great American and British long-running series and try to understand what is fundamentally different about them.

Perhaps a good comedy to compare is "The Office".

That is indeed an excellent comparison.

I have in fact seen and liked both and would be hard pressed to explain the differences. Each has a set of characters that I think is not interchangeable even though the general plots are. So my gut feeling is the characters reflect the cultural distinctions between the two societies.

It will be interesting to see if someone can put their finger on what the key differences are between the two.

British::: "All Creatures Great and Small" and "Doc Martin" to name a few.

Good find! Gervais makes total sense (as he should do!).

US culture is more positive in outlook than the UK, but outwardly it means that people are somewhat unreal and acting. Many times, the acting is very good and I'm fooled. I suspect that for Americans, this is normal so they don't recognise this peculiarity that outsiders do.

UK culture is more negative in outlook and people are less apt to hide it in public. UK people are mostly real when you meet them. As Gervais says though, they may find it hard to express positive feelings.

To me, the characters in the US office were more down to earth and personable than I would have expected. But early on the actors were a little unnatural playing their characters. The actors couldn't lose that slight quality of fakeness that comes from always having a positive outlook and that didn't match the script at that time which was sometimes identical to the UK script. I think as time went on, both the script and the characters adjusted which made it more classic sitcom.

The actors in the UK office on the other hand, brought more of themselves to their parts including their vunerabilities and awkwardness. Their slight negative outlook suited the negative situation they were in. So the UK office was more depressing and cringe inducing and a form of dark humor.

One has to wonder if the characters in the American version of "Office" would have been likely to fall into the predicament described below.

Just happened that I had looked at the Merriam-Webster video on this the other day.


Wow, I love those and despite being quite old, I really love watching:

[li]The Vicar of Dibley[/li]
[li]Keeping Up Appearances[/li]
[li]Upstairs Downstairs[/li]
[li]Are You Being Served?[/li]
[li]Waiting for God[/li]
[li]As Time Goes By[/li]
and, of course, Masterpiece Theatre.

Some of my favorites:

  • The Young Ones
  • Blackadder
  • One Foot in the Grave
  • Open All Hours
  • Only Fools & Horses
  • Porridge
  • Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
  • Yes Minister

*** And going way back: "The Good Life" is a hoot for anyone thinking of living off the grid.
I also wanted to mention how sad it is, if I'm not mistaken, that the newly released budget proposal would cut funding for PBS, which has been an invaluable source of learning and entertainment for so many of us for many years. To me , PBS is one of the greatest institutions in the USA, and now must survive with the kindness of patrons, if its' public funding is cut.