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Of course I do not get the joke – I am Australian.

The Sage of Edmonton has been listening to the cricket, and has stumbled on Australia’s dirty little secret:

The Australian networks are picking up the BBC feed, so the network observes a strict one-Brit one-Aussie rule at all times in the booth. This leads to a lot of barbed, culturally volatile exchanges covered by a transparent shellac of collegiality. The English are generally poor at hiding their commingled fascination and horror at the gusto and glowing health of the Australians. The Aussies, for their part, maintain a suitable Zarathustran superciliousness–but it sure seems like homo australis is awfully vulnerable to the verbal stiletto that every Englishman above the age of four carries in his boot. Every time the various English broadcasters start to wax acerbic, their Australian colleagues become flustered and try changing the subject to the events on the field (as well they might, since their squad is making England’s cricketers look more like Scotland’s). Has any attention been paid to the Australian sense of humour, or absence thereof? They seem to mostly export soap and pop stars to the wider world while their British and Canadian brethren airlift comedians. It’s not a good sign when your most sophisticated national ironist is Dame Edna Everage.

Most Australians will deny it, but Colby Cosh is right on the money. In my own case, I never had a chance; not only am I Australian, but I am descended from Germans. I could not tell a funny joke to win the Ashes.

This is not to say that Australians do not have a sense of humour. Comedy is a big thing here, but Australian humour does not translate well, being full of allusions that only the locals understand. And I sadly suspect, the quality is not that good either.

Why is it so? Or is it obvious, and, me being Australian, I missed the punchline?

26 comments to Of course I do not get the joke – I am Australian.

  • dearieme

    I’ve lived Downundah and thoroughly enjoyed it, so let me speculate. Aussies are too thin-skinned. That may explain the appalling standard of Intellectual Life among their chattering classes (which contrasts remarkably with Australian high standards of performance in anything practical) and the limpness of the humour. Good jokes sting.

  • Johnathan

    My late, great Aussie aunt had a brilliant sense of humour. And the Okkers have given us Clive James, one fo the funniest guys around.

    Not to mention the great Tim Blair, of course.

  • dearieme

    Mr James, and the Blessed Dame Edna, emigrated.

  • ADE

    You cannot take jokes when you’re the frightened country, when you’ll do nothing unless it’s “worlds best practice” (decode – somebody else has done it before so I can’t get blamed if it’s wrong), and when you have another country’s flag in the corner of yours.


  • Steve Bowles

    Now this is funny – Well beaten in the cricket and so have to scrounge for anything that might give them a win. How on earth could anybody even begin to compare ‘comedy’ between countries – Do you compare stand-up ? Do you compare tax-payer funded comedy such as that on the BBC ? Do you compare privately funded comedy ? What possible basis should be used to make a comparison ?

    As to ADE ‘the frightened country’ ROFL – what drugs are you on ?

  • John

    Oh dearie me, ADE, do go and take a Bex and have a nice lie down.
    As for comedy, bloody hell, how could anything compete with the BBC or that bloke Galloway who talks all kind of weird.

  • Daniel

    Hunh… I’ve always found the Aussie sense of humor far more witty than the Canadian, and even considerably more astute than the English. It doesn’t necessarily work in TV or film, but in real life I find that almost any Aussie can crack me up, but most Canadian humor is completely dull.

  • I’ve lived in Oz, too (and didn’t enjoy it). I’m surprised to find that dearieme found the Aussies thin-skinned. I found that they respected you a lot more if you could return a jab with another jab, rather than getting all huffy about it. More than once I had to remind myself not to get mad, but get even. If you can do that without getting actually nasty, you’re doing well in Oz.

    And I think nasty is part of it. The British seem to think making nasty remarks, unprovoked, is some sort of national sport, whereas in the US it’s considered bad manners (and in some situations, can get you killed).

    There’s also the cultural cringe to be considered. I think the Aussies can hold their own, humo[u]rwise, against the Brits any day. They just lack the confidence to deal with the British superiority complex. (Note: I live with an Brit, and know all about that, so don’t even start.)

  • Matra

    Daniel is right, Aussies are funnier than Canadians – though that’s not saying much. In British expat circles here in Canada we often joke about earnest sense of humour deprived Canadians. Generally, Canadians only export comedians to the US, where they end up in lame US movies and sitcoms.

    BTW if you think Aussies are thin skinned when it comes to comments from Brits you should come here and compare, unfavourably, Canada to the US. Even when it ought to be clear that I’m winding them up they still have trouble keeping their composure. Of course, I’m in inferiority-complex-ridden Ontario where being Canadian means not being American. Indeed, when trying to show they aren’t Americans, usually in the most petty of ways, is the only time I find Canadians to be really funny – even if it is unintentional. Colby Cosh is in Alberta where, like in the Canadian Maritimes, they seem to be more comfortable in their Canadian skin and thus have a more mature attitude towards the US.

  • I am largely with Scott – Australians can be very humorless at times – and very politically correct about what they will allow themselves to find funny. When they do make jokes Australian humour can be very dry and deadpan. Clive James is indeed an extremely funny man, and his humour is very Australian in type.

  • In the cut and thrust of argument, good Australian debaters are unparalleled in their wittiness, often to devastating effect. As someone said above, that doesn’t translate too well into other forms of media, but as another said, it’s of great practical use and Aussies are pretty practical people. For example, read the national parliamentary hansard pretty much right up until the early 1970s when the proceedings were televised and the pollies had to clean up their act a wee bit.

    I remember reading of one such encounter from the 50s, or possibly 40s:

    A sanctimonious treasurer was lecturing his colleagues on the other side of the house, when he answered an interjection accusing him of laziness, to which he said “listen, my friend, I work whilst you sleep.” The heckler quickly replied “Of course you do! You’re a bloody burglar!”

  • Matt

    Before Paul Hogan decided to ‘go American’, he had a show on Brit TV (IIRC Channel 4 quite late at night). I (half Brit and half yank) found it hilarious. How can anyone not laugh at Leo the Wanker ? Classic stuff.

  • Steve Bowles

    ‘and very politically correct about what they will allow themselves to find funny’

    Are you serious Michael Jennings ? Heard of Kevin Bloody Wilson or on a cricket theme the 12th Man ?? You need to get out more

  • AK

    Australians, humorless? Are we all forgetting Rod Hull and His Emu? Well, actually just the emu was funny, but still….

  • Lizzie

    I caught the first series of Kath and Kim when it was on LivingTV and I must admit to being very fond of it. I think the humour travels pretty well – every country has their white trash – and every girl knows someone like Kim *shudder*. But other than Clive James I can’t think of any outstanding Australian comedian, although every Aussie I’ve known has been a good laugh to be around.

  • In general, comedians aren’t that high profile. I can only think of one English comedian who’s still in the business & not totally past it – Eddie Izzard. And he’s a bit mercurial, IMO.

    Is Clive James a comedian? I think of him as a bit of a literary Jack-of-all-trades…

  • Patrick

    Actually, we just have such really complicated and advanced codes of humour that no-one who is not Australian can understand them – that’s we export all those also-rans like Clive James and Geoffrey Robertson (quite witty if you are into that) over to England.

    They need the easy pickings, you see?

    Kinda like the also ran cricket and rugby players 😉

    But seriously, this site has caught a collective case of idiotarianism generalisationitis- yesterday Brian Micklethwaite makes one of the most patently poor generalisations I’ve ever heard, strongly suggesting an extremely poor participation in life on his part, now another one, barely better! I had the impression that you guys travelled somewhat, but maybe I was wrong. Or maybe when you do, you should wrench your heads out of the laptops and have a look at the world around you all.

    I know that this just goes to show that I don’t have any decent sense of humour – so put it down to my French side please!

  • Kristopher

    Actually, we just have such really complicated and advanced codes of humour that no-one who is not Australian can understand them – that’s we export all those also-rans like Clive James and Geoffrey Robertson (quite witty if you are into that) over to England.

    They don’t always export well. Yahoo Serious was soundly rejected by Americans … we may be stupid at times … but not THAT stupid ….

    As for Canadian blandness … we just don’t notice Canada much…..

  • Kristopher : about the “stupid” bit … see how Patrick says “has-beens”? Um…square that up with Yahoo Serious. Fitting? Thankyou.

  • Jeff

    I can’t comment much on Australian humour, but I will say that the Canadians who come here are generally hilarious.

    I just watched the first two seasons of NewsRadio on dvd and found that Phil Hartman was even more of a comic genius than I remembered. Dave Foley held his own quite funnily as well!

  • Kristopher

    Kristopher : about the “stupid” bit … see how Patrick says “has-beens”? Um…square that up with Yahoo Serious. Fitting? Thankyou.

    In order to be a hasbeen, you first heve to be a “been”. Yahoo never got off the ground … one cinematic attempt and his career died before it even started.

    Yea … we do have a few good former canadian comics in the US … if they are good, they ain’t going to stay long in Canuckistan….

  • Michael

    Australians, humorless? Are we all forgetting Rod Hull and His Emu? Well, actually just the emu was funny, but still….

    The emu was authentically Australian (Hull found him in a TV studio props department when he worked there), but Hull himself was from the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

    I didn’t even have to look that up, because my wife’s from there too, and Hull was a bit of a local celebrity – in fact, to be brutally honest, the only one.

    Mind you, that doesn’t exactly torpedo your point – if anything, it reinforces it!

  • Amy

    One thing you’ll notice about Australians as soon as you arrive is that much of their humour revolves around “taking the piss” out of other people. It’s a very dry laconic sense of humour.
    You need to have a tough skin for this or otherwise you’ll start believing that there are human eating koalas……………(I’ve seen this work and the American and British are the first to fall prey to it)

    It’s a form of endearment really. If you genuinely verbally attack an Australia without developing that friendship first, then you better watch out. Maybe that’s what you think the thin skin comes from. Australians really don’t like the imperial attitude from anyone, especially Brits.

  • Leon

    To return to the early part of the thread and Australians’ intellectual life, this is partly correct and partly not and the reason is linked to the thin-skinnedness. There is a strong streak of egalitarianism in Australia, which has its positive aspects but is also linked to an obsession with sport and a levelling anti-intellectualism. Pride in physical strength is acceptable but pride in academic or artistic achievement tends to be viewed as snobbery.
    However balanced against this, Australians probably read more than any other nation on earth. And our egalitarianism means we do get our feathers ruffled when the English go about their inherent cultural superiority (a product of your crippling class system). These claims are particularly amusing when voiced by white trash on a drinking holiday and cricketers.

  • Richard Greene

    Hi all, i’m a western australian, born and bred in onslow, WA. (a complete shit-hole).

    I’d like to think the canadians, english and the AUSSIES are all on par with one another.. even new zealand if you will.

    Sure, us aussies will take the piss out of you, but rest assured, its only in good nature. I am of the opinion that no matter what race or nationality you are, if you are in trouble it’s the australian thing to do to help out. it’s a great shame that there are alot of cunts out there that give us a bad name.