From The Office to Little Britain and Peep Show, British TV comedy would seem to be as robust as it has ever been. But a new television series by one of the UK's best-known comedians has found the rest of the nation sadly lacking in original jokes.
As part of an ongoing survey by the UK's Open University into jokes and their relationship with society, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Dr Marie Gillespie has spent six months analysing the jokes of more than 400 people, told over the past year to a travelling "joke booth" set up around the country.
Her research has been used as the basis for a four-part television series hosted by comedian Lenny Henry. Lenny's Britain tracks his experiences as he tours Britain with the booth, visiting homes and workplaces to find out what humour means to different people. It was not all, Henry admits, good, clean fun.
"I have to admit, I was really shocked by the jokes a lot of people told; most of the time, I might as well have been back in Seventies Britain," he said. "The humor was predominantly racist, homophobic, mother-in-law and cannibal-fixated. The one characteristic most of the jokes shared was that they were mean. I have been left wondering if that is what we've all become as a nation: mean and hateful."
Dr Gillespie said that whether they were funny or not, jokes were the best indicators of the state of society.
"The defining trait of Britishness is our sense of humour, but although we all tell funny stories and jokes, not all of us get a laugh from them," she said. "Jokes are not just a bit of fun... (they) are also a barometer of the social and political climate."
So can the British still congratulate themselves on their superior sense of humor? Henry thinks not. "It seems like everyone is telling the same joke, revealing the increasingly pervasive influence of TV, e-mails and texting," he said.
Source: China Daily/Agencies