Why?:Johnny Foreigner's Guide to British Humour

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Nuvola apps important.svg Attempt to explain joke
This article attempts to explain a joke in minute detail, as if to an idiot, a very small child, or a very small child who is also an idiot. It also attempts to explain its own explanation, which, if successful, could result in crashing the universe. Please do not crash the universe.

The British Humour Board's official logo.
The line between British humour and mental retardation is more defined than in the United States, but the two states can coexist, as shown in this scene from the popular BBC comedy "Talk To The Hand"

“British Humour should be rammed down the throat, twice nightly.”

~ Noel Coward on British Humour

British humour[1] is the greatest of all forms of entertainment. No foreign person ever invented has truly understood this, especially not inhabitants of the good nation of America[2]. This handy, helpful guide will let you, Johnny Foreigner, get to grips with this important part of British culture.

Before we start, two extremely important ground rules should be brought to the attention of the non-British.

  1. We (the British) probably don't like you. We're either scared of you or we laugh at you, and I'm talking the horrible, cynical, soul-crushing, ego-destroying laughter
  2. You, if not British, will not understand British humour as it is far too highbrow and intelligent for you idiotic foreigners, especially the Yanks. Collectively, the way we disguise these two loathings is called our humour.

The History of Humour[edit]

“The very words on the page make my nipples stride forth with purpose”

~ A Britisher on William Shakespeare's words on the page
King Arthur and his knights doing their "Comedy Knights" sketch at Jongleurs in London.

Humour was invented in Britain in 1066 by John Cleese when he was heard to quip, "Those Normans will be making a carpet about this!" Unfortunately, he was correct, but who can guess what the French will do next?!

The development of humour was slow during the Dark Ages that followed, mostly because French people ruled the country and as everyone knows French people have a rubbish sense of humour. Lousy cheese eating surrender monkeys.

The next jump in humour was the development of actors, invented in 1584 by William Shakespeare. The use of actors allowed the spreading of humour further than ever before as their main job was to ram humour down the throats of those who came to watch them. Shakespeare has been credited with the invention of innumerable hilarious one-liners such as "Out, out damned spot", "To be or not to be, that is the question", "God, I want to die", and "I bite my thumb at thee".

True British humour only really came to the fore after the invention of the radio in 1910 by then top comedian King George V. This allowed the much more subtle play on words style of humour associated with the British today.

The current state of British humour is one of disarray. Monty Python, the famous snake-charmer and fortune-teller, has often been quoted as the biggest influence of current surreal comedy in the UK, with his own cult following. Current devotees of the Cult of Python are Queen Elizabeth II, Harold Shipman, The Mighty Boosh, Oscar Wilde and Tony Blair, amongst other famous comedians.

The Essential Components of British Humour[edit]


"If I could say this and roll my eyes it would be funny."

Sarcasm is the "use" of "quotation marks" around any "word" to "make" it "funnier". You will know when "Johnny Foreigner" does this because he will actually use his "fingers" to make little "speech marks" in the "air". The thing about British "people" is that they don't always do this so it can be "hard" to tell when they are being "sarcastic". An example of "sarcasm" is "Johnny Foreigner now understands British humour completely!" The "funniest" part about "British" sarcasm is that they never make it "obvious" that they are "doing" it, so that only "fellow" Brits may actually "understand" and "laugh" at the sarcastic "comment".

Foreigners can safely assume that any time a British man compliments another British person they are using sarcasm; the only exception is for beautiful women, whom they may actually be complimenting in an attempt to sleep with them. This is a common occurrence, as the British have a lot of suppressed emotion. This explains the almost universal unattractiveness of British men to foreign women, except of course for American women, who love British men. This could be yet another sign of a complete lack of humour, or possibly the best joke ever — who knows?


Two men with incredibly unconvincing Cockney accents converse in unending mindless banter, continuing the Great British Music Hall Tradition.

Irony is the use of iron in humour. For example many people feel that the “iron lady” (note the speech marks), Margaret Thatcher was the biggest joke of her time. The person who is funny, or the comedian, will pull out an iron bar or similar and beat the listener over the head with it repeatedly. This is incredibly funny for those people watching.

An example of verbal irony would be saying "I haven't had a comedian batter me over the head with an iron bar recently", just as a comedian is approaching you from behind with an iron bar.

Another example of irony would be that Americans actually think this is true.


Self-deprecation is a form of humour unknown to the American. It is when a person says something about themselves that is nearly always true and horrible. It only works well when combined with sarcasm. For example, "I am a stupid moron" is self-deprecating but not funny[citation needed], whereas the phrase "I am a genius", combined with the power of sarcasm, becomes hilarious. However, there are certain cases where a foreigner — a Frenchman, in this case — cracked up to a British man in France who said "Je suis stupide."

The Piss-Take[edit]

The phrase 'Piss-Take' came from the Elizabethan era, where an Elizabethan equivalent of a chav would attempt to convince an Elizabethan girl that he had a respectable job, when in fact he worked for a tanner, shipping urine down the river to the tannery. The conversation would go something like this:

Elizabethan Chav: Verily, fair wench, thou art more beautiful than all the women in all of Christendom!
Elizabethan Girl: Your words do flatter me, good sir, but before we are engaged unto holy matrimony, I must know, how is it that you make enough gold to put bread upon your table?
Elizabethan Chav: Ah, well, um, I...I partake of the running of a large house in the country while my esteemed master is away in one of his other many dwellings.
Elizabethan Girl: Nay, sirrah, thou art taking the piss.
Elizabethan Chav: Woe is me! I am undone!

All British people are great fans of the piss-take. This is when one person makes fun of another in front of their mutual friends without the second person knowing they are. This is often the start of a fight; traditionally the phrase "Are you taking the piss?" is said and then the two people go at it, outside in an orderly, structured manner Marquis of Queensbury style, as this is how all British people fight. (For an alternative view of how two people go at it Marquis of Queensbury style, see the article on Oscar Wilde.)


Top comedians from the countryside often take part in this dangerous performance.

This is where a group of people tie bells to their ankles, wear white clothes and trousers with braces, dance round in a circle and slap each other senseless with sticks (Hence the name). It is a traditional folk-style humorous dance and can be seen in many small villages in the springtime. The beating of wooden sticks is a potent symbol of fertility, as British women just love a funny guy.

Playground Humour[edit]

Nothing is funnier than a cracking good wallop right in the goolies.

Playground Humour is the type of humour practised in Britain only in the playground by small children below the age of 6, but in America is the dominant form of humour and is called Humor. It involves words like poo and wee and oblique reference to body parts normally hidden from view even when bathing. In playground humour adding the word 'bum' to any sentence makes it funny; in America, yo ass is substituted for the word bum. For instance, the joke "Knock-knock. Who's there? Yo ass!" is, I am told, considered a stonking good one across the Pond.

Rule One of the Humor handbook states that a kick in the balls is The World's Funniest Thing. Therefore, any joke or comic sketch that lacks a punchline can be ended with a kick in the balls, which will always be funny. For examples of this see any Hollywood comedy billed as "hilarious", or which the film reviewer from The Sun calls "laugh-a-minute". Some "interesting" facts about Playground Humour:

  • In the state of California, any heavy or fast-moving flying object must hit squarely in the groin region of the hapless antihero, who must then cross his eyes in extreme close-up. This is the law. As above, see any Hollywood-produced comedy for confirmation of this.
  • A joke that contains reference to poo but does not end with a kick in the balls is known as toilet humour.
  • The film reviewer of The Sun is contracted to say that all comedies are laugh-a-minute and that all thrillers are thrill-a-minute in order to get quotes in every film advertisment ever created, including on the back of the Queen's crown, and on the last page of the King James Bible.[3]

Potty Humour[edit]

Johnny Foreigner using a patented American technique for toilet humour extraction. Will he never learn?

Toilet Humour is at once the best and the worst of British humour. Seen as the realm of the child and the moron, toilet humour is often despised. It is also just about the funniest kind of humour there is. Unfortunately, many foreigners can also make toilet humour, or indeed construct devices for harvesting it themselves. This means that the world is full of toilet humour, so, for the cultivated British expert, it just doesn't come up to scratch. There isn't much of an abundance of it in the United Kingdom, mainly due to the Nickelodeon Famine (2003-2105) of Ireland.

Words that constitute toilet humour, in alphabetical order, along with the literal American-English translation, are:

Another example of toilet humour is its use in songs. If you make a song, there are two things you can do to make it funny. The first is take the piss out of fat people (see "The Piss-Take"), and the second is to fart in the most loud and disgusting way possible (only the Irish do this as a result of said crisis above). Both of these methods will instantly make even the most unfunny song sound more humorous than your mum.


Britons have always used their powers of humour for good, as such they direct their awesome ability to crush opponents beneath a heap of laughing people against politicians and famous people in general. This is called Satire, and is done mostly in the form of cartoons wrapped around bricks and thrown through windows. Other techniques are egg-throwing, and dressing as fictional characters and climbing buildings.

Recent technological inventions like TV have increased the average satire output of the country, making the UK the largest exporter of satire in the world today. Famous satirists such as Rory Bremner get their laughs by dressing up as other people and committing crimes so the other person gets arrested. This kind of behaviour is greatly encouraged, as it keeps the police from shooting immigrants in the street.

A recent example of the successful use of satire was in the removal of the Tory party from government. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher swept into power and the nation's satirists arose as one to defeat her. Eighteen short years later, they were successful. Now the joke's on them.

The Pun[edit]

“The greatest monarch on the proudest throne, is oblig'd to sit upon his own arse.”

A pun in its natural environment

The Pun is a rare and elusive creature outside of the UK. Spawned in a passionate lovemaking session between rhyme and tastelessness, the pun is often used in newspaper headlines, as a punishment and by physicists who know no other form of humour. It was used with devastating effect during the Cold War, when Hungarian physicists incorporated puns into newspaper headlines to punish Russia for invading their homeland and not being sufficiently funny.

The basic principle is to take a known and loved everyday phrase and turn it into something awful by changing the spelling or pronunciation. For example: "Pun for your life", "Be careful, he's got a pun", or "I'll punish you for that, you puny person".

It is also a cute little animal (see image).

Geographical Location of British Humour[edit]

A traditional British comedian doing the hilarious "telling the truth routine", or perhaps eating a massive, invisible pie.

The funniest parts of the British Isles other than Cornwall are Wales, closely followed by Ireland. These are the funniest parts of the country because they have the most jokes about them. For example, any sentence containing the words "Welsh" and "sheep" is considered extremely funny, as everyone knows Welsh people harbour deep amorous desires for our woolly little friends. They also suffer from an extremely dangerous accent that has been known to kill people through pure oratory power.

Cornwall is the funniest part of the country as, being 99.994% inbred (and proud), they cannot understand what you are saying about them, or even see how many people are there due to their swivel eyes, in fact they are so warped and twisted that tourism guides use the slogan, "Come to Cornwall where Bob's your Uncle, AND your Dad!"

Irish people are stupid and drink too much, and it is always funny to make jokes about imbeciles and boozers, especially jokes that sound twice as funny after you've had a round or two.

Scotland is the least funny part of the country, as the people there are frightening &8212; almost as frightening as their accents. (Technically, Americans consider Scottish people funny, but Americans are always wrong about humour). Within England itself, the North is considered funny by southerners and the South is considered funny by northerners. Hence the terms "Northern Monkeys" and "Southern Fairies".

Places that everyone can make fun of include Liverpool, Burnley, Cumbria, Birmingham, Dudley, Milton Keynes, France, and America.

The Science of British Humour[edit]


Scientists have long been trying to determine what makes the British so great at being funny. In 1986, Murray-Gellmann proposed a new particle to add to the Standard Model of particle physics for just this purpose. Regarding it as a fundamental building block of nature, he called it the funny quark (or FQ) and hypothesised that it was caused when a strange-matter quark swaps out one dum for a dee.

In response, Codlington (1992) published his own study declaring that the fundamental particle of humour was of a much higher order, and proposed the designation 'ironion'. The scientific debate rapidly deteriorated after Murray-Gellman was seen following Codlington around in public bellowing "FQ!" at every opportunity.

Also unresolved, and currently unstudied, is any theory explaining how British people end up with more of the fundamental particles of humour than other nationalities. Current consensus favours the hypothesis that there is something in the water in the UK. In fact, the government of the UK has been tampering with the water supply since 1924, when they began adding fluoride to help with dental care, after every last dentist in the country was killed in the First World War.

International Enemies[edit]

The Germans, for one. They were our enemies in WWII and, as a result, are the only nation that the British people detest more our former allies, the French. Italians are generally seen as too greasy for their own good, owing to their lack of shower facilities. Argentina is the prime nemesis of the People's Princess, Margaret Thatcher, who had them exterminated in a bloody and brutal war when she was middle-aged. As exploration reveals new lands for the British to colonise and subsequently ruin, our list of potential enemies grows by the day. Perhaps YOU could be next....

Domestic Enemies[edit]

Many Pikeys and/or Chavs are thicker even than Johnny Foreigner, when it comes to understanding British humour. Consider the following choice bit of Pikey-based humour:

Q. Why is a cigarette like a Pikey?
A. They both smell, they both come in packs of 10 or 20, and they're both banned from pubs the whole nation over.

This is a simultaneous example of Satire, Sarcasm, Simile, Irony, and Mild Bigotry — beat that, if you can. While the joke may be, in fact, nearly pointless except as an excuse to shoehorn a mediocre joke in somewhere it doesn't belong, it does at least illustrate this guide's prime point, which was made at the very start: we the British hate everybody, including ourselves. To be honest, we are equally irritated by all humanity of any description — excepting Pikeys, who are clearly from another planet, and thus not part of humanity at all.


  1. Please note the spelling
  2. Notice the use of British humour by saying "the good nation" of America
  3. The clause that stated all Romances should be dubbed shag-a-minute was written out as it didn't work. A team of highly-paid script writers have been working on a universal review quote for Hollywood romances for a number of years, but has yet to present a definitive answer. The current front runner is really crap. Tangentially, "really crap" would do yeoman's work as a review quote for any Hollywood romance, without straining itself in the least.
  4. A classical example by one of the greatest British humourists in recorded history, who coincidentally was a member of the last generation of British to be born in the American Colonies. Notice the use of the word arse and the high levels of irony. Unfortunately, the other American Colonists didn't get the joke, and used it as an excuse to throw a bit of an insurrection.