Most people will agree that British humor is different from American humor but that is not necessarily true. A few television sitcoms have successfully made the transition from Britain to the United States. Shows such as Stanford and Sons, Three’s Company, Who wants to be a Millionaire and of course, The Office, have been very popular in both Great Britain and the United States. Certain aspects have to be changed in order for a show to make the transition. Humor is based on a national identity which means that there is a shared culture among a group of people. The culture is how people talk, dress, have information about national politics, and other knowledge relating to their lives. People in Britain find things funny if they can identify with the characters and their background. They traditionally use irony more than the US. According to Beeden and Joost de Bruin, the British are much more inhibited and less emotional then Americans. The British are concerned about the social class hierarchy and believe that humor is a means to moving up in the class structure. In the American society, humor is often based on differences in races and ethnic groups although this is a sensitive topic to address because of our history of discrimination and slavery.
In the sitcom, The Office, there are some similarities and many differences that are made to adapt to the American culture. The workplace environments are both the same, located in somewhat large cities and are both paper distributors. There are four main characters with similar positions, who deal with office politics and relationships in each episode. The scenery in the office place and the cultural references has been changed to represent each culture and be easily recognized. The characters David in the British comedy and Michael in the American sitcom are both regional managers and they have similar personalities. They are ambitious and think of themselves as comedians but are unsuccessful at both. David differs from Michael in what he wants to achieve. He wants to move up in society using his humor while Michael uses humor to makes friends and a sense of community. Both of them usually end up embarrassing themselves in front of their co-workers. Garth and Dwight are weird characters who love rules and discipline. Garth is a member of the Territory Army and Dwight, a sheriff’s deputy on the weekends but neither have real military or police experience. Tim and Jim both are cynical and frustrated at the office. They are ambitious and use practical jokes as a source of humor and both hope of a better position. The British Tim is cultured and likes the ballet and Proust whereas Jim sees himself as an athlete and is more community orientated. Tim is interested in moving up in the world socially, using the concepts of class structure as humor and Tim approaches racism in a humorous way with “Diversity Day”. There are similar love interests in both casts. The story lines are alike but major adaptations have been made for the cultural differences.
I believe that shows like The Office are a great example of cosmopolitanism. According to Haven and Lotz, cosmopolitanism is the idea that the recognition of similarities and respect for differences among the world’s people is an idea that some suggests can come about through media globalization. Now that the Office is adapted and shown in many different countries the humor is not just directed only British people but to people all over the world and is not a show that embraces the British culture.