An International Guide to Humor
As a touring comedian, I travel more than a fugitive flight attendant. And if you get around even a fraction of as much as I do, you know that when arriving in a new country, few things are as jarring as that first encounter with local television programming. Flip on the TV in your hotel room, and bam!: you're barraged with an overwhelming stream of incomprehensible foreign inflections and vocalizations. Americans aren't the only funny ones out there (remember Gérard Depardieu in Green Card?), but without the context of a nation's unique culture, a Yank will have difficulty understanding the comedic references in any sitcom, stand-up show, or casual conversation while abroad.
Thankfully, at long last, one need not speak a foreign language to bust a gut while traipsing across the globe. That's because I've taken the time to compile a comedic road map of the brands of wit and clowning that Americans can expect to encounter when visiting various different travel destinations. Prime yourself with the International Guide to Humor below, and you'll be laughing along like a local on every voyage to come:
Of all nations, Canada's sense of humor is most similar to that of the United States. After all, some of Canada's finest Second City stars went on to become quite famous over here. The biggest difference in humor, however, is that Canadian jokes are peppered with odd phrases such as "eh" and "washroom," and punctuated with strange pronunciations of words such as "aboot" (an attempt at "about"). The interjections ultimately add up to a sort of vocal tic—ignore the extraneous words and go on enjoying the English-spoken jokes as you would if an American were to articulate them properly.
Prior to the year 1970, England had absolutely no humor to speak of, making it a sad and drab place to live. All British humor ultimately stems from a sketch comedy group called Monty Python, which would finally bring laughter to the masses. For those unfamiliar with the troupe's work, recommended are the feature length Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) or Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979). However, their TV series, Monty Python's Flying Circus, will simply perplex any non-Brit, no matter his or her grasp of the English language.
In Italy, be prepared for over-the-top delivery, with plenty of hand gesticulation, and extra exclamation points. Here's a good sample joke: "Q. Why did the chicken cross the road? A. TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE!!!!!" For an extensive example of Italian humor, check out Life Is Beautiful, starring Roberto Benigni (but watch on mute and fast forward through the sad parts about World War II, maybe.)
The Japanese have a particular penchant for wacky game shows in which contestants must eat, sit on, or bathe in fish-based food products. Not surprisingly, most Japanese citizens are huge fans of the American Jackass franchise (Steve-O was very briefly elected to parliament in 2011). If you wish to prep for your visit and get a better sense of the tone and style of these game shows, video clips are widely available on the internet, but not recommended for the squeamish or Puritanical.
German jokes include lots of obscure, bleak, depressing references with indiscernible gags. Delivery is generally abrupt and loud, and many end with the same punch line: "God is Dead." Still don't get the joke? Doesn't matter—we're all going to die someday, anyway.
The majority of French jokes relate to wine, bread, or cornichons (though other epicurean delicacies may be fair game, too). To familiarize oneself with French humor, recommended watching includes The Pink Panther, overdubbed Jerry Lewis films, and the cheese counter at any gourmet grocery store.
The few inhabitants of Antarctica are veritably obsessed with cracking jokes about how warm every other place on earth is. A common snarky Antarctic phrase, for example: "That's hotter than a winter's eve in Norway"—which is to say that something is, indeed, quite hot.
Due to the isolated, rural nature of the nation's communities, Uzbek jokes are filled with obscure references that appeal specifically to locals for a culture of extremely inside jokes. Here's a translated example of one from the village of Uchkuduk: "A man paid 16 Uzbekistani Som for a chicken named Umid. To get to the other side." Obviously, without knowing who Umid is, the going price of a chicken in Uchkuduk: and the location of "the other side," this joke is indecipherable. Therefore, I recommend skipping Uzbekistan as a travel destination altogether.