Understanding the English Speaking Sense of Humor

laugh in EnglishEveryone wants to make people laugh right? But have you ever tried to do this in another language?

And then there’s that feeling of insecurity when people do laugh, you think to yourself are these people laughing WITH me or AT me.

Unfortunately if you’re struggling with the language they are most probably laughing AT you. This is a natural part of language learning so don’t get discouraged by this as it’s going to happen to everyone. On one hand, I find it pleasing when people laugh at me, sometimes it’s the only way I know I’ve said something wrong as people don’t often correct me when speaking, but on the other hand it can be very irritating.

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Connecting to people with humor can be very difficult depending on the country and its culture. American humor can be a little different to British humor. With Jokes, Movies, T.V. shows etc. you’re going to notice the difference in the style of comedy.

When moving to Brazil I investigated what Brazilians find funny. I watched some Brazilian comical T.V. shows like Casseta e Planeta, Grande familia and it helped me to understand the culture a lot more but it wasn’t really what I was looking for and didn’t believe it was a true humor of Brazil.

It wasn’t until one day (when my Portuguese was much better) I heard a joke, word play based on a figurative expression, and started laughing out loud not just because I got the joke but also at the fact I could understand it.(sorry for non-Portuguese speakers- skip this part)

One guy said  “Valeu cara, você quebrou meu galho!” and the other responded “Uai, tá me chamando um macaco gordo!?”. Maybe it’s a case of you had to be there but I found it really funny at the time. 

Expressional Word Play

In English we have similar word play which is very common in day to day communication. A similar example to the Macaco gordo example would be a classic line from the Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore. Happy is competing against Shooter McGavin in a golf tournament and to threaten Happy Shooter says “I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast” Happy responds “You eat pieces of shit for breakfast” haha maybe it’s better you watch it.

British Vs American Humor

Many people have asked me about the differences between American and British comedy and I believe that there is a difference but it is quite subtle. The most obvious would be the use of irony.

As I’m sure most Brazilians are more familiar with American comedy, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory etc. You can notice the irony and sarcasm used in these programs but in British humor it’s a lot more obvious. Sometimes irony is used so much that you’re not actually sure if the person is joking or not, and I’m not talking about T.V. and movies, I mean in everyday situations.

The Brits use this amongst friends, family, colleagues, relentlessly taking the piss out (making fun) of each other so much that as an outsider it can be a little awkward.  You will also notice that the British use a lot more black humor which can be a little more morbid and cross the line in some situations.

This is a skit from a popular English T.V. show called Big Train.

American Humor in comparison to The British would be a little obvious and not so painful to watch. Irony and sarcasm is used a lot but it seems like in American humor there is a lot more self-humiliation.

So if I were to give you some tips about how to be funny in The United States I would suggest starting out by making fun of yourself a little. This is a great tip I believe in all cultures.

When a person makes fun of themself it gives the impression that the person is not so self-conscious or sensitive and can probably take a joke. If you’re kind of short or really tall make a reference to it in a jokingly way. If you’re a little chunky or really skinny you can do the same thing.

I have a friend in Australia who’s really short, one time when I asked him to come have a beer with me at a new bar, he asked “is there a height requirement?” Another time an ex work-mate of mine who was very overweight called up to say he wouldn’t be able to work that day, when my boss asked him what was wrong he replied “I’ve just been diagnosed with anorexia”. Being sarcastic or ironic in a self-ridiculing way is always going to get you a few laughs.


These are very difficult to understand if English is not your first language. In my personal opinion PUNS are a great way to get a quick laugh from people. They are often seen as lame or cheesy, but deep down everybody loves a good pun. A pun is a form of word-play which the humor comes from the double meaning e.g.

Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: “Does this taste funny to you?”

They’ve used the double meaning of the expression tastes funny. There’re many other puns which could be appropriate in specific situation or when you’re having a beer with some of your mates. Check out this link for a more extensive list of examples.


Stand-up comedy would have to be my favorite and I’ve noticed it’s becoming a lot more popular in Brazil.

The general idea of standup is just a person standing up on a stage telling funny stories about misfortunate things that have happened to them or someone they know, or just philosophizing about life in a really funny way.

A lot of stand-up comedians also use a lot of controversial subjects like ethnicity, sex, prejudice, religion and many more. Although these subjects can be really funny if done in good taste, I would advise you not to bring up these subjects until you’re completely sure you’re not going to offend anyone.

So below I’m going to add some links to some of my favorite Stand-up comedians. Remember comedy is very subjective and not always to every ones taste. In my opinion comedy, whether it be self-ridicule, puns, taking the piss of others or making fun of controversial subjects, as long as there’s no malicious intent it’s a great way to ease tension and help us look on the brighter side of life.

Some of my favorite Stand-up comedians:

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  • Aryane Marques says:

    Really interesting article, I’ve never realized the things you said before

    • RealLife says:

      Hey Aryane, so glad it was helpful for you 🙂 Keep on the hard work with your English