Here is an interesting article about the problems of translating humor from English into German.
The thing that interested me when I read the article is that even though my family has been here for 150 years, we still have that German style of humor, added on to the American style.
Someone should write an article about translating English humor into English. For example, British comedy does not travel well across the Atlantic. Americans say British humor is “dry”, which is a nice way of saying not funny.
There’s one episode of the cartoon show “King of the Hill” in which a mother sits her 12-year-old son down and forces a British sitcom on him, as if it were some disgusting food that’s good for him. The boy says, “That man’s wearing a dress,” and getting no response from his mom, makes a disturbed face.
This is the key to how Americans deal with British comedy. A typical American thinks that since the British have British accents, they must be more intelligent than we are, and so if they don’t like some British comedy show, or they think it’s idiotic, they blame it on themselves and not on the show. Their attitude is, “I will watch this show, and I will force myself to like it!” Similarly, you can show Americans the stupidest movie the French nation has ever produced, and they will think it is art, just because it was made in France.
I began to understand some British humor a little better when a Scotsman explained to me how some of it centers on strained attempts by the English to be calm and polite at difficult moments. This was a huge revelation, because in those same situations, no American would feel any need to be courteous, so there would be no joke.