'Lowest form of wit' tops poll, proving that Britons love sarcasm
Well, there's a surprise - sarcasm is our favourite kind of comedy
FROM the savage tirades of hotel owner Basil Fawlty to the suave and waspish Blackadder, it has long been a mainstay of the comedy scene.
And while sarcasm may be denigrated as the lowest form of wit, a new survey claims it is also the nation's favourite.
It suggests stand-up comics jostling for attention at the Edinburgh Fringe might be better to jettison their gags and opt for the withering diatribes of comedians such as Jack Dee.
A poll commissioned by a drinks firm discovered that seven in ten people found sarcasm funny, while 63 per cent admitted cracking up at "silly" jokes. Just over a third confessed to being entertained by slapstick or the stunts on shows such as TV's You've Been Framed.
The findings prompted little surprise among stand-ups currently appearing in Edinburgh.
Rob Deering, who is performing at the Underbelly's Smirnoff Baby Belly venue, said: "We reserve the right to be miserable, focus on the bad things in life, and deflate all that is good at all times. Sarcasm keeps misery alive while you're having a laugh in the pub."
The Australian comic Brendon Burns, appearing at the Pleasance Dome, said the UK's taste for sarcasm was driven by "self-loathing and taking the p*** out of someone else to make them look stupid".
He said: "There is a presumed intellectual superiority in Britain, so anything that makes someone look dumber than you goes down rather well here."
Fans of sarcasm - derived from the Greek sarkasmos, meaning "to bite the lips in rage" - claim the style goes back to the Roman poet Horace.
The United States - which produced a supreme practitioner of the art in Groucho Marx - is home to the Sarcasm Society, which proclaims: "There is nothing more beautiful than sarcasm."
Performers such as John Cleese and Ronnie Barker in the prison sitcom Porridge did much to popularise the form in the 1970s; performers including Ben Elton and Mark Thomas provided a more politicised edge to the form in the 1980s. On the other side of the Atlantic, Bill Hicks was crafting bleak assessments of contemporary life.
Malcolm Hay, a comedy writer and former comedy editor of Time Out magazine, said he preferred sarcasm to so-called "observational" routines.
He said: "I certainly hope that sarcasm is a strong trait because I think it's marvellous.
"I think observational comedy is the most inferior form of the lot because it is just trotting out truisms that people can immediately recognise. It is asking people just to acknowledge, nod their heads and say, 'Yes I think that too', which is hardly very challenging."
And Glasgow comedy writer Hardeep Singh Kohli said:
"The art of sarcasm is one which takes years to perfect. I think it's about badinage and the complexity of our language, and it allows language to be manipulated in delivery as well as in sense."
One of the survey's findings is likely to provoke bitter mirth among women: nearly a third of men boast inherent comic skills and say they make those around them laugh four times a day or more. Women are more modest and only one in five claims the same side-splitting skills.
WHY THE BIG YIN IS KING
STAND-UP comedian and Scotsman columnist Janey Godley - known for her own caustic style - uses her own sarcasm index to assess the top ten list of UK comedians produced by the survey
• JOINT FIRST PLACE BILLY CONNOLLY AND PETER KAY: "Billy Connolly's sarcasm on religion was what made me want to do stand-up. The Scots are by nature a sarcastic race. If you are in London and you say 'My dad died', people say 'That's a shame'. In Scotland, we'd say: 'What size were his shoes?' Billy's style is very much Glaswegian, he is the most sarcastic, funny comic that I have ever come across. I don't see Peter Kay as sarcastic, his is a more observational style." Billy - 10/10, Peter Kay 2/10
• 3. RICKY GERVAIS "Ricky Gervais is sarcastic. The very fact he has put a poster up in Edinburgh saying 'Ricky Gervais is sold out so this poster is a waste of time' is the height of sarcasm." 7/10
• 4. LEE EVANS: "I have never really seen Lee being sarcastic. He is much more in the tradition of Norman Wisdom with a slapstick, funny physical style of comedy. I don't see that as being sarcastic." 3/10
• 5. JACK DEE: "Jack Dee is the height of sarcasm; he has a biting, dark wit. He is one of the best in his class and has always built his act on that. He is like an angry disappointed housewife from Glasgow." 9/10
• 6.FRANK SKINNER: "Frank has a fabulous sense of sarcasm. He not only laughs at the audience but also at himself. For example, he is currently having fun with the fact he has just turned 50." 9/10
• 7. ALAN DAVIES: "Alan has a good sense of sarcasm. I like his slow, droll deconstruction of situations." 7/10
• 8. ROSS NOBLE: "Ross is more surreal and goes in for flight-of-fancy improvisation. I wouldn't say he is incredibly sarcastic; he is more about poking fun." 5/10
• 9. ROB BRYDON: "Rob has a lovely sense of sarcasm that harks back to the ordinary man in the street who sees ordinary things with a twist." 7/10
• 10. ADE EDMONSON: "Ade has always been a character-based comic as opposed to someone who relied on sarcasm. Shows like the Young Ones were character comedy." 4/10
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