Laughing at Johnny Foreigner has long been a staple of British humour. In these days of political correctness and, hopefully, a more caring society, most comedians avoid the subject like the proverbial. Unless of course they are making fun of their own racial minority’s traits. Why, there’s nothing we love more than an Iranian taking the rise out of their grandparents’ struggle to come to terms with modern life or an Asian comic describing their aunties preparing for a family wedding, ‘funny’ accents and all.
Years ago when I was at college, one of our fellow students was from Athens. We took great pleasure out of ribbing her for the impossible number of rhyming syllables in her surname, while she found our pronunciation of such words as Basingstoke utterly risible. Nowadays we’d probably all be suspended for inappropriate language.
When I toured with the Natural Theatre Company performing our special brand of street theatre we found that Mr and Mrs Ordinary in practically every country in the world found the British very funny. Even in Pakistan where you’d think they’d suffered enough from centuries of arrogant colonialism, our posh lost tourists went down a hoot. And in China, as we passed by sporting bowler hats, striped banker’s trousers and tightly rolled umbrellas, each of us with a little yapping dog in tow, a local resident leapt over a wall and exclaimed gleefully ‘Good morning, stereotypical gentlemen!’
Oddly, it seems one can make fun of certain nationalities and not others. Americans (‘Excuse me, sir, why did they build the castle so near the rail station?’) and French (cue berets and onions) are fair game but us prancing around in turbans wouldn’t be at all amusing. Though a friend was shocked to find that racist humour was alive and well at a certain end of the pier show in Norfolk. Audience reaction varied, with some expressing the view that stuff like that went out of fashion before they were even born and one woman saying it was the best comedy show she’d ever seen. But then, people from Norfolk are another minority one is allowed to mildly mock.
Are the Dutch funny? Well, soon we’ll find out as Bath Comedy Festival is planning to promote an evening of Amsterdam based comedians in April. They tried this one year with some comics from Eastern Europe who I believe struggled a bit. But these Dutch guys regularly perform in English in their impressively multilingual home country. It’s all part of the Bath-Alkmaar twinning, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2017. The twinning was the result of Bath citizens raising huge sums of money to feed the starving kids in Alkmaar when the Germans withdrew at the end of WW2.
It’s an amazing and very moving story which will be celebrated with various cultural events and thanks to a brainwave from yours truly, Bath’s first ever cheese trail!
Watch this space!