I love the show Big Bang Theory. It meets my need to geek out and to laugh at the same time. Thank you, CBS, for streaming episodes online so I can watch them! I know it was done just for me!

Sheldon on Big Bang Theory
Thank you, CBS, for the image and the wonderful show.

Sheldon, because of all his quirkiness is my favorite character, just as he is the darling of the Emmy’s. While there is little that I share with this genius physicist, we do have one thing in common: neither of us gets sarcasm.

Okay, I do get the American version of other-the-top sarcasm that comes with vocal cues and normally eye rolls. The British deadpan sarcasm, not so much.

Before moving to England, all I knew about British humor was Benny Hill and Are You Being Served. Once I arrived, I realized that there is another completely different form of humor that seemingly gave no clues to the listener. It was a dry sarcasm that wasn’t revisited if the recipient didn’t pick up on it.

I learned about this elusive form of comedy, yet I wasn’t able to identify it as it was happening. This really bothered me as I graduated with my Master’s and started to work in an office setting. I remember a couple sleepless nights before I started when I was trying to figure out the secret to suddenly understanding it. Then one day, just before my hire date, the solution dawned on me. I marveled in its simplicity: I would embrace my American-ness and simply accept every compliment offered to me.

When I first started, I received tons of compliments, and for each of them I smiled brightly and thanked them. Even ones when I was pretty sure they were sarcastic, “My, that uniform seems to fit you perfectly”, I graciously answered, “Thanks! I can’t believe it didn’t need any alterations at all!” After about a month, I realized that I wasn’t getting any compliments at all any more. I guess the fun had wore off, which was just fine with me!

By the end of my stay, however, I finally got it. Not well enough to use it myself, but I could successfully identify it in conversation, and I was starting to see the humor in it, since everyone involved knew it was a joke. I was fortunate enough to see a stage production of Art, which was THE thing to see while I was there. Everyone was talking about it. My face ached for days after the show because of how hard I (and everyone else) was laughing!

Once I returned to the States, I saw that a local playhouse was putting on a production. I was so excited!!!! I invited a friend and told her how wonderfully funny it was. We both looked forward to it.

Ummmm, the American director either didn’t understand British sarcasm or simply elected to play it straight. With that interpretation, the play is a tragedy and downright mean-spirited. I walked out of the show feeling disappointed and emotionally spent. It was so not what I expected … or wanting to see!

In one light, it was good to know that I wasn’t alone in not getting the humor. That director also has Sheldon-like tendencies.

4 thoughts on “Sarcasm”

  1. Humor, I think, above almost anything else, is so culturally specific. Like you can learn another language – but it’s another thing to “get” their humor. My DIL, from Chile, who has mastered the English language so well – often asks about a joke we tell, or a nuance that it takes years to just understand.


    1. I have had many friends who are fluent in English but born in different countries ask me to explain jokes to them. Sometimes it is a play on words, but other times it is a reference to “common knowledge” that they just didn’t get. Not everyone is familiar with the concept of “canary in a coal mine”, and thus a joke referencing it will never make sense.


  2. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I must say, I LOVE Sheldon too. Sometimes when I’m watching it with friends, I am the only one laughing. I might just need smarter friends. Also, the only version of ART I saw was an American Community Theatre Production. I was bored out of my mind and wondered why the playwright could write such a dead and dragging play. Now I have something to look for when I visit London next summer.


    1. Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m still laughing at your “I might just need smarter friends” comment! So pleased to let you know that about the hidden (and often lost) element to ART. I’m jealous of your trip to London. I’d love to go back.


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