Why dont Americans get irony?

I know its a gross genralisation but it seems to me that a lot of Americans dont get irony. Bill Bryson mentions in his book ‘letters from a big continent’ (I think thats the title) that on returning home he found that the residents of New England have trouble ‘getting’ his ironic humour, Alanis Morissettes song ‘Ironic’ is riddled with non-ironies: Black fly in your chardonay - thats just bad luck! And my own personal experience has led me to beleive that a much higher proportion of Americans dont get irony than their European counterparts…can anyone explain?

Another example - Police Squad got canned because they didn’y get it !!

Alanis Morrisette is not American; she’s Canadian.

How’s that for irony, huh?

Americans get irony. We just don’t always find irony in and of itself funny. Unlike the British apparently. Must be our more sophisticated sense of humor.

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.

Isn’t Canada part of the Americas? I’m allowed this little faux par due to the fact that i’m Scottish but am constantly being accused of being English by American tourists…wait up they might of been Canadian.

You are simply an appendage to Whitechapel. Thus, you might as well be English.

I’m sorry, but I must:

Roxanne (1987)


Well, you know those tourists, WILLASS.

Canada is part of North America. So if you meant the continent of North America, then I guess she’s technically an American. If you meant the country of America, aka the United States thereof, then she’s not.

The colloquial use of “American” means a person from the US. If you wanted to include Canada and Mexico you could say “North American.” There isn’t any good term for people from the Americas as a whole. I suppose you could say “accross-the-ponders.” :slight_smile:

The irony being that Daryl Hannah’s remark was a sarcastic one, not ironic. This is an all too common mistake and I would have hoped for better writing from Steve Martin.

Maybe Steve is a master of double - bluff irony and this was his intention? I doubt it but he could always pretend he was trying to provoke people into thinking about the differences between irony and sarcasm and ultimatley it was more of a expert comment on this common misconception. Or maybe he could just watch ‘Dead Men Dont Wear Plaid’ and relax with a beer.

Why do Brits have bad teeth?

First off, gross generalizations generally belong in either IMHO or the Pit.

I agree with Neurotic. We don’t necessarily find irony funny. As a matter of fact, I’d guess that the average United States resident (no confusion with our friends in Canada) has been so bombarded by irony over a lifetime that we are inured to it.

Here’s an example of political irony that we have no trouble “getting” – and yet, as political humor, falls completely flat. “George H. W. Bush had the highest approval rating of any U.S. President since the public opinion polls began but failed to be re-elected President.”

I am not sure if I have a factual explanation.

Americans (i.e. those residing in the US) like irony in their humor, but we just don’t like the heavy dry ironic humor that the people in Great Britain seem to love.

“Seinfeld”, “Taxi”, “Cheers”, certain Chaplin movies, etc. I would consider to have ironic humor and are popular.

You also have to take into account that the “humor culture” of the US has its roots in vaudville, Jewish, and African-American humor.

BTW, Mexicans as a rule are not also too crazy about ironic humor, though use of ironic humor is found more in political satire.


Sarcasm is most often ironic.

I don’t remember Roxanne’s preceding line, but I don’t remember being struck by it not being ironic (in the sense that what she said expressed the opposite of what she meant, which is the first definition of irony).

In fact, looking at the definition of sarcasm above, I don’t think Roxanne’s intent was “to wound” or “to make [her] victim the butt of comtempt or ridicule.” She was just trying to be funny – so I would say she was being ironic and not sarcastic.

Sorry for the hijack, but I hate to see Steve Martin unfairly criticized.

Did you mean Whitehall?

If people are talking about Police Squad it might be a good idea to remember that Leslie Nielsen is Canadian, although Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers are American and Jewish. Make of that what you will.

Remind me where Charlie Chaplin was from again?

WILLASS: Past experience suggests that threads like this get nowhere. They just invite unsupportable claims along the line of “we do too get irony”, “because irony isn’t funny” and “why do Brits have bad teeth?” There isn’t a factual answer and this will just subside into some name calling before it gets moved to another forum or else closed altogether.

Well I agree that there is overlap between sarcasm and irony but the remark was merely sarcastic. I see giving an answer opposite to what you mean to ridicule an obvious question is more sarcastic. A falconer wanting to divorce his wife becaus she’s a harpy is more ironic.

I doubt there can be a factual answer to this question, so I’ll move this thread to IMHO.

moderator GQ

No, Padeye, that’s a pun. it is not in the least ironic (at least, not in the sense we’re discussing here; the situation may represent a sort of Alanis-like post-modern irony, but that’s not, y’know, irony). (Rhetorical) irony is a humorous figure of speech in which you say the opposite of what you mean. Period. Sarcasm is an inherently ironic form of humor; it is distinguished from irony by its biting and contemptuous nature. Period. I don’t remember what Roxanne’s line was, but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t sarcastic.