NEWS14 March 2018

You must be having a laugh – understanding the nation’s sense of humour

Impact 2018 News Trends UK

UK – British people like nothing more than a chuckle at slapstick humour – but don’t like to admit it, research into the nation’s funnybones reveals.


In a lively workshop session on day two of the MRS conference, Impact 2018, Kate Benson of The Nursery presented the findings of research into what makes people laugh. This involved desk research, questionnaires at comedy venues, work with comedians, a 1,000-person online survey, and sessions with groups of friends.

She said the 100-plus different types of humour could be segmented into nine categories: slapstick, surreal, silly, witty, self-deprecating, sarcastic, dark, offensive and “gross out”.

When people were shown clips of comedy moments and their responses used to determine which of the nine categories struck them most, 49% loved slapstick – explaining the popularity of TV hits such as Miranda, Mr Bean, and Mrs Brown’s Boys. And while some of the clips shown weren’t from broadly slapstick comedies – shows like Fawlty Towers and Blackadder – key moments were very slapstick.

Pauline McGowan of The Nursery said slapstick worked because people didn’t need to think about it, it provided the joy of the unexpected, was timeless, and crossed social boundaries such as age, gender and language.

But most Brits prefer to see themselves as more cerebral, and only 9% self-identify as being slapstick lovers.

The workshop element of the session, supported by comedians Steve Hall, Paul Powell and Dave Cohen, involved members of the audience being divided into groups according to their own comedy profile, and developing campaigns for an imaginary whisky that reflected their sense of humour.

The results ranged from comedian Jo Brand boozing at a kids’ birthday party, to a sweary Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It tearing strips off Mary Berry over a failed bake, with an expletive-laden tagline.

Session leader Peter Dann said brands were often afraid of using humour in communications, but that, done well – with the right type of humour – it could generate the kind of closeness, memorability or even admiration from consumers that most brands were seeking. He pointed to MoneySupermarket, The Economist and Specsavers as brands that had all identified the right style of humour for their brands and audiences.