Welcome to the strange world of Australian humour. You’re in for a bumpy ride!
Aussie humour sits somewhere in the middle of British and American sensibilities. It’s a unique strain (especially combined with the accent and somewhat crazy slang) and has bewildered visitors to the country for decades.
Australians love to…
Make fun of friends
Australians are pretty bold when it comes to humour. Not afraid of saying something hugely insulting in the name of a good laugh, they generally don’t hold back. This is always done in jest, however, as Australians are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Let’s say you get yourself a haircut before going to meet your new Aussie friend. You’re expecting a compliment from him, but what you actually hear is, “What happened mate? Did ya have a fight with a lawnmower?” You might take this as an insult, but it’s actually just your friend’s way of acknowledging that you’ve had a haircut. There’s no malice in the comment whatsoever – in fact, it could be said out of endearment.
Now let’s say your friend comes knocking at your bedroom door one morning to tell you’re late for class. You were up studying late the night before and you look a mess. You’re friend thinks you need to put a brush through your hair before leaving, but instead of just saying so he exclaims, “Wow. Your hair looks like a bush pig’s arse”.
We promise, he’s trying to be nice.
There’s not many cultures on this planet where making fun of someone is a sign of friendship, but we assure you Australia is one. If you find yourself being made fun of lots, it could be that you’ve scored yourself a whole lot of new friends. Consider yourself lucky – these backhanded insults are all part of building rapport and showing trust. Show you’re comfortable enough with your friend to make a joke back and it’s a sign of mutual respect, equality and closeness.
A great example of ‘mickey-taking’ is Hamish and Andy, two Australian comedians that have been working side-by-side since 2003. These two couldn’t be closer, yet they continually insult each other.
Making fun of yourself is another staple of Australian humour. Australians will call themselves all kinds of names to get a laugh, and also love to tell embarrassing stories and act out impressions of their own worst selves. No one likes to ‘show off’, so this is their way of proving to people that they’re humble.
While self-depreciation disarms others into thinking a person’s humble, it doesn’t mean that Australians think badly of themselves. It’s merely the Australian way to show others that everyone is equal and that they do not consider themselves as superior.
Australians really are a sarcastic bunch and the particular style used often flies under the radar. Sometimes a sarcastic comment is said so deadpan that it goes completely unnoticed!
Sarcasm is meant to be an ironic or satirical remark that while sounding like praise is actually meant to tease. If you’re stuck, play close attention to context and what you already know about the person. A wry smile, tone and pitch might also give sarcasm away.
Let’s say you foolishly cite something that’s really obvious ie. “A six pack of beer is named after the number of beers you get in the pack, the number being six.” A normal response would be, “That is the most obvious statement I’ve ever heard” but for an Aussie, this comment isn’t good enough. An Australian would say, “Really? You’re so amazingly clever” followed by a slow clap and an eye roll.
Now let’s say your teacher announces there will be a test the following day. Australians love to use sarcasm as a way of showing distaste, so and Aussie might say, “Fantastic. I can’t wait to add cramming for a test to my already long to-do list. Thank you for this generous gift”
Australian comedian Jim Jefferies is a great example of dry, deadpan sarcasm.
Share black humour
While many cultures consider it poor taste to make jokes about difficult circumstances, Australians find humour in the darkest of times. It’s not that they are cruel or unkind, it’s just that making jokes puts a lighter stance on the situation. It’s a survival technique to get through tragedy, death, illness, accidents, a break up…the list goes on.
Australian society is a melting pot of different cultures. This makes for an amazing country, but it also serves as a platform for a deluge of stereotypical jokes. Watch Australian comedy TV and you’ll soon see that stereotypes are the bread and butter of many popular shows. Kath and Kim was a hugely popular satirical comedy that portrayed the superficial elements of modern suburban Australians. Summer Heights High was a mockumentary series that followed three individual high school experiences – that of high strung drama teacher Mr G., exchange student Ja’mie, and breakdancing delinquent Jonah.
Deciphering Aussie humour
Deciphering Aussie humour might not always be easy, but you’ve got to love the Australian way of always seeing the funny side in things. Yes Australian humour might be anti-authoritarian, more persistently offensive, obscene and aggressive than other cultures, but it’s custom. Objecting to the tradition of baiting, teasing and insulting is ineffective in a land where humour is so important, so embrace the jokes as much as you can and try to join in the fun.
In short, learn that ‘taking the mickey’ is the Aussie way of welcoming you.