Yes, Italians do have a sense of humour, as you might expect. But, it’s a little different from English humour, which is generally a mix of sharp wit tainted with acerbic sarcasm.
When I exhibit occasional flashes of this style of humour in my English language classes, it is instantly recognised and labelled as ‘English humour’ in a faintly disparaging manner. Still, I persist and always will, I am, after all, basically English. The Italian sense of humour is different from my own.
On the subject of English humour, until a few years ago, the English comedian the late Benny Hill was regarded as being one very funny guy here in Italy. I could understand why. Italians quite like comedy which is slapstick and that contains a nice quantity of scantily clad, well endowed young ladies in it. Now, I’m not 100% sure, but I reckon the old Carry-on films would have gone down rather well here.
I find the ‘Benny Hill’ style of Italian comedy a bit dull, mainly because I’ve seen it all before and this makes the gags seem out of date and unsophisticated. It is not really what I would call ‘intelligent humour’ and after seeing the likes of Ben Elton, it seems a little weak and unoriginal. Maybe, it is a language problem, but when those around me, Italians, are howling with laughter, I am left wondering what is so funny, even when I do manage to understand the jokes.
Well, things are changing. A very English style of humour is starting to make its mark.
Enter ‘Camera Cafe’
One of the TV programmes responsible for this radical change is a half-hour slot called ‘Camera Cafe‘ which is a type of sit-com and it all takes place in front of the coffee machine in a fictitious office. It is a wonderful example of Italians laughing at themselves and makes very good viewing.
The characters, whilst not being overly original, are very well observed. There is an autocratic boss, a bolshy union rep, his trusty side-kick who is an appallingly badly dressed and ignorant womaniser of a salesman, then there is a die hard mother’s boy, a rather plain and useless secretary, the office girl-about town, a psychopathic chauffeur, a gun toting security guard, a down trodden single mother, and let’s not forget to mention the scruffy computer tech.
The sketches, which are divided into three or four parts, are sharp and witty and make me laugh as much as some of the best UK comedies do. It is very Italian, as it should be, but it is very good and marks a new era in the sophistication of Italian comedy.
This excellent programme is found on one of the Berlusconi family run Mediaset channels and gives me the impression that someone somewhere has watched and appreciated the best of US and UK comedy and this person, or group, was bright enough to give it an Italian angle before bravely serving it up to sometimes conservative Italian audiences. The only thing that may raise English eyebrows is that some of the subject matter is a wee bit too adult for its 7pm slot, but then, Italian kids do not get sent to bed until well after nine, so I guess there was little alternative other than to hope that parents may tell little Giovanni to go off and do his homework, or mess about with the PlayStation in his bedroom for a few hours or so. (Although I doubt that this is done, to be honest.)
There is another, late night, satirical comedy show which goes by the name of ‘Le Iene’, and is a mix of stand-up comedy and various attempts to expose dodgy Italian characters and bushiness practices, as well as targeting the often farcical goings-on in the wonderful world of Italian bureaucracy. And it just so happens that the comedy duo who accompany the gratuitous leggy, busty, but intelligent, blonde, are the very same two who star in Camera Cafe. They are on a roll, and I hope it continues.
Indeed, these guys would seem to be taking over from the formerly very popular and very good, but also very traditional Italian trio of Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo. These three do a style of humour which is very Italian; visual and often slapstick with only some wordplay.
As I said, they are, for they are still around, very good at what they do, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Italian audiences are beginning to move on and that they will become nothing more than an, admittedly rather good, memory.
The Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo trio, as matter of interest, have also made some excellent comedy films too, including Tre uomini e una gamba – Three Men and a Leg, Così è la vita – That’s Life, and the New York gangster take off La leggenda di Al, John e Jack, to name but three.
Whilst not exactly cinematic masterpieces, they are great fun and, if your Italian is up to it, well worth seeing.