Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Nick  Hornby

Amanda  Tabeek 

A History of British Humor

Nick Hornby’s Humorous Depiction of Relationships in Modern Society

Nick Hornby’s protagonists all experience some form of isolation throughout their journeys. The characters’ isolation develops from failed and corrupted relationships with friends, family members, and lovers. Hornby sets his novels in the modern world, in part to demonstrate the absence of strong moral guides and traditional family structures in contemporary society. As a result of this, Hornby’s characters distance themselves from their families and wish for independence, yet paradoxically they all want somebody to love them and stay with them. Through his use of similes and metaphors throughout all of his books, Hornby conveys his sense of humor while shedding light on darker situations such as teen pregnancy, suicide, and affairs. Hornby also uses these humorous analogies to illustrate the emotions of his characters and the broken state of their relationships. His anticlimactic endings serve to underscore the overall message that not everybody is able to rise above the obstacles with which they are faced to form “perfect” relationships.

Humor in Britain evolved dramatically from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century. Not only did the style of British humor evolve, but the way that humor was communicated to the public also changed. British humor began in writing, transferred to radio, developed into live performances, including standup comedy, and eventually made its way to television. British humor during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave little offense to its readers since readers and humorists shared similar values. One exception was author Jonathan Swift , who described the world through satire, and offended many of his seventeenth-century readers. Nineteenth century British comic writers introduced more wit, satire, and irony in their works. During the twentieth century, radio, television, and live performances became popular in British comedy. Radio broadcast comedy transferred to television during the 1950s. Standup comedy was popular throughout Britain during the 1970s and 1980s. Many comics told crude and racist jokes. “Monty Python,” a satirical television series which enjoyed its prime during the 1970s, became the comedy icon not only for Britain, but for the rest of the world.

Major Works Consulted:

Hall, Julian. The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy. New York: Rough Guides, 2006.
Hornby, Nick. How to Be Good. New York: Riverhead, 2001.
--. Slam. New York: G.P. Putnam, 2007.
Nilsen, Don L.F. Humor in Twentieth-Century British Literature. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2000.
Photo Credit: Hornby, Nick. Slam. New York: G.P. Putnam, 2007.