Differences between French and American Humour

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If you spend a lot of time checking out comedy in Montreal, you will find that there are many different styles of humour present. With Montreal having a unique dualism as both French and English, you can find both French humour and more American-styled humor here in Quebec. As you go to different festivals and comedy clubs in Montreal, you will be exposed to these different genres of humour.

One question we sometimes receive from patrons at our English speaking Montreal comedy shows is an inquiry to the differences between French and American humor. Let’s take a look at the major differences.


Observational comedy is a subgenre of comedy that focuses on deriving humour from typical aspects of life. This often includes finding humour in a common experience that is shared by both the comedian and the audience. Observational humor focuses on normal life whether it be being at the airport, ordering food at a restaurant, or navigating dating.

While observation can be seen in comedy everywhere, it is relied upon much more heavily in American comedy. American humor is filled with observation. Many people have described American humor as simply stating facts or pointing out situations. The audience then finds these funny or doesn’t. For people used to French humour, this can seem as if it is missing an ingredient – subtext.


Another common difference between American and French humor is attitude or outlook. American humor is often described as being overly nice when compared to humor in other countries. While American humor does have dark humor, it is much less common than in French humour. In fact, French humour and British humour are both quite similar in the prevalence of dark humor as a mainstay of comedy.

For example, when the British TV series “The Office” was adapted to the U.S., they had to make the boss much nicer to be palatable. American humor would not tolerate a mean boss as a main character. Some people trace this tendency of American humor to Americans’ view of life as generally positive and uplifting while people in other nations are more likely to expect the worse.

Sarcasm & Irony

Furthering upon the concept of attitude is the usage of devices like sarcasm and irony in French humour. While you will find these in American humor, they are not pervasive, and many American comedians do not use them at all. When it comes to French humour, sarcasm can often be seen as being used as both a shield and a weapon. French humour often requires the audience to think and reflect more often.

Meanwhile, American humor is not often thought provoking in nature. This is not to say that it cannot be. Rather, it generally isn’t. While French humour is more often meant to be a critique, American humor is generally simply meant to be enjoyed for entertainment. In other words, French humour is typically more complex than American humor.

Social Commentary

Another hallmark of French comedy is its use in social commentary. Often times, French comedy is used to attack societal institutions, political stances, or policies. French comedy has been a vehicle for social critique from the beginning. One need only to look towards the comedic plays of Moliere to see that the comedy has a greater point. This is still true today in much French standup and even film.

Of course, there are very well-known American comedians that focus their time on social commentary. Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart, and George Carlin immediately come to mind as some of the most famous. However, social commentary in American humor is more of a subgenre than an expectation. It is definitely not a mainstay of the comedy scene, another thing that draws a comparison between the two types of humor.

What is Acceptable

When it comes to French humour, dark topics are acceptable and often considered normal in the discipline. For example, the thought of someone making a joke at a funeral to break the tension would be perfectly normal in French humour but generally quite unacceptable within the United States. Thus, French comics have a much broader spectrum when it comes to material.

When it comes to American humor, there are many things that are simply not generally acceptable to joke about. For example, issues of race, gender, and identity typically must be carefully addressed. There are some American comedians like Anthony Jeselnick who have routines about dark and morbid topics. However, these are not common fare in American humor but rather a subgenre with a cult following.

The Major Differences Between French and American Humor

It is always a bit difficult to try to classify something as diverse as humour into a tidy package. After all, there are always situations that do not quite fit the definition. However, there are generally a number of major differences between French and American humor.

French humour tends to be more sophisticated and complex than American humor with the latter often simply relying on humorous observations or facts. Instead, French humor relies heavily on subtext, making the audience think as well as laugh. Additionally, French humour is more likely to be used as social commentary, heavily leveraging things like sarcasm and irony in the presentation. Meanwhile, American humor is often simply meant to be fun and funny. Furthermore, many things considered acceptable in French humour could be considered unpalatable or mean in American humor.

These differences often mean that Americans may struggle to find humor in French humour and vice versa. Regardless of your comedy preferences, we know that you will find comedy shows that you will love at our wonderful Montreal comedy clubs. Check out our Montreal stand-up schedule for your best chance to catch a great English comedy show at Comedyville.


Post by Eddie Case, exclusively for, All rights reserved.
Comedyville is a Comedy Club located in Downtown Montreal.