"We laugh at the same things"

- Banter Magazine editor Joe Swain takes a less-than-serious look at the differences between S'porean and English humour

published in the New Paper, 30 Sep 2002 (see printer-friendly link) -

I STILL remember the first joke I was ever told by a Singaporean. It went something like this:

Q: What's the difference between an expat and a Boeing 747?

A: The 747 stops whining when it lands at Changi Airport.

The joke didn't surprise me. Australians have told it for years about English immigrants arriving at Sydney airport. But, to hear it from a Singaporean was refreshing.

The scene of the crime was a busy, after-work hawker centre and, judging by the amount of time it took the rest of the Singaporeans in our group to stop giggling long enough to breathe, it hit a nerve.

Surprisingly, the man who told the joke is still alive.

I was tempted to pull his chair away when he was about to sit down but, fortunately for him, I once promised my feng shui instructor that I would never use my furniture-rearranging skills in anger.

In fact, he has become a good friend (albeit an overweight one, whom I shall refer to only by his full name of Ng Meng Whye. Revenge is sweet.).

Both of us had forgotten the incident until a few nights ago, when we found ourselves back at the very same table, discussing the differences between English and Singaporean humour. We agreed on the following:

# Top three things Singaporeans are likely to laugh at:

1. Television programmes featuring mute Englishmen with rubber faces and a tendency to get their shirts caught in their flies

2. Visiting expat businessmen who don't know how to dress for Singapore's climate and, despite their shiny bald heads and huge sweat patches all over their light blue cotton shirts, still stand on street corners trying to look superior

3. Men who dress up as women.

# Top three things an Englishman is likely to laugh at:

1. Television programmes featuring tall hotel owners with moustaches hitting small Spanish waiters on the head with spoons

2. The downfall of celebrities who get bored of being just rich and famous, and decide to have a crack at being arrogant as well by suddenly refusing to sign autographs (Eg. Britney "Oops, I wish I could sell albums in England again" Spears.)

3. Men who dress up as women.

In short, we decided that there are more similarities than differences.

[ ] The ties that bind

Sure, there will always be regional differences. Let's face it - even your very best joke about Newater or Killer Litter is hardly going to go down a storm in London.

But, on the whole we're definitely starting to laugh at the same things.

And why? Well, for one things, there's that boundary-breaking thing called the Internet.

Plus, we read the same papers. We both follow English football and, therefore, love and hate Manchester United in roughly equal proportions.

We both waste time watching awful programmes like Survivor and Fear Factor when we should be out doing something more useful like counting clouds.

Our radio deejays all talk like American used car salesmen.

We both know that whatever the health fanatics say, good Chinese food happens because of MSG, not despite it.

And, most importantly of all, we both speak the same language. Sort of.

It's not rocket science. Humour is about shared experiences.

The more we are exposed to the same influences, the more we will laugh with each other instead of at each other.

Which isn't to say that we should stop poking fun at each other when the right occasion presents itself.

Meng Whye still refers to my hairline as my head's "Up Escalator" and, sometimes, I completely ignore my feng shui instructor, break into his office in the middle of the night and mercilessly rearrange his furniture.

Carl Pendle, Banter Magazine's other editor, chooses his favourite Singaporean jokes:

An Ah Beng with two red ears went to his doctor. The doctor asked him what had happened to his ears.

"I was ironing a shirt and the phone ring-lor, but instead of picking up the phone, I accidentally picked up the

iron and stuck it to my ear. So kena-lor!"

"Oh dear," the doctor exclaimed in disbelief. "But what happened to the other ear?"

"He called back!"


A Singaporean is in a car crash.

Climbing out of the wreckage, he wails: "My Mercedes, my Mercedes is smashed."

"How can you worry about your car," asks a passer-by, "when your arm is ripped off?"

The Singaporean looks at his stump, and cries: "My Rolex, my Rolex!"


And, finally, one that works in any country:

What do you get if you have 100 lawyers buried up to their necks in sand?

More sand.

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