Brits, Americans, Irony

Is there a real cultural gulf across the Atlantic? Do the Brits get irony in a way Americans don't? Simon Pegg, writer of the cult horror comic movie, "Shaun of the Dead," thinks the gulf is exaggerated. Money quote:

Although it is true that we British do use irony a little more often than our special friends in the US. It's like the kettle to us: it's always on, whistling slyly in the corner of our daily interactions. To Americans, however, it's more like a nice teapot, something to be used when the occasion demands it. This is why an ironic comment will sometimes be met with a perplexed smile by an unwary American. Take this exchange that took place between two friends of mine, one British (B), the other American (A):

B: "I had to go to my grandad's funeral last week."
A: "Sorry to hear that."
B: "Don't be. It was the first time he ever paid for the drinks."
A: "I see."

Now, my American friend was being neither thick nor obtuse here; he simply didn't immediately register the need to bury emotion under humour.

Burying emotion under humor: about as good a description of British comedy that I know of. The American, however, might not realize how alcoholism is central to British life and culture, and so the joke falls a little flat. Irony, moreover, is very American. The brilliance of South Park or the Simpsons has no equal in Britain, although Sacha Baron Cohen comes close. But for Cohen's true genius to come through, he needs America. Irony needs a solid lack of irony for it to work; it needs a continent of earnestness for the sharp slice of its insight to succeed. There's a reason Oscar Wilde was such a hit in the American heartland.The problem with Britain is that there is too much irony for irony to work. There's nothing to grip on, no red Britain for blue Britain to satirize, secretly love, and define itself against. British irony is wonderful, but the country has an irony surplus. Or maybe this Brit insight sums up the difference best of all:

Americans can fully appreciate irony. They just don't feel entirely comfortable using it on each other, in case it causes damage. A bit like how we feel about guns.