Canadian vs. American Humour: Is there a Difference?

by Chris Cameron

Published at 2016-03-23


A 2012 article by Bruce McCall in Vanity Fair attempted to unravel the secret of Canadian humour (or "humor" as the magazine spelled it). The question was raised as to whether such a thing even existed.


Canadian author Terry Fallis had success with his comic novel The Best Laid Plans, an amusing tale of political tomfoolery amongst some honourable MPs in Ottawa. Contrast this with Going Rouge: The Sarah Palin Coloring Book, by Julie Sigwart and Micheal Stinson. Need I say more?


It could be that we are milder in our humour here in Canada because our source material is milder. They have Donald Trump. We have ketchup.

Yes, We Can … Be Funny Too

I submit that some sense of humour does indeed exist on our side of that big honking wall Mr. Trump is planning to build. But as an editor, I got to wondering about the differences we might find if we compared American humour to ours. Do we laugh at the same things?


We Canadians are reputed to have an excess of politeness (a reputation obviously not subscribed to by anyone who has ridden the Toronto subway at rush hour).


Q: How do you get 26 Canadians out of a swimming pool?

A: Call, “Everybody get out of the pool!”


Americans are supposed to be loud, sarcastic, and, well … loud.


Cop: (arriving at the scene of a car crash) Have an accident?

Driver: No thanks, I just had one.


Wikipedia notes that the primary characteristics of Canadian humour are irony, parody, and satire. One never-ending source of humour for Canadians has always been what we might call a lack of depth in American general knowledge. Rick Mercer once travelled to the US and asked Americans absurd questions about Canada, such as what they thought about Canada’s decision to finally legalize VCRs in the country, or whether they supported Prime Minister Poutine’s bill to end the Saskatchewan seal hunt. Their answers were made into a TV series.

So how do we make a comparison?

Do we compare Stephen Leacock to Mark Twain? David Steinberg to Chris Rock? Maybe Wayne and Shuster to Cheech & Chong?


What we think is funny (anything to do with a moose) could be very different from what an American will laugh at (basically, anything at all, if it is told the right way; bonus laughter if it contains an insult).


Canadians are coldly and restrainedly uptight. Americans are vociferously flummoxed by anything they don’t understand. Which is to say anything that isn’t American.


How could there not be differences?

Take our Jokes, Please

All right, so we Canadians may not be as LOL funny as Americans. But to dispel the rumour that we have no sense of humour at all, I offer a small chart comparing some examples of the humour our two countries. Since I (as the beer commercial goes) am Canadian, I apologize in advance for the material contained in it.

American Joke

Canadian Joke

A man walks up to me on the street and says “Hey buddy! I haven’t had a bite in days.” So I bit him.

A man walks up to me on the street and says “Hey buddy! I haven’t had a bite in days.” So I gave him what was left of my Tim Hortons coffee. Boy, was he annoyed. He wanted a Timbit too.

You can always tell a guy from Texas – but not much.

You can always tell a guy from Newfoundland because he has an accent that many people think sounds funny.

Boy, what a dull town. I spent a week there one night.

My wife, her mother, and I recently spent a long weekend in Muskoka. It seemed long because it rained.

New York in the summertime? Fuggeddaboudit!

It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity. Really. Sorry.

It was so cold that all the lawyers had their hands in their own pockets.

It was so cold that the lawyers all agreed with one another that it was really cold. So they went to Tim Hortons and got coffee.

A clown decided to retire and hand over the business to his son. His son said, “I don’t know Dad, those are big shoes to fill.”

My daughter is marrying a Zamboni driver. We think it will be an ice wedding.

Last night I ordered a whole meal in French. Even the waiter was amazed - it was a Chinese restaurant!

Operator, why can’t I understand what anyone is saying on this phone?

Well sir, it’s a francophone.