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The best British comedies

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An American couple enjoys a British comedy
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Want to know which British comedies to add to your DVD collection?

When it comes to comedy, the British have a unique sensibility and a seemingly natural talent for making people laugh. Over the years, many of the best British comedies have delighted U.S. audiences as much as they have delighted those of Britain.  

The Sketch Shows

The Benny Hill Show. What would a list of the best British comedies be without mention of the ever-randy Benny Hill? This program, which ran from 1969 to 1989, consisted of a variety of slapstick sketches featuring Hill and a revolving cast of buxom beauties. His comedy was characterized by sexual humor and the trick of speeding up the camera, Keystone Cops-style.

Monty Python's Flying Circus. The most famous members of this sketch show are Eric Idle, John Cleese and American-born Terry Gilliam. Their humorous sketches defy description, and people seem to either love Monty Python humor or absolutely hate it. This sketch series preceded their famous movies and ran for 45 episodes from 1969 to 1973.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie. This sketch show, which ran from 1989 to 1995, starred Hugh Laurie of "House" fame and his acting partner, Stephen Fry. Their comedy was eccentric and relied heavily on word play, politics and Laurie's musical parody talents.

The Sitcoms

Mr. Bean. This situation comedy follows the exploits of childlike and nonverbal Mr. Bean, played brilliantly by Rowan Atkinson. Mr. Bean has appeared in two American movies, bringing the bumbling, lovable character to the attention of U.S. viewers. The original British sitcom ran from 1990 to 1995.

Extras. Co-produced by the BBC and HBO, this sitcom follows the exploits of a bit actor, played by Ricky Gervais. Each episode includes a guest appearance by a well-known British film or stage actor, playing an exaggerated version of him or her self. The show debuted in 2005 and is currently still running.

Absolutely Fabulous. Known as "Ab Fab" to its fans, this sitcom featured Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as two frequently drunk Londoners. The two are fashion-obsessed, self-involved and extremely immature, but always funny. "Ab Fab" ran from 1992 to 2005.

Fawlty Towers. John Cleese of "Monty Python" played Basil Fawlty, owner of a hotel on the English Riviera. The sitcom followed his exploits, which were inspired by an actual hotel in the town of Torquay in Britain. The "Monty Python" cast stayed in a hotel with a particularly rude hotel owner, and this stay inspired John Cleese to create "Fawlty Towers," which ran from 1975 to 1979.

Coupling. Written by Steven Moffat, and airing from 2000 to 2004, "Coupling" has been called the British "Friends." In reality, its over-the-top comedy more closely resembled the style of "Seinfeld." This sitcom followed the adventures of six friends in their thirties, and focused mainly on their sexual exploits. The result is a hilarious show that ended too abruptly after the fourth season.

The Office. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, creators of "Extras," also created this wry sitcom about life in an office. It ran from 2001 to 2003, and prompted the American version starring Steve Carrell.

The Two that Defy Categorization

Blackadder. Rowan Atkinson isn't just revered in Britain as Mr. Bean he's also known as the ever-popular Edmund Blackadder. The show ran for four seasons, with each set in a different historical era. Atkinson appears as various members of a British family who happen to be present during important events in British history.

Jeeves and Wooster. Based on the brilliant comedic novels by P.G. Wodehouse, "Jeeves and Wooster" follows the exploits of Bertie Wooster, a mostly empty-headed but jovial young man of means in the 1930s. Wooster and his bumbling friends are helped out of their jams by Wooster's valet, Jeeves, who always seems to know just what to do. Hugh Laurie is perfect as the lovable Bertie, and Stephen Fry embodies the staid British gentleman's gentleman.

The best British comedies are all now available to American audiences thanks to the wonders of DVDs and Netflix.

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