Stephen Fry on America

Stephen Fry in America
Stephen Fry in America

Stephen Fry talked a lot about his love of the USA during his stint at the Hay Literary Festival. Here’s what I took away from the session.

I shudder to think what would have happened if indeed he had been born an American. It nearly came to pass and while I love and cherish both the land and the people I don’t want to imagine a Britain with one less national treasure.

For me the TV series wasn’t long enough, just when you were getting to grips with a location or a character it was wrenched away. The book is better, and you get more of the voice of Fry, which is never a bad thing.

His word of warning was ‘Don’t assume that Americans are stupid’. You do this at your peril. Yes a lot of them don’t have passports, yes you may disagree with Bush, the television isn’t always to your taste, yes they have guns – lots of them, yes there are excesses. We’re very good at feeling superior in this country, quite often when we have no basis for it. If I lived in a country that was wider than the Atlantic and had the massive variety of terrain and environment, I would hesitate before wanting to start visiting Europe before I’d finished with my own homeland. There is beauty and character in every single US state, you can’t deny that you could spend a fulfilling lifetime just experiencing and appreciating that.

Of course travel and exposure to other cultures and beliefs expands horizons, makes you appreciative and more tolerant. But don’t look down your nose at someone just because you’ve been to Orlando, Spain and Prague. The America we see isn’t all of America. Not everyone votes for the same President, or watches the same TV. A sneering superiority complex says more about our own insecurities. Underestimate the education, accumen and determination of an American at your peril (gets off soapbox).

On a lighter note Mr Fry highlighted the difference between American and British comic heroes. Our heroes here are comic and heroic failures, Hancock, Blackadder, Perrin, Del Boy (I’ll ignore the Trotters lottery win) and even Rene (from Allo Allo!). The scale of Blackadder’s failure to escape his lot resulted in one of the most unexpected and moving segments of comedy I’ve seen, truly light and shade. They have triumph snatched from the jaws of victory in the final reel, returning them back to where they started or worse by the time the credits roll.

US characters by comparison are more cheeky and winsome, using humour, guile and smarts to get the girl or extract themselves from a tricky situation, The Fonz, Joey Tribiani, Seinfeld, David Addison. Maybe this is a logical extension of the American dream, the can do, risk and you will be rewarded approach. Obviously there are exceptions, the recent adoption of The Office being a good example.

The session was never going to be long enough. Everyone had a question and wanted Stephen to talk for hours. Sadly this was never going to be the case, despite his embarrassment at arriving by helicopter he over came his blushes to quip, illuminate and delight throughout the chat.

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