Quick, think of your favorite joke in your native language.
Did you laugh?
Now translate it into English (yes, you can use a translation app).
Do you think another person will still find it funny?
Humor is so much more than just the meaning of words used in sentences. It is about the places we live in and the people who are with us. It is about events in the past and the present.
It is about the problems of a community explored in a funny way. In other words, funny stories are about the society in which they are created.
Conversing in a language requires us to know the society the other person belongs to. And there is no better way to do this than by reading stories that make you laugh, then think.
What Funny Stories Can Teach You About English-speaking Societies
Language learning is not only about learning the words and rules of English, but it requires you to be familiar with the culture of English speakers too.
In some conversations, you might understand all the words but still fail to comprehend what they are saying. Reading humorous stories can help your English with this, as well as in other ways:
- You will learn to identify satire. Funny stories are often satirical stories which use humor to criticize a person or a society. This might help you gain valuable information about the problems of a community and will make you understand the English context to words, phrases and ideas.
- You will understand parodies. A parody is an imitation of an existing story or artwork which makes fun of the original work. It helps you gain a quick understanding of the popular and important literature of a culture and their flaws in a single book.
- You learn inside jokes. Every culture has its unique, secret code. People learn them through experience and it is impossible for an outsider to understand them in any way. Humor is often based on these secret jokes and they help you peek inside the mind of a community. In fact, even the internet has its own inside jokes.
- They teach you about history. Satire, parody and inside jokes are all based on events that happened in the past. Very often funny stories are about these events themselves. Learning about them helps you gain valuable information about a community’s history and how they developed. (The last book on the list below is a perfect example.)
- They teach you how to use and recognize puns. Puns are words which mean two things at once in a sentence. They are not always obvious to a beginner and they are generally learned by reading or listening to many examples. This article talks the use of puns in English.
- They are often social commentaries. This point is a summary of all the points above. In essence, humorous stories in English can help you gain a better understanding of past events, current context and the society of English speakers in general, to help you have actual conversations with native speakers in the world.
17 Funny Stories in English That Are Both Intelligent and Fascinating
If you like stories that are simple but also clever, then this is the book you are looking for. The plot is about two boys, George and Harold, who like to draw comics and are famous pranksters in their school.
One day their principal catches them setting up a series of stunts and threatens them. For a while he makes them do his chores, but soon the boys find a way out. They hypnotize their principal and make him into a superhero they drew—Captain Underpants.
The story reveals a lot about the dominating relationship between adults and children. The central source of humor comes from the main characters’ brilliant strategy to reverse this relationship and have fun with it.
The book is filled with funny cartoons and jokes that are sometimes disgusting but always entertaining.
“George and Harold were usually responsible kids. Whenever anything bad happened, George and Harold were usually responsible.”
Very few people would have truly wondered about the love stories of gazelles or oxen. This book proves that if such a relationship would ever become real, then it would be nothing short of hilarious.
The story is told through a collection of letters where a love-struck and adamant Ox tries to impress a celebrity Gazelle. The joyful illustrations make the book truly memorable.
This may seem like it is a book for children, but adults can understand the theme of unrequited love and appreciate the way the author plays with language.
“You are so graceful and fine. Even when you are running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running away from tigers.”
Mark Twain is one the legendary figures in American literature. He is best known for works of fiction like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Considered the funniest turkey tale in American literature, Twain recounts a true incident where he tries to shoot a turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner.
The story is a humorous account of his failure and also relates to American tradition and a ritual of growing up.
Thanksgiving is a holiday usually celebrated in the United States and Canada where the whole family is supposed to have dinner together in order to express their gratitude for the food and things they have.
Generally, turkey is the main dish in the feast and it has a special meaning for Americans.
During Twain’s time, hunting a turkey for the festival was seen as a mark of being a grown up. In this story, he talks about how he was outsmarted by a turkey for a whole day and in the end simply had to have tomatoes for a meal. The minute (detailed) observation of the bird’s behavior and his exaggerated descriptions make the story a true classic.
Since it was written in 1906, you might read some words which are not commonly used anymore. For instance, the word “swindler” can be replaced by the words “cheat” or “fraud” in modern English. Similarly, “ostensibly” means “apparently” and is used to refer to an object or person which appears to be something which most probably it is not. “Beguiled” means to tempt or to lead on through false means and “shabby” is another word for untidy.
“When a mamma-turkey answers an invitation and she finds she has made a mistake in accepting it, she does as the mamma partridge does—remembers a previous engagement and goes limping and scrambling away, pretending to be very lame; and at the same time she is saying to her not-visible children, ” Lie low, keep still, don’t expose yourself; I shall be back soon as I have beguiled this shabby swindler out of the country.”
Have you ever felt that you did not fit in? Did you feel like you were strange, weird, awkward or simply confused? The author of this book felt like that throughout her life. She tells a tale which is equal parts funny and enlightening (something which makes you aware). And she explores what it means to be who we are.
The core message is that the moments that embarrass us (that we pretend never happened) are the ones that define us. While she narrates incidents about her sister who comes to school in a bird costume, her cat who is like a message board for her and her relationship which is both deep and hilarious, she manages to talk about serious things which are important to all of us.
If you are still unsure about it, then first read this article by The Washington Post.
“Dear Victor: Wow. That … really got out of hand. I’m sending this cat in as a peace offering. I forgive you for all the stuff you wrote on the walls about my sister, and I’m going to just ignore all the stuff you wrote about my “giant ass” (turn cat over for rest) because I love you and you need me. Who else loves you enough to send you notes written on cats? Nobody, that’s who. Also, I stapled a picture of us from our wedding day to the cat’s left leg. Don’t we look happy? We can be that way again.”
Eva, the main character, is frustrated with her family. So when her children leave home, she climbs into bed and stays there. She refuses to be a dutiful wife to her indifferent husband. She also stops being an ideal mother to her careless children.
Soon enough, unexpected things start happening and the true face of every person in the household starts to come out.
The novel is comical but also seeks to question traditional family roles. For a more detailed review, read this review by The Guardian.
“Brian kept the photograph inside an old Bible. He knew it would be safe there. Nobody ever opened it.”
Madness is usually seen as a very clinical topic. Mad people are distant and mysterious. They are reduced to their disorders and their humanity is usually ignored.
This novel narrates a story about a woman who suffers from schizophrenia. The narrator is her son who is trying to figure out what is happening and also explores his parents’ past. It contains the whole range of emotions from joy to grief to exhaustion.
The unique characters and interesting observations about the family and their way of coping with Em, the mother, make the book humorous. But the book is never too simplistic and is able to retain the human element in all the characters. You can read a complete review here.
“Honestly, I don’t understand Zen. It seems if you don’t answer properly, or if you are rude, people get enlightened.”
This is a satire that won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2016. It is a sharp, witty story about an African American protagonist (main character) who was born in a middle-class family. Raised by a single father, he dreams of making his life better. But when his father is killed in a police shooting, he seeks to take a radical step.
The novel is funny, and goes deep into the heart of American society. To know why it won one of the most famous awards in the world, read this review.
“If New York is the “city that never sleeps,” then Los Angeles is the “city that’s always passed out on the couch.”
This story is about killing a 14-year-old girl to build a new one. It is not literally about murder but rather a story about growing up as a girl.
The protagonist is named Johanna who renames herself Dolly Wilde when she decides to change her life. She goes through a very intimate journey to become the woman she wants to be. This is a witty story about being free and what it means to be that.
You can read a fantastic review here.
“There’s no point in drinking if no one’s watching.”
P.G. Wodehouse’s novels are always filled with humorous characters and plots with as many twists as the number of holes in Swiss cheese. In this tale, a set of events are set into motion when a precious art piece is stolen from the castle of Mr. J. Preston Peters. There are detectives, imposters and marriages that go wrong.
This is a classic and simple story that never fails to be funny and interesting. Here is a short review of the novel. In the quote below, the word “chivalry” means polite behavior usually that of men towards women.
“You remind me of an old cat I once had. Whenever he killed a mouse he would bring it into the drawing-room and lay it affectionately at my feet. I would reject the corpse with horror and turn him out, but back he would come with his loathsome gift. I simply couldn’t make him understand that he was not doing me a kindness. He thought highly of his mouse and it was beyond him to realize that I did not want it.
You are just the same with your chivalry. It’s very kind of you to keep offering me your dead mouse; but honestly I have no use for it. I won’t take favors just because I happen to be a female.”
This is a fantasy book that takes place in Britain. Jane Eyre, one of the most famous literary heroines in history, has been kidnapped and is going to be murdered. A detective is given the task to save her before it is too late.
It is set in a world where people can literally enter novels, time travel is real and cloning is commonplace. The novel manages to be funny while talking about a society under the rule of a dictator.
Here is a short review of the book.
“I shouldn’t believe anything I say if I were you. And that includes what I just told you.”
Adults often treat children as people who are less intelligent. In this story, Saki introduces us to Nicholas, who easily tricks his strict aunt and outsmarts her throughout the story.
Nicholas is constantly fascinated by the lumber room, where all kinds of curious things are stored but children are not allowed to enter it. The story is about how he not only gets into the room but also manages to reverse the relationship of obedience he has with his aunt.
Saki is famous for writing about characters who are not only funny but also use their minds to change the situation they are stuck in.
While reading the story, you might encounter (find) some words that might be difficult to understand. For example, “obstinacy” means stubbornness or the quality of being stubborn and “debarred” means to exclude or ban someone from doing something.
“Only that morning he had refused to eat his wholesome bread-and-milk on the seemingly frivolous ground that there was a frog in it. Older and wiser and better people had told him that there could not possibly be a frog in his bread-and-milk and that he was not to talk nonsense; he continued, nevertheless, to talk what seemed the veriest nonsense, and described with much detail the coloration and markings of the alleged frog.
The dramatic part of the incident was that there really was a frog in Nicholas’s basin of bread-and-milk; he had put it there himself, so he felt entitled to know something about it.”
Ivan Matveich is swallowed alive when he goes to see a crocodile with his wife and a friend. He finds himself quite comfortable inside the animal and refuses to come out. What follows is a hilarious story which has become a classic.
Originally published in 1865 in Russian, some words might seem confusing. For instance “arcade” is an old word used for a covered passage where people used to go for entertainment.
“Alive and well,” answered Ivan Matveitch, “and, thanks to the Almighty, swallowed without any damage whatever. I am only uneasy as to the view my superiors may take of the incident; for after getting a permit to go abroad I’ve got into a crocodile, which seems anything but clever.”
“The Nose” is a satirical story about a person named Kovalyov whose nose leaves his face and decides to have a life of its own. In a hilarious series of events, the nose actually moves above Kovalyov in official ranks and is now his senior in the government.
This was written in 1836 and it is a comment on a Russian society obsessed with social status. Just like other stories, you will read some words that are less common in modern English. “Propriety” is one such word which means to have good manners and act according to social rules.
“The nose looked at the Major and frowned a little.”
Two men kidnap a boy who turns out to be so mischievous that they ultimately return him to his father and give their own money to his family instead.
In this ironic twist, O. Henry once again creates a story that is remembered throughout generations.
“If you don’t behave,” says I, “I’ll take you straight home. Now, are you going to be good, or not?” (This was said by the kidnapper.)
This book was originally intended to be a serious memoir, but the funny elements soon took over and the writer decided to publish it as a humorous tale.
This book is about three men who take a boat ride on the river Thames in England and describe funny things they encounter throughout the journey.
Here is a full review.
“George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two.”
This novel is about Ignatius Reilly, a fat man with a funny hat. Various things happen in the story including a parrot attack, a revolt to impress a girlfriend and many accidents. This book was published after the author died and won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
As you can tell from the title, the novel is best for advanced English learners. The word “dunce” refers to a stupid person and the word “confederacy” means a union or alliance of people who agree to work together.
“I mingle with my peers or no one. And since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”
Puckoon is a novel set in 1924. That year Ireland was divided into Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. You can read the historical background here.
In the novel, the border cuts through the middle of a village named Puckoon and divides a house into two. What follows is a comical journey widely regarded as one of the best. The protagonist is so lazy that the narrator had to intervene to make sure he did something in the story.
“Many people die of thirst but the Irish are born with one.”
After reading these stories, hopefully you will not only have a good laugh but you will also be able to add a touch of humor to your English conversations.
Dhritiman Ray is a writer of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. He specializes in topics like education, psychology and lifestyle. To know more click here.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.