Sense of humour in Thailand

Hello everyone,

Should we set out to explore Thai's culture through its sense of humour? Indeed, if one is planning to settle in the country, it is best to understand the cultural codes governing humour in order to avoid any faux-pas.

What is special about the sense of humour in Thailand?

Is it acceptable to joke about any situations?

What is typically funny and what is absolutely not funny?

Are there any popular comedians in Thailand and how would one be able to discover them (stand-up shows, festivals, internet, etc.)?

What is the funniest joke you have heard in Thailand?

Please share your experience,


No one?  It hasn't been posted here so long yet.  I'm definitely not as clear as I could be on the Thai sense of humor but having lived here for almost 12 years I have some thoughts on how some expression is different than where I'm from (the US).

It doesn't reduce down to just the one form but any discussion needs to address that some television shows focus on slapstick type comedy,  and use sound effects for emphasis, for example the "sprung spring" sound, a "boing" sound, or however that goes.  Forms of humor always span a range, in any culture, and this is only one form, which I guess could be regarded as "lower."  In the US there are television shows themed around showing clips of people falling down on ice or crashing on a bike or whatever; that works as an example of a more basic form there.  These examples don't mean that Thai or US humor is stupid, only that different people have different sensibilities.

Thais like word-play, seeing it as funny to play on double-meanings of words.  I remember when I first moved here my aunt wanted me to try to tell a joke at our wedding, roughly to state in Thai that "I love fat people," which doubles as a reference to saying that I love my wife who is fat, so it would be funny, because it could mean two different things.  I wasn't up to trying Thai language jokes that didn't seem funny to me.  It's more acceptable to comment on people's weight here, which eventually could overlap with the theme of humor, but in general you can just say someone put on weight if you want to, and it can be serious, a normal observation.

I'm not as clear on higher forms of humor, what would map onto what I think is funny better.  My own sense of humor isn't a good guideline for what is funny in my own culture either; to me sometimes things are funny because they make no sense.  Once when I was younger I was watching Futurama (one of my favorite animation comedies) with my parents, and it was odd how it would've taken as long as the show itself to explain why the different references were supposed to be funny.  I think they had a vague idea of why less than half might be funny to someone else, but wasn't to them.

At one point in his development my son said that he couldn't "do" humor in English, that it was too unfamiliar to him.  That was maybe around 2 or 3 years ago, so when he was 7 or 8.  It's an odd idea, that someone could be raised as a product of two cultures, as completely bi-lingual, and at that particular age not "get" humor in one of the languages and cultural contexts.  Especially since he's always watched more cartoons in English than in Thai, so he's been exposed to more individual expressions of humor in that context.

One might think I'd be clearer on how a joke differs in Thai language and within Thai humor, having been here that long.  I'm far less clear on that for not being fluent in Thai; I can do some basic communicating but can't really use humor in that language.  In context something I say could seem funny to others but I can't really tell jokes.  Related to Thai humor I seem right about where my parents were with Futurama; I can sort of see why less than half of what I understand others seeing as funny might be funny, it's just not really funny to me.

Thai girl call hers English boyfriend with bad news. "Tilac my Papa go take coconut but fall from top of tree" "Very Bad accident"

Her boyfriend has a very good heart and immediately says call an ambulance and send him to the best hospital and don't worry I will pay the he badly hurt?

Oh Papa he ok but but he land on Buffalo and Buffalo dead...Papa say can you send yo 50,000 Baht for new Buffalo?

Apart from the appalling Thai movies and TV shows with the infantile sounds effects (aimed at rural Thais) I don't think the Thai sense of humour is any different to any other part of the world. The only time I saw Thais struggle with foreign humour was when I saw Austin Powers and Zoolander, which is a very specific type of humour that not everyone gets.

Noel Coward once remarked that " You can't tell jokes to foreigners." By that I took him to mean that many jokes are language based as a play on words or double meanings. So to share a joke like that with someone who is not fully fluent with the " meanings behind words " rather than the actual words is a recipe for failure as a transnational comedian.  And many joke themes really do get lost in translation. How do you translate limerick for example?
At least this was what I soon learnt on my world travels.

That is why sight gags work better in most languages. In my experience of working and living here the ordinary Thai sense of humour seems to be very " earthy" That is the bulk of the population had its  origins in farming life and so a little,bit of light smut is understood.

Learning Thai was made easier because i seemed to remember the smutty words as well as comparative terms  such as big and little more easily. My linguistic mistakes were legendary but always greeted with a friendly chuckle of enjoyment and a gentle correction. " Don't say that in polite company only in the market." 

As for jokes about prominent people and current affairs discretion is critical. A mis placed joke might be seen as an insult or undue criticism of a sensitive topic.  I always let the local person make the first move in that area. Telling a funny story about yourself is often the best way to start as it puts everyone else at ease.

So if you want to be funny to a Thai person don't use high language which will probably baffle them but precede your speech with " Oh hor! " then make a simple observation about what it is that is funny. if your subject is obvious then the joke has a good chance of succeeding.
As always timing is crtitical.
Good luck.

As he has got older Mike Myers is the most unwatchable clown I have ever seen. Great in Wayne's Word and good voice work on Shrek but Austin Powers is more childish than anything I have ever seen. Some things like "The Brink" with Jack Black are stupid but hilarious but AP is just sill.

Shrek save his career after the role was refused by someone else. He made the Love Guru which was  a massive flop now he is making AP4 I see. I pity anyone investing in that sure to be a disaster movie.

My English is good so I can understand most. I even understand Billy Connolly because he talks like my BF.

He is a very funny guy but my friends just look and stare and can't understand a word he says

How many Farang can understand Thai enough to get the jokes. About 2% if you are lucky

I am a teacher here in Bangkok. I found Thai people very funny with a sense of humor as you hear their laugh loudly, telling jokes (I think so) as among friendly gatherings and at the same time very serious and hardly keep talking to a foreigner.
Bangkok is one the most visited cities in the world but with very conservative and traditional people. They are nice, kind and hospital but maybe because of less proficiency in English or foreign languages not very sociable or as a very common statement SHY. But as long as trust in you, never give up talking to you.
The flag of Thailand is their triangle holiness: Religion Nationality and Royal family hence, it is the red line!

Oh my gf father buffalo was 100,000฿ and he only have head ache.

It's not only Thais that can't understand a Scotsman who speaks in a cross of English and Scottish Gaelic to most only English speakers.

Saheed81 you say you are an English teacher in Bangkok, I do hope you correct your spelling to the students. I believe the word describing Thai people you used "hospital" was meant to be "  hospitable " have a great day.

Austin Powers is primarily targeting the male audience and the tolerant female audience.  For men the style of humor being targeted is two fold.  It makes fun of men for being complete morons, insensitive chauvinists, and egotists.  A certain group of men identify with the chauvinist humor which is actually mocking men, and the other identify with the humor for its backhanded humor.  Meaning men are being mocked for stupidity in historical abhorrent behavior that is today completely unacceptable.     A very small group of women find Austin Powers funny.  Definitely not the feminist.  If Austin Powers was to be opening for the first time in 2019, it would fail miserably as what is acceptable in terms of humor has changed a lot.  Humor exploiting females in a very over the top fashion is not seen as acceptable in anyway these days.  If one is male and part of a small group that derives humor in mocking the male chauvinist it hits a humor vector, or low IQ/EQ as the man actually thinks Austin Powers' behavior is acceptable today.   The biggest problem  with the movie's humor today is that some men actually identify with the behavior exhibited as acceptable, and that is where it really annoys people.  Propogating appreciation of humor derived feom sensitive topics in any way is risky.  That said, some topics, however uncomfortable need to be discussed.  It isn't such a bad thing but it pushes a lot of sensitive buttons for those who deeply resent the topic despite the fact it is making fun of a stereo typical male from an era when men had a  tendency to take advantage of their role in society.  Some still do today and hence the resentment.  So don't feel bad if it isn't funny to you as a women, or a highly sensitive feminist male.   It was an era movie making fun of men through a sensitive topic and its humor is lost on many then and now.  An attempt at humor is just a vehicle for a message.  Timing is everything and this movies time has past.

And what has outdated humour got todo with Thailand, as you said Powers was liked by many and hated by others. Never really made the money that they wanted in the western world and never made it into the Asian world so it drifted off with Waynes World.

Outdated humor is relevant for any country consumed with learning the culture of other countries through film or other medium.  Whats hot and what's not helps direct ones attention  and speed the learning curve on humor and pop culture of a particular county's culture.

Thai culture is packed with humor and it is very nuanced and doesn't necessarily always have to have an analogy to a farm animal or superstition. I work with Thai all day and I can tell you their style of humor is quite entertaining and has depth.  They love sarcasm and glorification of an opposite to ridicule humorously without being mean.  They definitely appreciate American humor which tends to be a bit less dry and cutting in comparison to say British humor.  As long as jokes don't make use of big words or colloquial expressions, Thai people get it and laugh hard at most genre of jokes. 

As far as Austin Powers goes, its a comedic work of art for the era and I still find it funny as hell.

Now at this is funny.

If you find religious jokes offensive don't look

Barry343 wrote:

It's not only Thais that can't understand a Scotsman who speaks in a cross of English and Scottish Gaelic to most only English speakers.

I tried to get my BF to help me answer you as I don't understand what a gailic is but he was busy  but did say tell him to go and "bile his heed" I think that means stick your head in a pot of hot water:0). He is very proud of being Scotland are you England?

Barry343, you're right. I meant "hospitable". Sorry
Thank you and I do appreciate it. :)

saeed81 wrote:

Barry343, you're right. I meant "hospitable". Sorry
Thank you and I do appreciate it. :)

Indeed Saeed81, are a definitely a gentleman,....and a scholar.:top:

A very important Scottish christian died in Khao Yai. His first loves were his Thai wife the sight of the hills and trees in the area just after rainfall. Being important his family was granted permission for him to be buried in a plot high up in the National Park the first day it rained after he had passed away.
On the night before the funeral the closest relations visited the open coffin all saying their goodbyes but during the even the youngest grand child came running out screaming he sneezes he sneezed.

They settled the child down telling her sometimes wind trapped in a body can cause strange event like that it was nothing to worry about.

The next day a horse drawn hearse arrived with 4 black stallions the coffin mounted on the back and they set off up the steep winding road.

Half way up an almighty barking noise followed by a sneeze was heard and the horses reared up and the coffin went flying out the back onto the wet road and shot back down the hill a faster than a bullet

Flying round corners it got faster and faster to eventually it flew out the front gate straight across the rood and smashed straight through the local pharmacy window,

The body popped up and a voice said "HI missus have ye anything to stop this caughin"