Lost in Translation: Comedy in a Global sense


In order for comedy to be successful in any cultural circumstance, it must firstly be understood in terms of language or context, secondly there must be some kind of break in behaviour or language that audiences can understand and relate to and thirdly what kind of cultural exclusion exist to allow or prohibit an individual form included in the joke (Turnbull, 2010, p. 96). Each culture, due to societal values, language and expectations hold a different form of appreciation for comedy (here). However, with Australian TV and comedy being a new-ish industry, our exposure to a wider content of comedy allows for a broader appreciation of other cultures humor. This is not always the case for other audience groups however.

thge-dAn example is the Office, originally an British comedy that, due to its success and wide reach wasthen remade with and American cast. Initially the new adaption stayed close to the original concepts, however, they found greater success the further the moved away. This series found success due to the differences in the adaptions but also because of the core concept of the show: it wasn’t commenting on specific ‘had-to-be-there’ culturally functioning.

This then asks us to highlight a potential cultural failure in a global sense: Kath and Kim. The Australian show took audiences by storm, receiving an average 1 mill viewers per week (2002). It was through the crude references to Australian slang and just plain cringe-worthy attire that made an Australian audience want more; mostly because the pair felt like our estranged, awkward family. The point of the show was to demonstrate a purely over-the-top expression on Australian culture and it for that reason that international audieces simply did not get the joke. However, once again seeing the success the show received, American producers decided to create their own version of the ‘terrible-two’. The format was simply put, a flop, simply due to that fact they were scared to actually make the actors the butt of the joke. There was too much glitzy and glamour and not enough “It’s noiice, it’s differen, it’s un-ewe-sual.”


There is however a way in which comedy can travel successfully across cultural borders and that is when the subject matter and contexts are easily espressed globally. It is for that reason that the 1984-1994 Australian comedy “Mother and Son” gained international recognition as well as numeroius adaptions. Focussing on the relationship between an aging mother and her doting son, the series was relatable to many despite language barriers as it did not rely on cultural factors, but instead an intrinsic human nature.

To see how hour in general gets lost in translation check out this article by kwintessential UK.

Turnbull, S. 2008, ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation, The Australian Teachers of Media Inc, St Kilda.

Turnbull, S (2010) ‘The long tail of mother and son: the transnational career of an Australian situation comedy’. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 134, pp. 96.


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