Picture this: you’re at work and you head over to the printer to collect your printing and there’s a bit of a line-up of people waiting for the printer to finish and one of these people is your slightly attractive boss, and the others are a few young women in your team. As you all watch him in awe of his pure perfection he says “Geez, this is like Pitt Street at 5pm” – everyone erupts in laughter and you find yourself laughing as well, not because its funny, but because your extremely attractive boss said it – you laughed to belong.
This notion of belonging is a key contributor in the realm of comedy and its translation across cultures.
“Comedy doesn’t travel”
– Sue Turnbull
Of course, the people behind the American appropriation of Australia’s classic ‘Kath and Kim’ did not know this – and that is why the American version did not even come close to the success of the Australian one.
When unpacked further, the notion of comedy and humor can be pinned to two key theories; the first, developed by Susan Purdie, explores comedy through the distinction of rules. These ‘rules’ surrounding social, cultural or political standpoints are defined within society and it is not until they are broken, that you laugh. Therefore when Kim brings home a interestingly designed tower of baby cheeses when Kath actually meant baby Jesus, you laugh, because a rule of language was broken.
Secondly, during his time, Sigmund Freud assessed the role of the joke and specified three key roles in the process – the teller, the listener, and the butt.
Emphasising the butt, Freud defined this role as the individual, group or object not physically present, but present within the joke. Some may call this ridicule, or simply making fun of someone or something, but this theory specifies the criteria that needs to be followed to ensure that the translation of comedy is done successfully – something missed with the American adaptation of Kath and Kim because there was a definite lack of irony, as in the Australian version, there is a distinct difference between how the character perceives themselves and how the actually are – this distinction is not evident within the American version.
(Image Source: News.com)
When translating comedy a key issue can be the cultural, moral or ethical codes and how the show has to be molded to fit these codes. A specific example of this is the Iranian version of popular American show ‘Modern Family’ transformed into ‘Haft Sang’ (arabic for seven stones). The Iranian version culturally adapts as “…alcoholic drinks cannot be depicted in these shows, nor can boy-girl friendships” (A. Harris), another significant adaptation is with the characters, “Phil and Claire are now Mohsen and Leila; children Luke and Alex are Shaahin and Shadi. Haley is now a teenage boy named Amir. Nasir and Mehri take the place of Jay and Gloria, and Hamed is their son in place of Manny. Mitchell and Cam are now Behrooz and Elham, a husband and wife who are unable to have children due to Behrooz’s infertility” (A. Harris).
(Image Source: Haft Sang)
Harris, A. 2014. The story behind that Iranian version of Modern Family. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/07/03/modern_family_in_iran_the_story_behind_haft_sang_an_adaptation_of_the_u.html. Accessed 17 September 2014.