Channel Nine recently removed a video from its website of Karl Stefanovic’s cringeworthy interview with music legend Barbra Streisand (Molloy 2014). During the interview, the larrikin Today co-host broke into song and cracked a few jokes, with the interview described as being “awkward” with “drawn-out pauses” (Molloy 2014).
This is not the only time Stefanovic’s jokes have fallen flat with non-Australians. During an interview with the Dalai Lama in 2011, Stefanovic attempted to crack a Zen pizza joke (‘Pizza joke falls flat with Dalai Lama’ 2011). The language barrier was not the only problem (Mitchell 2011), with Stefanovic’s unique brand of humour becoming lost in translation (Molloy 2014).
The process of translating humour from one national context to another is, indeed, problematic. In the article Television Comedy in Translation, Sue Turnbull argues that humour is a culturally specific social practice that varies globally (2008, p.112). This is demonstrated through the unsuccessful American adaptation of the much-loved Australian comedy series Kath & Kim. Despite similarities to the original format in terms of plot and structure, differences in production deals, (Turnbull 2008, p.112), casting, the embodied performance of the actors (Turnbull 2008, p.114) and the role and place of irony (Turnbull 2008, p.115) led to a negative reception in Australia and American alike, with the New York Post describing it as “…the worst idea for an import from the Land Down Under since Vegemite” (‘US Kath and Kim ‘worse than Vegemite’’ 2008).
The unsuccessful translation of comedy can also present problems at a political level. For example, in 2012, Triple J posted a spoof video in which former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, “confirmed” the end of the world, with the video spreading like wildfire in China (Tan 2012). The satire was lost, however, on Chinese audiences, who expressed surprise and disbelief that the country’s most powerful leader was engaging in such larrikin behaviour (Tan 2012). While this was relatively harmless, it is important to consider the way words and images are subject to different sets of contextual conventions in their global movements, thereby creating different local meanings (Appadurai 1996, p.36). This supports the “Clash of Civilizations” theory that the future of global politics will be dominated by cultural conflict (Huntington 1993, p.22), with variations in the hearing, seeing and reading of ideoscapes across different national contexts increasing the potential for conflict (Appadurai 1996, p.37).
Further, the way national identity is strengthened through the transnational circulation of comedy (Medhurst 2007, cited in Turnbull 2008, p.112) challenges the argument that a single-state national identity is redundant in contemporary times due to global flows of culture (Appadurai 1996, cited in Souders 2009, p.50). The American musical comedy Pitch Perfect, for example, serves to construct a shared sense of Australian national identity, with Australian actress Rebel Wilson’s edgy humour understood by Australian audiences who are able to share jokes in ways which foster a sense of belonging (‘Review: Pitch Perfect Hits All The Right Notes’ 2013).
In this way, while the successful translation of comedy may be measured in terms of TV ratings and Box Office results, its representation as a microcosm of global cultural flows has broader implications for communication and conflict resolution on a macro level.
‘American ‘Kath & Kim’ wallpaper’ n.d., image, Fanpop, accessed 20 September 2014, <http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/kath-and-kim-us/images/2520171/title/kath-kim-wallpaper-wallpaper>.
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‘Screenshots of Karl Stefanovic’s awkward interview with Barbra Streisand’ 2014, image, News.com.au, accessed 20 September 2014, <http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/karl-stefanovics-cringeworthy-moment-with-barbra-streisand-for-the-today-show-in-new-york/story-e6frfmyi-1227052558261>.
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Tan, M 2012, ‘Chinese ‘tweeters’ misunderstand PM’s apocalypse message’, Daily Life, 12 December, accessed 20 September 2014, <http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/news-features/chinese-tweeters-misunderstand-pms-apocalypse-message-20121211-2b6y3.html>.
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