The Larrikin, The Legend, The Lama & The Leader: Aussies not so “Pitch Perfect” in attempt of humour

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).

Film Title: Pitch Perfect


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.


Reference List:

‘American ‘Kath & Kim’ wallpaper’ n.d., image, Fanpop, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

Appadurai, A 1996, ‘Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation’, University of Minnesota Press, India.

‘Australian Kath & Kim’ n.d., image, Thought Factory, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

Huntington, S 1993, ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, Foreign Affairs, vol.72, iss.3, p. 22–49.

Mitchell, P 2011, ‘Channel Nine’s Karl Stefanovic’s the joke across the US after bombing telling a joke to Dalai Lama’, Daily Telegraph, 16 June, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

Molloy, S 2014, ‘Karl Stefanovic’s cringeworthy moment with Barbra Streisand for the Today show in New York’,, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

‘Pizza joke falls flat with Dalai Lama’ 2011, Telegraph, 16 June, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

‘Review: Pitch Perfect Hits All The Right Notes’ 2013, The Hot Hits – Living in LA, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

‘Screenshots of Karl Stefanovic’s awkward interview with Barbra Streisand’ 2014, image,, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

Souders, BV 2009, ‘Now that I’m Home, who Am I? National Identity Negotiation Among U.S. Study Aboard Students’, University of Maryland, Baltimore Country.

‘Star Rebel Wilson in “Pitch Perfect”’ 2012, image, The Seven Sees, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

Tan, M 2012, ‘Chinese ‘tweeters’ misunderstand PM’s apocalypse message’, Daily Life, 12 December, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.

Turnbull, S 2008, ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation’, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, no.159, p.110-115.

‘US Kath and Kim ‘worse than Vegemite’ 2008,, 11 October, accessed 20 September 2014, <>.



2 thoughts on “The Larrikin, The Legend, The Lama & The Leader: Aussies not so “Pitch Perfect” in attempt of humour

  1. Pingback: Fandom far from Elementary, my dear Watson! | Giverny Witheridge

  2. Pingback: Climate change: “She’ll be right” in the sunburnt country | Giverny Witheridge

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