This blog’s topic examines television comedy in translation. For our lecture concerning this topic, guest lecturer, Professor Sue Turnbull presented her research, findings and opinions on the topic. Professor Sue Turnbull also wrote the accompanying set reading which explores the difficult process of exporting and adapting Australian comedy and what factors make for successful comedic translation in different global markets. So, based on these resources, the question I will attempt to address today is:
Why do some comedy’s travel better than others?
When addressing this topic, we looked at Susan Purdie’s comedy theory. In my further reading, I can across another article by Sue, ‘LOOK AT MOIYE, KIMMIE, LOOK AT MOIYE!’: KATH AND KIM AND THE AUSTRALIAN COMEDY OF TASTE in which she directly quotes Purdie’s explaination of the theory:
“…funniness involves at once breaking rules and ‘marking’ that break, so that correct behaviour is implicitly instated; yet in transgressing and recognising the rules, jokers take power over rather than merely submitting to them.”
Comedy is dependent on the breaking of social rules. Our laughter signals that we can, and have, recognised the break. But in order to recognise that social rules have been broken, we need to understand what these rules are. This gives light to the cultural specificity of comedy and explains why translating television comedy from one national context to another is so difficult.
As this was my group’s topic for the Group Presentation assessment, I researched Australian comedy series Kath & Kim in detail. Kath & Kim premiered in Australia on 16 May 2002 and soon became one of ABC’s highest rated shows. This led to it being picked up by Channel 7 in 2007. The show was not just a success in Australia but was also a big success in the UK. This may be because the UK is familiar with the Australian sense of humour and the settings in which we present it- such as suburbia, and this makes the comedy easier to export and translate.
After the successful adaptation of the American The Office, there were high hopes for an American remake of Kath & Kim. Like the Office, the American Kath & Kim was adapted by Greg Daniels in association with Reveille Production and NBC Universal Television Studios. In 2008, America’s own Kath & Kim was premiered. Upon close compassion, the first episode of the American Kath & Kim largely resembles the first episode of the Australian version, in terms of plot, dialogue and structure.
However, the American Kath & Kim was vastly unpopular in American and also in overseas countries such as Australia. Part of the joke of the Australian series is that the actors made an effort to exaggerate their worse features. Kim imagines herself as a size 10, ‘horn-bag’, when in reality Gina Riley is a forty-plus size sixteen, voluptuous woman. In the American version, Kim is played by 36-year-old, size 8, Selma Blair, a beautiful, young, slim actress. This removes the irony from the character. And this is what Sue suggests in the set reading, that what has been seriously lost in translation is the irony that makes the Australian version of the show as comedic as it is. Sue also says “…Kath & Kim have been slimmed down, toned up and ironed flat for American network television because this is what an American audience wants and expects from a sitcom” (Turnbull 2014, p.115).
The successful translation of a comedy not only depends on the translation of the cultural context (such as Fountain Lakes to Florida), but also the kinds of production deals that are made, the casting, the performance, and the expectations of the audience.
Turnbull, S (2014), ‘Local Television in Global Context’, BCM111 2014, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 10 September.
Turnbull, S (2008) ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation’, Metro Magazine Issue 159 Dec.
Turnball, S (2004), ‘”Look at Moiye, Kimmie, Look at Moiye!”: Kath and Kim and the Australian Comedy of Taste’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No.113, Nov, <http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=008540568640410;res=IELLCC>.