Television in Translation: The Comedy of Culture

[WARNING: The content of the video clips linked to this blog contain strong coarse language, sexual references and adult themes. These clips are not recommended for children under 15 years of age]

Television. We all watch it. There are many different television channels and programs. This is due to the variety of interests people have all around the globe. People want to be entertained and Television bestows this gift go entertainment. People like certain television programs and dislike others. There are many different genres of entertainment including comedy, drama, action, adventure and soap opera, etc. That is why channels exist, to suit different peoples’ entertainment needs, if someone doesn’t like a television program they have the ability change channel until they find a program that entertains them. Comedy is a very popular genre. However, humour is incredibly subjective. What is hilarious to one person might be extremely insulting to another. Humour also varies depending on culture. For example, British Humour is substantially different to American Humour as demonstrated in the Article “The Difference Between American And British Humour”, by Ricky Gervais.

British comedian, actor and script-writer, Ricky Gervais, has a rich history of comedy and is renowned for his role as David Brent in the hit television series “the office”. In this article, Gervais claims that British humour has a heavy emphasis on irony and sarcasm whereas American humour has less of an emphasis on those attributes. “the office”, as an example, originated as a British comedy and was so popular that it was then adopted by the Americans. Due to cultural differences in humour, many aspects of the show were changed. Characters in the American version were less cynical and nasty. They still maintained similar qualities of characters from the original show, however the humour of the show was slightly shifted in order to fit the entertainment requirements of the American audience. The video clips below highlight these differences:  In the case of “the office”, this transition worked rather well as both series are held in high regard by audiences all around the world. However this is not always the case.

Over the years, many television programs have been adopted and adapted by different countries. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they do not. An example of a television series that did not work is the hit British Comedy “The Inbetweeners”. Unlike “the office”, “The Inbetweeners” is well known for is crude and ridiculously inappropriate humour. As a British series, it was a huge success. So popular in fact, that it went on to produce two films. Due to popular demand, an American adaptation of “The inbetweeners” was created….it was very unsuccessful and did not take off at all. The difference in humour can be demonstrated in the video clips below: 

Hence, sometimes it is difficult for humour to be transferred across to different cultures.

Therefore, Television is designed to entertain. Comedy is an aspect of entertainment. Humour is subjective. Culture has a profound affect upon humour and the television Series’ I have discussed in this blog have demonstrated this. In this youtube clip below, Stephen Fry further discusses the difference between American and British Humour.


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