Laughter as a global matter

Laughter is an essential action which indicates a sense of joy within one’s self. Comedy can act as a sort of remedy to a broken-heart, depression or can simply act as a distraction from real life situations. However, comedy (particularly television and film) often features cultural characteristics from their respective countries. But if these shows or films are adapted by industries from different countries, the comedy may fail to connect.

In the fall of 2008, American network NBC launched its ill-fated remake of the cult Australian comedy television series “Kath and Kim”. The remake was extremely badly received and was consequently cancelled after the first season. So, why exactly did Kath and Kim fail in the U.S.? Brian Lowry in Variety suggests that ‘something had been seriously lost in translation’. And he may be right. Sue Turnbull (2008) suggests that the principal factor which has been lost in translation “is the role and place of irony”, particularly the way a character perceives themselves to be as opposed to the way the audience does. Furthermore, The Los Angeles Times critiques the show as it “can’t decide what it’s satirising”. The NBC remake of “Kath and Kim” is a prime example of the way comedy can fail to connect due to lack of cultural understanding. However, there are examples of successful U.S. remakes of foreign shows such as The Office and Ugly Betty. The reason, I believe, behind the success of The Office is due to the showrunner’s (Greg Daniels) understanding of the humour that made the original show so popular. Daniels managed to maintain the awkward, almost uncomfortable humour from the original, whilst integrating different cultural contexts in order to make it relatable for U.S. audiences. It is in this respect that the U.S. remake of The Office worked so well.

In conclusion, comedy adaptations are a very risky move. They can either fail enormously (Kath & Kim) or can be highly successful (The Office). The one element which differentiates the two is cultural understanding. Without cultural understanding, comedy often finds itself lost in translation.

References:

Turnbull, S (2004) ‘Look at Moiye, Kimmie, look at moiye’: Kath and Kim and the Australian comedy of taste’. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 113, pp. 98 – 109

Lowry,B 2008, ‘Kath & Kim’, Variety, 9 October 2008, http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117938594.html?categoryid=32&cs=1

McNamara, M 2008, ‘Mama Kath’s nest is invaded by a baby’, LA Times, 9 October 2008, http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/09/entertainment/et-kathandkim9

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