Why isn’t the Koala a Real Bear?

Because it doesn’t have the right koalafications.

Sharing this joke with a group of mates in your local Aussie pub may see you escape shouting the next round of drinks, depending on how well your friends respond to the stereotypical pun. However if the same joke were to be repeated in, say Spain, you might see yourself greeted by the awkward silence of a bewildered crowd… and be lucky to escape the second coming of La Tomatina initiated by the bemused locals.

Comedy and humour are culturally specific. Whilst a person slipping on a banana peel is universally accepted as amusing, the more subtle and unique humour encapsulated within a comedy show from a specific country cannot be so easily translated across cultures. As Susan Purdie explains in her book Comedy: the Mastery of Discourse , comedy finds its niche in breaking rules of language and behaviour.  While all cultures may laugh at the same ‘rule’, such as the slapstick hilarity of the banana peel scenario, in many cases these ‘rules’ are context specific.

Kim's 'hornbag' looks were lost in translation by casting Selma Blair as Kim in the US version.

Kim’s ‘hornbag’ looks were lost in translation by casting Selma Blair as Kim in the US version.

Kath and Kim typifies a failed attempt to export a local Australian comedy series. Many key points of humour in the show fell short of laughs in the ‘copycat’ American version. For example, while self-proclaimed ‘hornbag’ Kim (played by Gina Riley) suffered constant jibes from her mother about her ‘muffin top’ in the Australian series, the irony of this situation was lost in translation by casting slender Selma Blair as Kim in the US version.

However, when the FORMAT of a comedy show, rather than the program in its entirety, is exported and adapted to suit another culture, the result can be very different.

Satirical panel game comedy show Good News Week was a huge success in Australia during both of its two runs between 1996 and 2012. Hosted by comedian Paul McDermott, the show drew its humour from Australian current affairs, topical news issues and important media and political figures.  Here is a typical example of McDermott’s opening monologue, in which he cleverly summarises the news of the week, in this case- Julia Gillard taking over leadership of the Labour Party in 2010.

With jabs and jibes specific to Australian culture, it is little wonder this show was well received, averaging a rating of 7.5/10 over its airtime.

Many people are unaware that Good News Week was originally based on British satirical panel game show Have I Got News for You which remains one of the leading television shows in British comedy to this day. Broadcast for over 40 complete series, the program was the first collective act to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 British Comedy Awards. Once again, this show drew its humour from current affairs, however in this scenario, from issues relevant to Britons.

While comedy and humour remain generally remain unique to a culture, it appears that the FORMAT of comedy is a product that, just as with many cultural forms, adheres to the modern notion of ‘glocalisation’, of fashioning a universal product to local preferences. Perhaps your safest bet in Spain would be a bull joke. They are usually well herd.

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