The joker is me

This long running satirical ‘faux-interview’ simply titled Clarke and Dawe embodies all the characteristics that would seemingly make it impossible to translate to a global audience.

The most obvious of these would be that the characters being played and unabashedly mocked are representations of Australian political figures. The issues being discussed, while perhaps bearing resemblance to other democratic occurrences, are of course most relevant and specific to the current political climate in Australia.

Unless foreign audiences have a rather in-depth knowledge of Australian politics and its key players, the irony and cringe-worthy hilarity of Clarke and Dawe‘s ‘political’ bumbling will be misconstrued. Without prior knowledge of our esteemed politicians’ justifications for their actions, the ‘joke’ that lies in the difference between the characters perception of themselves and how the audience perceives them to be is lost (Turnbull 2008, p. 115). Indeed, as a child with an unacceptably negligible understanding of politics, I thought that Clarke and Dawe was just another news program and quickly changed the channel to The Angry Beavers. In conclusion, someone watching Clarke and Dawe in America or Venezuela simply wouldn’t ‘get it’.

So, is it safe to say that every country should just stick to what they know and refuse to export or import cross-cultural comedy material?

Critics of the newly Americanised Kath & Kim would shout a resonating yes, as the adapted version has lost the “space for irony” which is the key ingredient for rip-snorting laughter (Turnbull 2008, p. 115).

Yet the international success of other Australian programs such as Mother and Son would suggest that it is possible for home-grown comedies to keep their ‘funniness’ intact when viewed and adapted globally (Turnbull, 2010, p. 101).

Mother and Son humorously employs themes relating to dysfunctional middle-class families, issues surrounding age and a 40-something mummy’s boy straining to escape the loving stranglehold of his diabolical mother. The creator of the program, Geoffrey Atherden, has pointed out that such themes and culturally specific references are the easiest elements of comedy to translate and replace when adapting a show for other countries (Turnbull 2010, p. 104). Instead, Atherden theorises that it is the tone, supported by the performance and inferences of the actors, which can complicate the successful translation of humour, and indeed did dial down the laughs in reaction to the UK adaptation of Mother and Son, Keeping Mum (Turnbull 2010, p.104).

Then why, despite seeming to fail in producing a cross-culturally competent comedy, has Mother and Son seen sales success in translation and adaptation from the UK, to South America and on to the Middle East? The most plausible answer is in the universality of the programs themes, or in fact its format (Turnbull 2010, p. 106). While a lot can often be lost in translation, and the subtleties of humour that ‘make’ the program often are, the basic structure of events or ideas that can be considered ‘funny’, do have universal roots.

When finding a foreign parallel for Clarke and Dawe, one might look to the American Colbert Report, and see a similar format. Stephen Colbert shamelessly pokes fun at American politicians by playing the character of a rather extremely politically inclined reporter. This satirical approach with often subtle references leaves the audience in stitches (that have just healed after watching Clarke and Dawe) and keeps them just a little confused about how serious Colbert is being.

In the end, there’s always a joker, and he follows the rules.

Refer to the References:

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, pp. 110-115.

Turnbull, S 2010, ‘The Long Tail of Mother and Son: The Transnational Career of an Australian Situation Comedy’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 134, pp. 96.


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