26 March 2008
To what extent does humor vary from one culture to the next? You must know at least as well as anyone, even within the same demographic, what a hit and miss concept it can be. There may be a joke with local New York area reference that goes down well with the studio audience, yet would pretty much miss the mark with the majority of viewers in other parts of the nation. While there is no particular magic ingredient that triggers the laughter reflex, perhaps by putting enough funny people together in one place, and shaking it up from enough angles, eventually somebody comes up with something to laugh at. How diverse are the sources you get your talent from?
While kidding around with someone is generally seen as a form of acceptance in Anglo Saxon culture, in some cases, such an insult could be perceived as fighting words. Each year this same misunderstanding had to be worked out the first evening of the annual exchange with the English apprentices. My job responsibility had expanded by default beyond interpreter to chaperone, spending the night at the dorm or hotel to be called on at any hour to diffuse potential tragedy or help someone get chewed out in two languages at once. One of the first phrases on a survival sheet I prepared was "please don't kill me", particularly useful the second week when we all went up to Liverpool, with the chance to go out and experience the legendary nightlife.
When you hear from President Sarkozy, my experience could prove invaluable in making the best of such a situation, so even if it goes wrong, you can put the blame on me. There are many potential new markets where English may not be the native language, but there is a great desire to better master it. There could be an international cable network offering certain shows mixed in with interactive explanation. With the endless ways words can be crafted, all too often they tend to get in the way. Between funny bones, there is no language barrier.
The occasional voice over job involved rewriting copy in both languages for a more parallel translation and straight forward sales pitch. In a kitchenware section somewhere, a video may be showing a little man being swirled around the bottom of a frying pan to demonstrate its non-stick virtues, using my voice. The image remains long after the words are forgotten.
A picture's worth a thousand words,