Defining “comedy” seems a simple enough task. Telling jokes. Being humorous. Making people laugh. However, have you ever stopped to think who gets to categorise a comic’s creative efforts as funny, as opposed to rude, inappropriate or just extremely silly?! In fact, there is no absolute King of Comedy who gets to judge the jokes. The art of being “funny” is a subjective one.
I have collected countless experiences of this phenomenon during my time living overseas, none better for illustrating this exact point than a cinema trip a group of international friends and I took just last week. The Chilean film, “Barrio Universitario”, was described by one critic as “ a hilarious comedy about friendship and rivalry, which will make you laugh out loud.” We were promised comedy gold. However, as the Chileans whooped and cheered, clearly enjoying the slapstick sketches, my friends and I turned to each other somewhat puzzled – what’s so funny?
Indeed I, personally, have found myself lost in translation many a time, and not because of a lack of understanding of the words I speak but rather of the intention behind them. Us Brits are characterised by our dry wit, but non-native speakers don’t always understand the UK’s trademark sarcasm. We’ll often come out with a statement that we don’t really mean in an attempt to be “funny”. Those who take every word at face value may be left a little confused...Yes, I guess maybe we should just say what we mean and mean what we say!
The truth is that comedy is totally linked to culture. Although we tend to think of a joke as something universal, cultural references can actually make comedy really specific. While us Brits would probably crack up laughing at a comedian poking fun at the age-old mother-in-law jokes, perhaps a foreigner would be left distinctly bewildered. Not surprising, when such cultural references are what bind a nation together and form its identity. But the question remains: Is there such thing as cross-border comedy?
Is there such thing as cross-border comedy? Can the same type of joke be funny in every country around the world?!