Comedy and comedians can be offensive?

“Humour, and thus comedy formats, most drama, relying as it does on some unavoidable specificities of character and place, and of course the vast bulk of news and current affairs, remain stubbornly resistant to exploitation in a multiplicity of markets” (Cunningham and Jacka 1996: 249) The ever occurring problem for comedy is that different individual interprets and perceives the joke differently. On the other hand, the translation of the joke through a comedy show might also be lost in meaning or misunderstood by different individuals.

The first example I’m going to use is a viral YouTube clip from a TV show called “The Offensive Translator” by Catherine Tate, an English comedian that worked on a comedy series called The Catherine Tate Show.


The geographical and cultural references and also the audiences’ taste might be the dominant reason why most comedy is lost in translation or it is being perceived as offensive and stereotypical. From the YouTube video, it is obvious that the CEOs from different backgrounds were offended by their facial expression and body language when Catherine Tate as Helen Marsh “tries” to translate English into various languages.

Audiences may find it offensive and racist too as she speaks in a way that stereotypes the way of other culture speaks. For example, when Helen Marsh tries to speak in Italian, she uses the hand gestures that is cliché and stereotypes how Italian speak (in a rude way). It is the way how Helen Marsh mimics the tone and sound of a certain language in a culture that appears as a joke and funny to certain audiences while it might spark awareness between audiences that find it offensive.


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(Picture source)

The second example will be Kath and Kim, an Australian television comedy that is character driven. This show was remade in an American version in 2008 but only lasted for 17 episodes and the show was cancelled after. What’s the reason of its major success in the UK and Australia but failed to translate for American audiences? Is it because it failed to capture the translation of suburban spirit and humour were not captured by the American audiences? (Idato, M 2014) The answer is yes.

There were successful international adaptions made by UK’s comedy, The Office and Columbia’s Ugly Betty but unfortunately not for Kath and Kim. So does Americans do not get the joke? Or is it NOT funny at all? (Turnbull, S 2014)

“Comedy after all, is a cultural and social practice that is both shaped by and contributes to historical conjunctures; it pivots on contested and ambivalent relationships to power; it constitutes a repository of symbols that can be drawn on to indicate how, where and why people place themselves” (Medhurst, A 2007)



Idato, M 2014, “Kath & Kim on Hulu in the US after remake failed”, The Sydney Morning Herald: Entertainment, 12th September, viewed 19th September, <–kim-on-hulu-in-the-us-after-remake-failed-20140912-10fuhm.html&gt;

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

Turnbull, S (2014) “Television in Translation Week 7”, Lecture slides, BCM111 International Media and Communication, University of Wollongong, viewed 19th September 2014, <;


About Vivyan Foo

19 years young. Internet, EDM & Food 🙌
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