Does humor always need to be translated to make sense to a global audience?

Professor Turnbull asked us at the end of her ‘Television in translation’ lecture. A really engaging question which made me consider many aspects of TV shows and comedies. Firstly, I thought to the rule of dubbing and how it can make a good translation which is able both to preserve the genuinity of the original language and humor and make it clear to a different speaking audience. Furthermore, it came to my mind an example of an american TV show, the irriverent “Jersey Shore” which is quite popular in my country. The dubbing of this show is made up of a lot of ‘BIIP’ sounds to cover bad words but also of typical italian common sayings, in order to make the show as italianized as possible.

There are so many american and british TV series and shows in our show schedule! My favourite is “Castle” (the beauty and charm of Richard Castle – Nathan Filion is easy to translate in every part of the world!). As Sue Turnbull argues, indeed, “successful comedies depends not only on the performance, but also on the body of the performer”.  I do belive that the rule of dubbers in translating this TV serie is absolutely fantastic and effective!


It is hard to translate local humor at large. I was just reminding some italian movies and shows whose humor is our culture and habits well-established. There are some movies and shows, for example, which are based on north and south of Italy differences which can be understood just by local people. This is the reason for which they cannot be translated and exported. Checco Zalone’s movies and shows are just coming to my mind. Who is he? He is an italian lawyer and comedian who became famous for his parodies and performances at ‘Zelig’, which is an italian cabaret. Four years ago he played the rule of protagonist in his first movie, “Cado dalle nubi”, which hit it big! I’d like to share with you a small part of this movie (you can find the translation of the song Checco Zalone performes in the video’s description).


Homosexuality is a very common humorous theme in our TV shows and movies mostly because there are still many prejudices in our culture and misinformation as well. The language employed by Checco is a typical italian slang and it is so hard to convey it in different languages! The translation provided, indeed, is not so accurate, so maybe you are not laughing like me!

By the way, there is also another great italian and global talent, the Florentin Roberto Benigni. His movies and shows are translated in many different languages and he is the portrait of our genuine culture and customs which give us still some reasons to berg and be pride of!

This is a video from his TV show ‘Tutto Dante’, which is about Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divina Commedia’. In this video, Roberto Benigni gives us a universal definition of love and culture. A really moving moment!




Turnbull, Sue, ‘Television comedy in translation’, in Metro Magazine 159, pp. 111-115

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