At uni, one of my assignments was to translate a piece of multimedia text from my native language into English. So I chose to translate a classic of the Spanish comics, Mortadelo y Filemón, which into English is translated as Mort & Phil. In all my years in the UK, I have never seen it so I wonder whether it is very popular if at all. But in Spain, after 60 years is still huge with its completely in your face mockery of the political situation and a very localized humour. (My mother still remembers how a good friend of the family taught her how to read and enjoy it, as she is Chilean).
As part of my research, I read the magnificent Scott McCloud’s brilliant book (graphic novel, comic, essay…) Understanding Comics, in order to grasp how communication works in this medium. I also read different papers about humour, how it works and most importantly why it works. Not discovering anything that what is funny in one part of the world does not mean that it will be in another. That is just assuming that the same joke is told in the same language. If we also need to add the language dimension, things become a lot more difficult as it becomes another tool in the box rather than a simple medium of communication. If you interpret or translate, you will most probably come around this situation. I remember being really surprised at how many elements need to be present in order to make people laugh, be it an individual or a group.
Not long ago, my dad invited me to preach at the church he leads in Madrid and one of the comments he made was that the jokes I had told had somehow missed the timing. He even told me that my Spanish was funny! (not haha funny, but the other kind) For that particular ocassion, I had translated one of my sermons into Spanish from English and the response of the original had been fairly good. (I don’t consider myself as a very funny guy but my wife says that when I speak in public, I make people laugh, so I try to introduce humour in the talks I have to do.) Having said that, I do try to keep my Spanish as fresh as possible by reading, listening to the radio, speaking, etc… as I feel that sometimes my Spanish feels a bit stagnant.
That is why I found this blog entry from Danny Wallace at Shortlist quite comforting. I do not find him particularly funny. In fact, it annoys me quite a bit the way he writes as I perceive it as a mish mash of leftie middle class with a pinch of screeching, wine and self-deprecation. Or perhaps because he reminds me too much of myself, don’t know. But I like to see how language, culture, self-awareness and the same idea can make something from mildly amusing to a complete riot, and in this particular entry, he, in his usual (annoying) style has captured so nicely.
By the way, the professor that corrected my work said that she had found my translation funny. But she was not laughing. Maybe, it is the Italian way of expressing amusement.