Beyond Words - Language Blog

Laughs in Translation: New Web Series Looks for the Funny in Every Country

Don’t let the name fool you — the new web series from comedian Brooks Wheelan is not about how one country’s comedy can be localized to suit another’s tastes. Instead, the globetrotting host – whose credits include a successful 2015 comedy album and a fleeting one-season stint on Saturday Night Live – cozies up to the locals to learn what people around the world love to laugh at.

In the first three episodes of ‘Laughs in Translation’, Wheelan travels to Denmark, Germany, and France. A healthy mix of storytelling, sightseeing, and “man on the street” type interviews accompanies each trip, and even viewers who have no particular interest in comedy will find plenty of wanderlust eye candy in the towering castles and cobblestone streets of the Old World. And if the first episode – where our host visits a well-loved Danish amusement park that boasts scatological sculptures as its chief amusement – is any indicator, there won’t be any shortage of off-the-beaten-path landmarks.

Wheelan’s own comedic interludes tend to be hit or miss, relying at times on the exact hackneyed stereotypes a project like this ought to cast aside. He starts his journey through France’s comic life by “blending in”: a baguette, a cigarette, and the obligatory explosive cough of the non-smoker. In another episode, a train ride to the German Humour Institute – a telling cultural commentary and gem of a narrative find, to be sure – prompts Wheelan to quip, “It’s crazy how proud Germany is of its trains, because they have, like, literally the worst history with trains. When we think of trains, we think of, like, the Holocaust.” The joke shows up again in another segment where, unsurprisingly, it falls flat in front of a German audience. One could dig a bit deeper, even for a cheap laugh.

Still, ‘Laughs in Translation’ can be a delightful first foray into the cultural differences inherent in what we find funny. The web series’ best moments – at least for language enthusiasts – come when Wheelan gives locals space to comment on some of the finer points of humor. A conversation with a German stand-up comedian, for example, garners a number of insights on how linguistic structure affects comedic timing. In France, a couple who have been translating American movies for more than 20 years were quick to give an example of dialogue that simply does not translate directly:

– Who wants some chocolate?
– Me!
– Me, too!
– Me, three!

‘Laughs in Translation’ may simply be a vehicle for Wheelan’s own stand-up career – or a great excuse to see more of the world – but the web series has a lot to offer viewers as they learn, laugh at, and, at times, reject some of its conclusions. You can check out ‘Laughs in Translation’ and other comedy clips and content on Above Average.

Watch the videos below:

[Note: Material may not be safe for work. Contains strong language.]