'Laughs In Translation' With Brooks Wheelen Travels The Globe To Find Out What's Funny Around The World — VIDEO
There is something wonderfully unifying about finding humor in the same thing as another person — to know that, despite any differences you might have, you laugh at the same weird stuff. But what's funny around the world? Does comedy's unifying quality translate between countries? With those questions (and undoubtedly many more) in mind, Above Average's webseries Laughs in Translation has tasked American comedian and TV personality Brooks Wheelan with traveling the globe to determine if there is any commonality to what makes people laugh.
America clearly has no shortage of extremely talented (read: really frickin' hilarious) comedians. From Steve Martin to Steve Carell, Betty White to Amy Schumer, Rain Pryor to Kate McKinnon, American comedians have managed to find success and launch careers making people laugh from the stand-up stage to the big and small screens. So, yeah, we consider ourselves a pretty funny country, I suppose. As for whether or not other countries find us funny, well, that's precisely what Wheelan is setting out to discover. In order to do so, he'll be traveling all over the world to meet with comedians from different countries, pick locals' brains about what people in their country find funny, and even giving regional humor abroad the ol' college try.
Here's a glimpse at how things played out for Wheelan in the first three countries he traveled to on his comedy pilgrimage. Suffice it to say, his experiences are worth a watch.
Arriving in Paris, Wheelan admits that Americans have a few preconceived notions about France — one, that they are pretentious, and two, that they hate Americans. After discovering American sitcoms are hugely popular in France, though, he decides perhaps the French do like Americans at least a little. And this inkling is confirmed by Studio Bagel comedians and writers Marion Seclin and Kevin Razy, who admit that despite the negative stereotypes of America, "If both we could live there, we'd totally go forever."
So when Seclin asks Wheelan if he wants to take part in a Studio Bagel skit that night, he feels at least marginally confident. Until, that is, he's informed by head writer "Mr. Octopus" that he'll be playing the part of a farmer forced to let aliens "jack off" in his eyes. Erm, ha ha? So it turns out France doesn't hate everything about America and there comedy is, well, markedly un-pretentious or, as Wheelan puts it, "Aliens ejaculating on farmers is pretty far from chic and sophisticated."
Given that a recent international poll ranked Germany as the least funny nation in the world coupled with a troubled past, it seems a safe assumption there isn't much Germans would find a laughing matter. To get a better grasp of what the country finds funny, Wheelan heads to the one place everything is a laughing matter — the German Humor Institute. And, real talk, it's entirely fascinating. What Wheelan learns is that Germans love structure and exaggeration, but aren't big fans of sarcasm or jabs about their difficult history. They also apparently really dig flowcharts and graphs.
Sensing that Germany's authentic comedy could be found in the stand-up scene, Wheelan taps local favorite Manuel Wolf to offer some insight, and what he explains is alarmingly logical. When it comes to comedy, Wolf says, "With German sentence structure, it's more difficult." Essentially, it forces the comedian to reveal the punchline in the middle of a sentence as opposed to the end. Ahh! Well, that and Germans "don't have a sense of humor," jokes Wolf. Although the warm reception and hearty laughter Wheelan receives later doing a stand-up gig in Berlin proves the country is moving into a "much brighter, funnier future."
Wheelan's visit to Denmark is enough to give anyone wanderlust — not just because the country is consistently ranked as the happiest in the world, but also because what Wheelan learns about Danish humor is wonderfully wacky. At first, he has his doubts. "Happy, healthy, and peaceful — three words that have never been used to describe any stand-up comedian," he says. "If it's true that comedy comes from dark, unhappy places, can comedy survive in such a climate of happiness?" But as Wheelan soon finds out, there is a dark undercurrent to this country's deluge of joy.
At Rosenborg Castle, he is introduced to a device Danish people have historically found hilarious. What's so funny about it? Oh, you know, it makes someone appear to pee their pants and then, when they get up to flee, emits fart noises. (OK, that is kind of funny.) To help Wheelan come to terms with Danish humor, popular local comedian Sofie Hagen takes him to what is widely considered the happiest place in Denmark — BonBonLand, an amusement park which nearly immediately elicits the question, "Is that a dog's butthole?" So as children gleefully ride the dog fart rollercoaster and play on statues of barfing rats, Wheelan comes to the realization that the chipper people of Denmark boast a delightfully twisted sense of humor.
Find out more about the series at Laughs in Translation's home on the web.
Image: Courtesy of Above Average