On the 19th of January I attended a symposium on Italian Comedy Audiences in the Centre for Comedy Studies Research at Brunel University. The centre had invited two guest speakers from the University of Bologna, Delia Chiaro and Chiara Bucaria, who both work in the Department of Interpretation and Translation.
I was excited to finally visit the Centre for Comedy Studies Research, which was launched in October 2013, and this event was a rare opportunity to meet other scholars interested in transnational comedy. I had read some of Chiaro and Bucaria´s studies for my own PhD research on British and Norwegian comedy viewers and was looking forward to seeing their current work.
Chiaro´s presentation (“Italian Audiences and Cool Britannia”) shared findings from a project that compared the responses of British and Italian viewers to clips from successful English-language (mostly British) screen comedy. The study considered what nation-based similarities and differences in questionnaire responses might tell us about the cultural specificity of verbally expressed humour (VEH), and about the potential impact of translation on individual humour responses. Interestingly, Chiaro found that responses tended to be quite similar, although in their self-evaluations the Italian viewers tended to rate their humour responses slightly lower than the British viewers, and they also seemed less amused by some clips that featured sexual content.
Bucaria´s presentation (“Spoiler alert? Manipulating comedy film and TV titles for Italian Audiences”) focused specifically on the Italian titles for English language film and TV. She noted that devising such titles is less about translation and more about marketing and cultural adaptation, and argued that we can see titles as “entryway paratexts” that give potential audiences a sense of a film or TV show´s content and tone by foregrounding certain aspects. Identifying a series of themes from her study, Bucaria emphasised that Italian titles tended to be far less ambiguous than their English-language originals. One key tendency was to highlight key plot elements – from Gilmore Girls to A Mum for a Friend, for example, while another tendency was to include intertextual references to draw connections to other relevant films that viewers may be familiar with.
The presentations raised some very interesting and important issues around the role of cultural specificity in transnational comedy and the significance of wider cultural contexts, such as the Italian discourse around British popular culture as “cool”, and marked national differences in the conventions of film and TV promotional strategy. I would like to thank the Centre for Comedy Studies Research for organising a really interesting event, and I hope that Chiaro and Bucaria´s work will inspire research on humour and comedy in other transnational contexts.