While there is a limited sub-set of humor that is indeed universal - think pratfalls and perhaps body humor, in reality humor is an interpretive game that relies upon common references held by the speaker and audience, agility, indirection, mis-identification (intentional or otherwise), language play, representation verve (or is that verve in re-presenting) to name but a few of a long litany of tropes and tricks. By the time you move up the scale from humor to comedy, well, let's just say that there's something about the asserted simplicity of the image of the stand-up comic's mike, glass of water and stool on a bare stage that seems deceptive, almost fraudulently so. It's simple only if you can overlook the vast quantities of the mechanics/magic of culture/communication that have been relegated to the background status of unstated/un-examined assumptions. In short, language is a social tool - and its use is difficult to separate from its originating context, and jokes may well be among the hardest things to translate.
That notion is the centerpiece of a wonderful exposition in The Verge, a long-form case study of the process by which US Television Comedy Hit Seinfeld came to have its German following. It unearths so many interesting tidbits and a few seeming contradictions that are wonderfully explained ("In German, I do not like Seinfeld. In English, it's my favorite show."; Seinfeld is more of a hit in Germany than in England), and its nuanced take on media industry economics helps to explain such unlikely phenomena as the existence of voice-over actors in major European nations whose careers are premised upon their dubbing of a sole American actor (alas not a two-way street, due to economies of scale), or why streaming media underdog Hulu shelled out $160MM for streaming Seinfeld while Netflix took a pass.
Appetite whet? Read the original here.