Humor lost in translation -- interview with the Dalai Lama goes wrong
Thread poster: RominaZ

RominaZ  Identity Verified
Argentina
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jun 20, 2011

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Recently on Australia's version of the Today show, Karl Stefanovic sat down for an interview with the Dalai Lama, during which he attempted a joke about the religious leader going into a pizza shop. That's when things got really awkward. Watch this video.

An article has also been published analyzing what might have gone wrong.

Can jokes be translated and still be as funny?


 

George Hopkins
Local time: 20:12
Swedish to English
Some Jun 20, 2011

"One with all" -- is religiously deep!

Some jokes can be translated and still be funny.

Some of the funniest are those being translated ad lib, when the translator (sometimes myself) suddenly realises that it's not going to work.
Particularly when dealing with a play on words, or perhaps a rhyming that doesn't 'match' both languages.

The Dalai Lama and the interviewer, and the audience too, got a laugh. But did they know why?


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 02:12
Chinese to English
I like the joke but... Jun 20, 2011

I've tried telling it to a bunch of Buddhists, and none of them even remotely get it. I explain it, explain how the pun works, and the end reaction is always, "OK, but what's that got to do with Buddhism?" The people I've asked just don't understand Buddhist doctrine in the way that rather glib slogan expresses it.

 

apk12  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:12
English to German
+ ...
Article link Jun 20, 2011

Can anybody open the article link? It this the right one? Because when I click it, it says I am not authorized to view drafts. I did not wish to be authorized to view drafts was just interested in reading the article...

Edit: by playing around with the web address, I finally found the right one. So, for whoever interested in reading the article, it's here: See more
Can anybody open the article link? It this the right one? Because when I click it, it says I am not authorized to view drafts. I did not wish to be authorized to view drafts was just interested in reading the article...

Edit: by playing around with the web address, I finally found the right one. So, for whoever interested in reading the article, it's here: http://www.proz.com/translation-news/?p=28826



[Edited at 2011-06-20 16:29 GMT]
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Tomoyuki Kono  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:12
Member (2010)
English to Japanese
+ ...
I thought I was stupid... Jun 20, 2011

Dear Phil,

Thank you!!! I have a PhD in Buddhist Studies and still didn't get the joke! I had to search the internet to find out what was funny. The idea that 'one with everything' might possibly be a reference to some aspect of Buddhism did cross my mind of course but the notion is as remote from Buddhism as Santa in his red suit is from Christianity. OK, that might be putting the case too strongly but I hope you get my point.

The Dalai Lama understands English well en
... See more
Dear Phil,

Thank you!!! I have a PhD in Buddhist Studies and still didn't get the joke! I had to search the internet to find out what was funny. The idea that 'one with everything' might possibly be a reference to some aspect of Buddhism did cross my mind of course but the notion is as remote from Buddhism as Santa in his red suit is from Christianity. OK, that might be putting the case too strongly but I hope you get my point.

The Dalai Lama understands English well enough. He heard what Stefanovic said; he just didn't associate the phrase with Buddhism, which I personally found reassuring. The involvement of the interpreter probably made it worse but the failure of the joke wasn't because of the interpreter.

This is presumably what happens when people's understanding of Buddhism is based on what they have seen on Hollywood films.

Tomo

[Edited at 2011-06-20 19:28 GMT]
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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:12
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Not funny because the setup is wrong Jun 20, 2011

The incorrect Hollywood take on Buddhist philosophy notwithstanding - the joke isn't funny because the premise is wrong - as the supreme holy man of his religion, the idea of the Dalai Lama needing "help" with some aspect of it ("Can you make me me one with everything?") is a bit ridiculous. Wouldn't people be coming to him for wisdom?

Now, if you set it up as "A guy walks into a pizza place run by the Dalai Lama and asks...", that might be funny. Well funnier, anyway... even if jus
... See more
The incorrect Hollywood take on Buddhist philosophy notwithstanding - the joke isn't funny because the premise is wrong - as the supreme holy man of his religion, the idea of the Dalai Lama needing "help" with some aspect of it ("Can you make me me one with everything?") is a bit ridiculous. Wouldn't people be coming to him for wisdom?

Now, if you set it up as "A guy walks into a pizza place run by the Dalai Lama and asks...", that might be funny. Well funnier, anyway... even if just a little...



[Edited at 2011-06-20 20:37 GMT]
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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:12
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Great joke! Jun 21, 2011

The fact that it did not work proves that the Dalai Lama is not very aware of Western culture.... or not very fond of pizza...

 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:12
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
A jolly old chap Jun 21, 2011

Actually, in interviews I've seen with the Dalai Lama he's always struck me as a surprisingly jolly old chap with a distinct sense of humour.
I think the trouble was that the silly interviewer (clearly not a linguist) didn't realise that the "make me one with everything" joke is a word game, and really has nothing to do with religion.
As we translators know, word games (puns) are usually impossible to translate meaningfully. I mean, just try translating it into French or Spanish, for
... See more
Actually, in interviews I've seen with the Dalai Lama he's always struck me as a surprisingly jolly old chap with a distinct sense of humour.
I think the trouble was that the silly interviewer (clearly not a linguist) didn't realise that the "make me one with everything" joke is a word game, and really has nothing to do with religion.
As we translators know, word games (puns) are usually impossible to translate meaningfully. I mean, just try translating it into French or Spanish, for example - it doesn't work.
Smiling on, onefully,
Jenny
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Andreas Morgenstern  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:12
English to German
+ ...
In memoriam
. Jun 21, 2011

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

The fact that it did not work proves that the Dalai Lama is not very aware of Western culture.... or not very fond of pizza...


Indeed, and that is the problem. You need to know what Westerners think of Buddhism to make the joke work.



[Edited at 2011-06-21 05:00 GMT]


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:12
German to English
Asio-centric Jun 21, 2011

Hello Tomás,
Was your comment meant ironically or seriously?

The fact that the Dalai Lama is not able to immediately recognize and define himself in terms of Western popular misconceptions of his religious views, goes to show how trapped he is within his Asian-Buddhist world view.

That is meant ironically.

Sincerely,
Michael


 


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Humor lost in translation -- interview with the Dalai Lama goes wrong

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