A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 22, 2015
“Comedy doesn’t travel well”

"Comedy doesn’t travel well” is an entertainment adage that has been applied to plays, films, television shows and stage performers. Comedy depends on language and culture, and other languages and cultures need translations.

“Popular comedy doesn’t travel well” was written in 1974 about the movies. “One industry rule of thumb: situation comedies don’t travel well abroad” was written in 1977 about television shows. It’s not known who first came up with the popular entertainment axiom.

“Guinness doesn’t travel well” is a drink adage. “Defense travels well” is a popular sports saying.


8 November 1974, Seattle (WA) Times, “At the Movies” by John Hartl, Tempo, pg. 2, col. 2:
Popular comedy doesn’t travel well

29 May 1977, Mid-Cities Daily News (Hurst, TX), “Off Camera” with Virginia Seymour, Mid-Cities Telescope, pg. 3, col. 1:
One industry rule of thumb: situation comedies don’t travel well abroad. The reason being, most comedy is based on dialogue and nuance that don*t have exact counterparts in other languages.

Google News Archive
30 October 1979, The Age (Melbourne, Australia), ‘Television” by Brian Courtis, pg. 2, col. 3:
“The thing is that comedy doesn’t travel very well internationally anyway...I don’t have much faith in American comedies working in other countries and I’m surprised when they do.”
(Seven Network’s U.S. representative Zane Bair.—ed.)

31 March 1980, Marietta (GA) Daily Journal, “TV Review” by John Hanauer (UPI), pg. 6B, col. 4:
Comedy doesn’t travel well, but “Roots” was very popular in Japan, he said, although it wasn’t shown on TBS but on a rival network.

Google News Archive
12 June 1991, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), “In France they ask: Who killed Laura Palmer?” by Bob Wisehart (McClatchy News Service), pg. D5, col. 4:
As a rule, American comedies don’t travel well because humor almost always suffers in translation, though “The Cosby Show” is all over the French TV listings and “Roseanne” is picking up steam.

Google Books
The Movie Business:
The Definitive Guide to the Legal and Financial Secrets of Getting Your Movie Made

By Kelly Crabb
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster
2005
Pg. 136:
Comedy is a very popular genre, but I have a word of warning here — comedy doesn’t travel. In other words, things that are funny in America, tend not to be funny in Japan or elsewhere.

Part of the problem, of course, is language translation.

Google News Archive
25 March 2005, Milwaukee (WI) Journal Sentinel, “Movie Notes,” pg. 7E, col. 1:
It used to be an axiom in Hollywood that comedies don’t travel overseas, except those of the animated variety—but the world hadn’t met the Fockers.

Google Books
Power and Betrayal in the Canadian Media
By David Taras
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press
2008
Pg. 90:
They can be understood in any culture. Humour, for instance, tends to resonate and be appreciated only within particular cultures. Comedy doesn’t travel as well as violence.

Variety
U.S. comedies succeeding globally
DECEMBER 8, 2012 | 04:00AM PT
Global Impact: Foreign settings, adult themes help films translate
Jeff Sneider
The old rubric that Hollywood comedies don’t travel well overseas used to be a handy excuse to not even bother trying. But in today’s globalized movie marketplace, with Web-connected foreign consumers becoming more attuned to American humor, and international box office carrying studios’ bottom lines, that adage just doesn’t fly anymore.

Twitter
quote dojo
‏@quotedojo
A lot of people say that comedy doesn’t travel well. I found it very accessible. ~Mark Addy #travel
6:28 AM - 2 Feb 2015

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • Wednesday, April 22, 2015 • Permalink