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December 21, 2012

Laughing with them or at them?

We could sugar-coat it but there is a difference in the laughter coming from jokes vs pranks - jokes seem to imply laughter from all, pranks imply laughter for some, sheer embarrassment/ anger for others.

Both have been creating excitement and laughter for thousands of years – from cavemen hiding their friend’s berries to mum hiding the remote from dad, but there is always a fine line on jokes vs pranks. The key to a good gag is to understand the audience, and finding the right balance of the two. Heres three good examples.

Saturday Night Live (United States, since 1975)

One of the favourite American late-night live television shows. It is a sketch comedy and variety show created by Lorne Michaels and premiered on NBC in 1975.

The sketches parody contemporary culture and politics, and are performed by a large cast with each episode hosted by a celebrity guest - beginning with a cold open sketch that ends with someone breaking character and proclaiming, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!".

Just for laughs (Canada, since 1983)

Just for laughs is the largest international comedy festival in the world and was founded in 1983 by Gilbert Rozon, who worked as a grave digger as a teenager.

Each day, street performers do their thang throughout the city, particularly in the "Latin Quarter" - known for its theatres, cafés and shopping. In the evenings, the nightclubs and live venue theatres offer special programs supporting the performers.

The TV prank series that came out of the festival are hilarious – presenting ridiculous scenarios where the victim is psyched out, and told moments later they are on camera. Here’s one that you do tomorrow with one of our fake fingers from our store. 

Takeshi’s Castle (Japan, 1986 - 1989)

Ever seen Takeshi's Castle?

It’s a Japanese game show that aired between 1986 and 1989 in Tokyo, and is for many of us our best judge of real Japanese humour. No wonder our judgment of them falls a little out of line when the best humour we have to judge them on is a series from almost 25 years ago. The show is basically the original 'Wipeout' TV series.

The show saw Takeshi Kitano as a king who owns a castle and sets up extraordinary challenges for his volunteer army to get to him, and the show has become a cult television hit around the world.

On a side note - we've found dozens of example of Japanese humour that focus on humiliation of contestants. Are the Japanese funny?

A common view we have heard is that comedy is less institutionalised in Japan than in the Western society, and is something we inherited from the Greeks. But trolling through Youtube videos, it’s clear to see there really are many Japanese who are pranksters at heart, with heaps of bizarre slapstick TV shows straight outta' Japan.

What we found really interesting when talking to our Japanese friends is that due to the way their language is spoken and written (i.e. homonyms), wordplay is far less common. But most humour in English comes from the way we craft stories with puns, metaphors and general wordplay. Speaking from the very little knowledge that we have, perhaps that is why they find so much humour in practical jokes - it requires no explanation and gets the laugh.

Is their humour really that dissimilar to our Australian self-deprecating humour? Are we laughing with them or at them?

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