I was recently in New York as part of my Humor Code travels, and I met Paul Noth, a cartoonist whose work appears in The New Yorker. We talked about the types of cartoons that might have broad (even universal) appeal. He kindly agreed to a video interview:
Comedy often doesn’t translate well across cultures. Although you can find dramas, thrillers, and action films that are well received in other countries, comedies that do well are typically limited to slapstick. With regard to cartoons, The New Yorker style cartoons that Paul specializes in would seem to be especially challenging to enjoy across cultures. First, they are not designed to maximize funniness – as The New Yorker’s Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff, readily admits. The cartoons are designed for a higher brow audience (not like me – I am middle brow). Even some people within the culture don’t get them (see Seinfeld for example). Moreover, translating language problematic, as very subtle changes in word meaning can change the way the cartoon is interpreted. Thus, I agree with Paul that captionless cartoons are likely to have the broadest appeal.
Paul sent me four captionless cartoons that he is curious to see how they would translate cross-culturally. As you can see each has its own challenge.
Which one will be funniest in another country?
And my favorite:
By the way, Bob Mankoff and Zach Warren did a pilot test of The New Yorker cartoons with Afghan respondents. The results of the study are still being written up, and I look forward to their report.
Learn more about Paul’s (excellent) work: