What's funny and why

As we'll discuss in class, one interesting thing about the way Japan and Japaneseness is used in the US is that it's often a punchline. Here are two clips that use Japan -- or association with Japan -- as punch lines, although they do it in different ways.

Humor, more generally, is something we'll be talking and thinking a lot about, because Japan seems so, well, funny, in so many situations. What's this humor about? Why is this funny? I'll be very interested to hear your thoughts.

The first example, a scene from News Radio, a show broadcast in the 1990s, uses Japaneseness in a pretty standard way. As you'll see a character translates his book into Japanese and then translates it back, ending up, of course, with something that sounds like bad subtitles from a World War II battle movie crossed with a video game. Here, to me, it seems like what's funny is the confusing randomness of things translated from Japanese -- things like VCR instructions. (Remember VCRs? Ha ha ha.)

The second is a more recent clip from Saturday Night Live, in which the British actor / creator who starred in the UK "original" of The Office, talks about how the real original actually came from Japan. [I can’t find an embedded clip, but click to watch it.] This clip was interesting to me for at least a couple reasons. First, lots of people sent it to me, demanding to know what they're saying in Japanese. What's interesting is that they're not saying anything special -- literally they are just doing basic office chatter, saying "good morning," to each other, having a basic conversation. Yet, and importantly, it still seems funny. (Or does it? Is this skit funny to you?) The point seems to be that anything in Japanese is funny. Secondly, it struck me that the Japanese version is getting described as the "original." As we'll talk about in class, Japan and Japanese people are stereotypically represented (in the US as least, but other places as well) as copiers, as a culture that takes things and makes them into Japanese versions, but doesn't care about the context from which it comes. So, unusually, this seems to be one example in which the "Japanese version" (as fictional as it is) is represented as the "real" and "authentic" one.

Or is it as simple as Ricky Gervias says at the end -- "It's funny because it's racist"?