Joe Avati, the bilingual corporate comedian, understands more than just the language barrier. He gets humour…

Have you ever tried to explain an English joke or pun to someone who does not speak English? It probably resulted in more confusion than anything else, and in a corporate entertainment environment, there can be few worse PR nightmares.

The ability to read your audience, and to find a common ground when it comes to humour is a skill and one that bilingual stand-up corporate entertainment comedians like Joe Avati have come to master. It’s not uncommon to see entire families attend his shows, as his humour is suitable for all ages and requires no translation. In fact, he has been known to perform parts of his show in Italian when in front of a mixed speaking audience. It’s this kind of range that crosses language barriers and shows people of all races, ages and cultures that we’re more in common with each other than different. This in a nutshell could be the difference between a corporate event that hits the mark and one that has crickets chirping in the corner.

We don’t realise it, but much of the humour that we indulge in on a day-to-day basis is specific to the nuances of the English language. Many of the jokes we make in English would not make sense translated into other languages, and vice versa. Despite this, there are certain things that are found universally amusing.

One man has dedicated his life to researching and understanding why people laugh and what they find funny. Dr Robert Provine is a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Maryland and has spent over a decade trying to decipher what it is that makes people laugh, and he has come up with several key findings. He found that laughter is instinctual and cannot be forced, as it is not produced consciously. It is something that is recognised and evident in every culture across the globe and is thirty times more likely to occur in groups, making it contagious. People tend to laugh more in conversations than when presented with obvious jokes, and we laugh the most about relationships between people than anything else.

A great example of this is when the Dalai Lama visited Australia and was interviewed on live television by local TV anchor Karl Stefanovic. He attempted to break the ice with a joke, saying “So the Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop. He asks them to make him one with everything”. Despite going back and forth with a translator the joke was not understood – turns out His Holiness didn’t know what a pizza was. Despite the joke not landing the video clip itself of the failed joke attempt went viral, with people all over the world watching it in commiseration and laughter. The joke itself may not have translated across languages, but the awkward situation certainly did.