As I’ve already gotten to share with some of you, the new set I wrote for a Kenyan audience went well; and I look forward to telling the story of how it all aired on [inter]national television! In the meantime, though, I still want to document the process of getting together that set — in particular, why all but 15 seconds of an hour’s worth of my American material does not work in Kenya.
This joke did not land AT ALL. Once again, there are a few references that don’t translate. The most apparent problem is the lack of pine cones in Kenya. It’s amazing how many geographical references my act includes… if you think of anything in North America as a geographic reference. Likewise, the average Kenyan does not use mushrooms and does not know the different types of mushrooms — as a result, many Kenyans are also unfamiliar with the potential side effects of various mushrooms. For these very specific reasons, this joke starts at a disadvantage.
More interestingly (but perhaps still not interestingly), the joke doesn’t work simply because of the premise. In American comedy, it’s a common premise: “I wonder who the first person to [fill-in-the-blank] was…” The Kenyan comedians I talked to did not find the premise interesting at all. To them, it’s as if it’s not worth mentioning. “Much that’s been done was done by one person first.”
Even so, the joke fails on another level still — I don’t know if it’s merely that the land is more exotic, the people have a lessened sense of danger, or that pineapples are so insanely plentiful… but the idea that a pineapple would appear poisonous did not make sense even after it was explained. Or, perhaps here, the idea that someone would try something weird out of a desire to survive seems so obvious it’s also not worth mentioning.
Once we discovered we could not reach common ground on the pineapple joke, I was advised to focus the joke on how Americans view pineapples versus how Kenyans view pineapples… “We like to explain how things are different.”