Saturday, March 03, 2007

Catherine Tate

I'm watching the DVD for the first season of "The Catherine Tate Show." I've watched quite a few show clips on YouTube and I found very little of it funny, but now I realize that her comedy is based on the repetition of simple themes, characters who do the same thing every time you see them. I think of this as the "Addams Family" approach to comedy...and I really like The Addams Family.

So I now present the character of Helen Marsh. Whenever a professional is unavailable, Helen reveals that she specializes in whichever field is required, but she turns out to be totally incompetent. You know it's going to happen which, somehow, makes it funnier.

In this case she's an interpreter. You could make an argument that this is in some ways racist, but I disagree for reasons that aren't very edifying or interesting.


Anonymous said...

I can't seem to get much entertainment out of watching someone do something determinedly stupid for two or three minutes straight. (My Mister Bean tolerance threshold is also pretty low.)

On the other hand, I'm fascinated by people's perceptions of other languages / cultures. I once heard Marcel Marceau on the radio (no, really) doing "impressions" of different languages which were really quite perceptive and cool. So I've always wondered what English sounds like to speakers of other languages.

The best description so far was by a friend-of-a-friend from France - what stood out most for him was the "chewing-gummy" dipthongs. So if anyone spoke English too fast for him it all sounded like the mumble yay eye dum the way yow thibblay wow.

Adam Thornton said...

I have to admit I've never watched more than a few seconds of Mister Bean, because my tolerance for physical comedy is EXTREMELY low. I'm also not a fan of determined stupidity unless it has either a kernel of cleverness or some degree of relevance to something I'm interested in.

So I see exactly what you're saying about language perception. At breakfast this morning I was doing my best not to listen to the loud woman at the next table, but I was fascinated by her regional Canadian accent, one that we commonly interpret as rural, a little bit "Northern Ontario" but not quite.

I've tried to figure out what makes up this accent. One part of it is the tendency to stretch "their" into "they're," as in "get outta they-er."

Sometimes I get very conscious of my own accent. I can't go to the States without somebody making fun of my "about," maybe it's the "chewing-gummy dipthong." More important than how it sounds, though, is how it's interpreted: does the Canadian accent sound "proper" or "stodgy" to most ears, the way that to me BBC English does?

One interesting thing about Catherine Tate is her reliance on character accents. I was baffled by her "Lauren" ("Am I bovvered?") accent, and it turns out it's "Speed-Pyke." Which leads us to Chav, which leads us to Rose Tyler.

It's a small world.

Anonymous said...

Just watched one of her "Lauren Cooper" sketches. I love dialects like that, however obnoxious I might find the speaker.

A "proper" accent means you're trying to hold to a standard, one, to be understood as widely as possible, and two, to claim membership in "proper" society. By nature it's conservative.

At the other end of the scale are accents and dialects where the speakers obviously don't give a crap if they're understood by anyone outside their cultural group (and often don't want to be)... so much innovation goes on there.

Anonymous said...

Accents are wonderful. I watch "Snatch" just to hear the variety of accents: Turkish's and Brick Top's Cockney, Boris the Blade's Russian, Benicio del Toro's Yiddish, Brad Pitt's Gypsy/Irish, Dennis Farina's Chicago...and no DVD subtitles, so it's listen or lose.

I'd bet there are variations within each larger group, such as in the Cockneys. Mark Twain claimed that in "Huckleberry Finn" he was "painstakingly" reproducing four different versions of the accent used in the Missouri county he grew up in.

But Twain was recreating those accents to be authentic and to celebrate them. Phoentic reproduction of "uneducated" accents was one of the earliest forms of American comic writing. Make fun of the hayseeds by showing how they "tawk."

And no matter how seedy the clothes that George Orwell would purchase to go tramping around England, as soon as he opened his mouth, they knew he was an old Etonian.

Some random thoughts because I can't say anything relevant about Ms. Tate because my Youtube at home produces no audio.


Adam Thornton said...

I've never done any real research into accents, but I suppose this is all related to the shortforms that started in websites and then were further refined in text messages.

I find myself wondering if text-message-speak contains less information than complete words and sentences. I'm sure there are a dozen studies being done as we speak...

Adam Thornton said...

No doubt the phoenetic reproduction of "hayseed" talk is related in some way to popular ethnic humour: painfully reproducing Jewish, Irish, Italian, German, and African American speech patterns so that it's "part of the joke" instead of just "flavour."

In the video, Catherine Tate "translates" into different languages by making painfully insensitive -- but also amazingly accurate -- nonsense mimicry of the different languages.

I saw this before I got the Almodovar box set, and I was thrown off by her Spanish impersonation (which sounds like "thuh-thah-thuh-thuh, thuh-thah-thuh..."). Within minutes of watching the first film on the box set I realized how accurate she was; I'd been thinking of more "Western" Spanish.

So then, how does the Canadian accent sound to you? Though there are different versions...