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After 04:39 in the Seth Meyers clip Ricky Gervais Isn’t Worried About His Controversial Stand-Up Jokes Aging linked below, comedian and actor Ricky Gervais says:

I've recorded the special but now Nexflix has got to translate it into 160 languages; I didn't know that there were 160 languages; apparently there are...

It must be quite a challenge to translate stand-up comedy in general, and the work of some comedians may be more challenging than others.

Question: How do companies like Netflix find sufficiently skilled comedy translators to translate comedians like Ricky Gervais into 160 different languages?

Are here professionals that do this for a living? Are there comedy translation agencies? Are there degree programs or schools for comedy translation?


cued about 39 seconds early for context:

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    I wonder to what extent AI is used if not all by itself but to assist translators? I also wonder, even if one does a perfect job of translating the language whether the joke itself will still work -- there is a lot more to understanding jokes than just understanding the words. I read a Soviet joke book that apparently was funny to a Soviet citizen but fell flat mostly to an American. For example, jokes featuring "cannibals" resonated apparently because cannibalism actually occurred during ww2 -- I did not find the jokes funny, they came off as childish due to my lack of cultural experience.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 6:07
  • @releseabe with annual revenues of $7.5 billion and a market capitalization of $176 billion I think Netflix (and similar companies) can afford to use more than AI to do this. My guess is that to sell their particular brand of opium to the masses they do a heck of a lot of translating and are well-invested in not doing a crappy AI job of it. However comedy translation is not for everyone, so I'm trying to track down that particular specialization in the broadcast and cable entertainment industry.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 6:22
  • Companies with a lot of money nonetheless want value for that money.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 6:43
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    Netflix finds the at the same place as all other TV channels and similar services find them and have been finding them for decades. There have been companies specializing in translating content for decades, not just for TV but also for movies and books. This is a silly question, it's like asking "where does find <some new baking chain> all the ingredients for their products?" and the answer would be "at the same place as all other similar chains have been getting them for years and decades before <some new baking chain> even existed".
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 8:51
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    That isn't an "unsupported guess". It is supported by the very existence of almost a century of international film and TV industry.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 13:27

1 Answer 1

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According to Netflix they use third parties to locate and hire translaters.

In the absence of a common registration scheme and standardized test, how do you find the best resources to do quality media translation? Netflix does this by relying on third parties to source and manage localization efforts for our content. But even this method often lacks the precision needed to drive constant improvement and innovation in the media translation space. Each of these vendors recruit, qualify and measure their subcontractors (translators) differently, so it’s nearly impossible for Netflix to maintain a standard across all of them to ensure constant quality at a reliability and scale we need to support our constant international growth. We can measure the company’s success through metrics like rejection rates, on-time rates, etc., but we can’t measure the individual. This is like trying to win the World Cup in soccer and only being able to look at your team’s win/loss record, not knowing how many errors your players are making, blindly creating lineups without scoring averages and not having any idea how big your roster is for the next game. It’s difficult and frustrating to try to “win” in this environment, yet this is largely how Netflix has had to operate in the localization space for the last few years, while still trying to drive improvement and quality.

However then then go on to test and assess them using a system they call HERMES

HERMES is emblematic of Hollywood meets Silicon Valley at Netflix, and was developed internally by the Content Localization and Media Engineering teams, with collaboration from renowned academics in the media translation space to create this five part test for subtitlers. The test is designed to be highly scalable and consists of thousands of randomized combinations of questions so that no two tests should be the same. The rounds consist of multiple choice questions given at a specifically timed pace, designed to test the candidate’s ability to:

  • Understand English
  • Translate idiomatic phrases into their target language
  • Identify both linguistic and technical errors
  • Subtitle proficiently

Idioms are expressions that are often times specific to a certain language (“you’re on a roll”, “he bought the farm”) and can be a tough challenge to translate into other languages. There are approximately 4,000 idioms in the English language and being able to translate them in a culturally accurate way is critical to preserving the creative intent for a piece of content.

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    This is an excellent find, thank you! "Since we unveiled our new HERMES tool two weeks ago, thousands of candidates around the world have already completed the test, covering all represented languages." I can't tell if the candidates are companies or individuals, but I get the feeling that many could be individual contractors rather than large, established, faceless translation firms. Ability to recognize, understand and translate idioms would seem to be a special skill well beyond normal language proficiency, so their database of high H-score individuals will be quite a valuable asset.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 21:30

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