One of the hardest challenges when producing descriptive video for the vision impaired is how to approach the subject of visual humour.
Often, in describing a visual gag, one gets the same feeling as when having to explain a joke: The very attempt at explaining it will kill it.
It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation.
Some years ago, we had the opportunity to describe a few seasons of the Just For Laughs Gags show, a sort of “Candid Camera” co-production between French Canada and Mexico, in which unsuspecting passersby are subjected to situations that are befuddling to them, but very funny to us, the audience.
As is often the case with these shows, the gags were repeated over and over with different “victims”, causing us to question how we were going to tackle their description. In the end, we settled on describing the gag in detail the first time it happened, and then focusing on the differences from one victim to the next, both in appearance and reaction.
It was a difficult job, partly because there was absolutely no dialogue (something essential to a show that otherwise would have had to be dubbed into English, French and Spanish), but primarily because we were trying extremely hard not to kill the joke in the process of explaining it.
In the end, though, we were quite satisfied with the results. With proper delivery – not too over the top, not too deadpan – I believe we struck the perfect balance, keeping the funny parts funny without over-describing or overwhelming the audience.
Now, each time a visual joke appears on a show we’re describing, we take a moment to ponder how best to strike that balance again. As difficult as it was to describe that series, I for one am happy for the experience it gave me, which has served me well in describing several seasons of shows like The Big Bang Theory and My Name Is Earl, which are filled from end to end with that most delicate and serious of all subjects… humour!