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I'm looking for general advice on interpreting stand-up comedians or motivational speakers.

Obviously, they present a highly rehearsed speech, spoken at lightning speed, replete with puns and innuendos, so it will likely always be a huge challenge.

I once had to interpret a comedian at a conference and this was unexpected, so I did what I could (matching the register, etc.).

Now, I will soon be interpreting at a conference where various motivational speakers and comedians are guest speakers. Apart from watching some of their videos online, what other advice could be useful for interpreters in such a situation?

[pair is English to French]

asked 28 Sep '14, 17:10

alexandrec's gravatar image


edited 28 Sep '14, 17:13

It is extremely difficult, close to impossible. To a great degree it also depends on whether the humor is language specific. If it is, it will not translate too well. However, if the comedians realize they are being translated, they may be more cautious with untranslatable humor and appeal to common human experience and not culturally specific.

3 suggestions:

1)Talk to the comedian and/or organizers in advance if possible to find out what will be happening and to explain that puns for example do not translate too well, as well as American football/baseball jokes etc.

2) Read the article which may give you inspiration:

Comedy without borders: Eddie Izzard and the language of standup

3) Prepare a few jokes in your target language you may want to use instead of untranslatable jokes. Nothing ever justifies a pause.

Most importantly, enter the mind of the comedian, his rhythm, a certain meditative state that will carry you through. if you are not enjoying what you are interpreting, neither will your listeners. Interpretation is one Big Joke after all and a source of enjoyment!

Bon chance!

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answered 01 Oct '14, 02:52

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

edited 01 Oct '14, 02:55


Thank you for your reply, Cyril. I agree that talking with the comedian beforehand helps, but I don't think it's fair to expect them to slow down -- at best, they'll mention you to the audience and apologize for how fast they talk, and then go right back into their usual spiel, which is what they are paid to do, after all.

In this last experience, that is exactly what happened -- all three interpreters went to chat with the comedian/motivator and we had a fun time talking with her about her presentation. She even showed us her slides and explained their meaning. I was also able to find some of her previous videos online and some material was similar, which helped (somewhat). The same motivator gave a different talk the next day, so we were all better prepared to take on the task the second time around.

From a more technical standpoint, I'm Québécois, so I allowed myself to resort to more colloquial Québec French expressions rather that trying to stick to standard French, which would have been to difficult, if not impossible.

(01 Oct '14, 16:45) alexandrec

I would ask the organizers if they could provide me with some materials or, preferably, speech texts. These are often highly rehearsed speeches as you say, so there's a chance they've been written down. Alternatively, speakers could give you access to their recordings from similar events. The speakers may not be very glad revealing what they're preparing but they want to get their message across after all.

That said, I think I wouldn't dare interpret stand-up comedy. As far as motivational speeches are concerned, I would look for some examples of such speeches/interpreting/books in the target language - for some reason, I'm much more familiar with motivational texts in English than in my A language and I would be afraid my interpreting output would sound artificial or just strange.

I would also make sure whether to use "tu" or "vous" while addressing the audience.

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answered 29 Sep '14, 09:47

Joanna's gravatar image


Thank you for your insight, Joanna.

(01 Oct '14, 16:45) alexandrec
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question asked: 28 Sep '14, 17:10

question was seen: 10,085 times

last updated: 01 Oct '14, 16:45

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