“Video dubbed but unfunny!” This is a common complaint and occurrence in translation and dubbing processes. The truth is that dubbing is harder than it looks. Throughout this article, we’ll take a look at the challenge of translation and dubbing. We’ll examine the very real possibility of losing text and meaning in translation. We’ll also try to show this with practical examples focused on the dubbing of comedy. Let’s get started!

Video Dubbed: The Basics

Dubbing is a post-production process in which recordings are lip-synced to an existing production. The aim is to replace the voices of the characters completely, creating a new audio version.

Imagine that we have a film in English that we want to make accessible to a Spanish-speaking audience. We may very well choose to dub it. In this case, we would need to translate the script and assemble a voice cast. These actors would then re-voice the whole film, replacing the original voices with Spanish-speaking voices.

video dubbed

Subtitles or Dubbing?

Between no translation of a film and full dubbing, stands subtitling. Subtitles are, as we know, written translations of the dialogue. They can be a simpler fix than dubbing, which requires a more extensive and costly process.

It’s important to note, however, that some audiences may prefer dubbing. It’s important to figure out if subtitles will do the trick or a full dubbing process will be needed. Spectators in certain countries will prefer dubbing. Also, certain target audiences, like children, will evidently only accept full dubbing.

Video Dubbing: The Process

Very well, now that we know what dubbing is, let’s try to explain how a “Video dubbed but unfunny!” situation happens.

The very first step in a dubbing process is the translation of the script. This is a crucial step, yet often overlooked in its importance by content creators. The script is the blueprint for the whole cast and crew. In the case of a dubbing process, it’s invaluable for the voice talent that’s going to be replacing the original voices.

Afterward it’s necessary to assemble a voice cast. Here, the real process of dubbing begins.

The Translator

When translating a script there are things that must be taken into account. The first, and most obvious one, is acquiring a first-rate translator. This translator should ideally have a number of assets and talents.

First of all, a translator should not only be bilingual but also bicultural. This means that the translator is fluent in the languages and also deeply knowledgeable about the source and target cultures.

Imagine, following the example mentioned at the start, that we have an English film we want to make accessible to a Spanish-speaking audience. In this case, the translator would need, for starters, to be a first-rate speaker of the languages.

Now then, a usual practice is to use a translator who is translating into their native language. This means, in our example, that the translator would be a native Spanish-speaker, taking the English script and translating it into Spanish. This is a usual practice, though not a hard and fast rule: there are exceptional translators who can work in both languages with equal skill.

The Cast

Once the script is ready, it’s necessary to assemble a cast. This cast is tasked with replacing the original voices and replacing them with new voices. In the language pair we’re examining, the original project in English would be replaced with Spanish voice acting. There are several things to take into account here, particularly if we wish to avoid a “Video dubbed but unfunny!” scenario.

For starters, the voice talent should thoroughly understand the script. Here, a good director is essential. The director must also command the original material. This will give such a professional the clues as to the performances that the talent should strive for.

Production and Post Production

The dubbing process itself must be done with all the technical requirements. The last thing we want at this point is to suffer from poor quality, whilst otherwise having everything in place.

After the dubbing there may be a need for further adjustments. ADR dubbing, for example, is the process of re-dubbing specific problematic portions of a film.

Video Dubbed but Not Working: Troubleshooting with Examples

This process seems relatively simple. When putting it in practice, however, we’ll soon discover that there are several things which may misfire. Let’s try to understand them, together with some actual examples.

The Problem with Comedy

Dubbing projects are quite tricky but comedy dubbing is perhaps the trickiest of all. Having said that, it’s quite true that some types of comedy are more difficult than others.

Consider ‘Mr. Bean’. Physical comedy of this nature can move across countries with ease. It’s very understandable and translation is minimal, almost unnecessary.

Other types of comedy are much harder to translate and dub. This is particularly true in the case of comedies which feature a lot of wordplay. Imagine translating and then dubbing a stand-up show, and you’ll begin to understand the difficulty of tackling a comedy work based exclusively on language and no physical actions.

These problems can happen in any direction, either from English into Spanish or Spanish into English, and certainly in other language pairs. 

Translating Trouble

The translation of the script can be quite troublesome. Here we have to revisit some of the principles behind good translation.

We’ve mentioned before, in other articles in our blog, how there’s an inevitable tension in translation between precision and naturalness. Let’s try to see this with some examples.

Getting the translation of the script right is the first step. Without it, not matter how talented the voice cast, we’ll end up with lackluster dubbing and a “Video dubbed but unfunny!” situation.

Consider this portion of the script for ‘The Library’ (Season 3, Episode 5) of the television comedy ‘Seinfeld’. George is discussing an old gym teacher he and Jerry had in school:

GEORGE: I don’t understand lunch; I don’t know anything about lunch. Listen. Just because I got the guy fired doesn’t mean I turned him into a bum… does it?

ELAINE: What did he do?

GEORGE: He purposely mispronounced my name. Instead of saying, “Costanza ” He’d say, “Can’t stand ya”. “Can’t stand ya”… He made me smell my own gym socks once.

JERRY: I remember he made you wear a jock on your head for a whole class. And the straps were hanging down by his…

GEORGE: OK, OK, I never even had him for gym.

JERRY: I had him for Hygiene. Remember his teeth. It was like from an exhumed corpse.

GEORGE: Little baked beans.

JERRY: Echh.


Now then, this passage seems fairly simple to translate. There is one line though, which could potentially be problematic and lead to a “Video dubbed but unfunny!” scenario. Such line is, evidently, the mispronunciation of George Costanza’s name:

GEORGE: He purposely mispronounced my name. Instead of saying, “Costanza ” He’d say, “Can’t stand ya”. “Can’t stand ya”… He made me smell my own gym socks once.


If we were translating this into Spanish we would have to work hard to preserve the comedy of the wordplay. The first intuition in translation is to translate literally. If we did, we’d end up with something like this:

Instead of saying, “Costanza ” he’d say, “Can’t stand ya”, “Can’t stand ya”…

En lugar de decir “Costanza” decía “No-te-soporto”, “No-te-soporto”.


This is a literal translation but, unfortunately, the comedy is lost. We’re translating “Can’t stand ya” literally as “I cannot stand you”. The wordplay involving George’s last name is lost to the Spanish-speaking audience.

We mentioned earlier how one of the greatest tensions in translations, indeed perhaps the greatest tension, is that between precision and naturalness. Translating this will demand we stray a little from precision and try to find a more natural translation, which preserves the comedy.

video dubbed

Another example can be found in ‘The Cheever Letters’ (Season 4, Episode 8). Note this particular exchange between Susan’s parents and George Costanza:

ROSS: How are you enjoying those cigars I gave you?

GEORGE: Oh, uh, the cigars… (Chuckles nervously) I’m, uh, suckin’ ’em down. I’m puffing my brains out, yeah.

ROSS: You know those cigars are made special for Castro?

GEORGE: (Impersonating Carson) I didn’t know that. Weird. Wild. (Susan and George both laugh)

ROSS: What?

SUSAN: (Explaining) He’s doing Johnny Carson, daddy.

ROSS: I didn’t care much for his jokes.


The passage has two figure of speech, of sorts, which would be challenging for any translation/dubbing process.

The first of these lines is “suckin’ ’em down.” Translating this into Spanish may be a little bit tricky. It could be possible to provide a literal translation, though it could not be as comedic.

In the case of “I’m puffing my brains out, yeah” things can be even trickier. The truth is that if we give this expression a literal translation, we’ll end up with a typical “Video dubbed but unfunny!” situation, at least in that particular line. As such, in this case we need to strive for a more nuanced translation, which abandons literal precision and veers into a more natural interpretation.

Cast and Directing Trouble

Although many “Video dubbed but unfunny!” situations occur at the level of script translation, this is not the end of the story. Some scripts may have been perfectly translated but the comedy can still suffer when the voice cast is assembled and directed. Deft directing is needed to avoid this. Execution is everything.

The Bunny Studio Way

The best way to avoid a “Video dubbed but unfunny!” situation is to use first-rate talent, experienced in dubbing projects.

Fortunately, Bunny Studio has the talent and know-how to make your dubbing project a reality!

Submit a project now for video dubbing. We have the best freelancers for your business. Let’s get started today!