The Curious Case of Adapting Russian Comedy

“Overrunning the allotted studio recording time is usually not a good sign. But, when it’s because the script is so funny that the voice actors can’t read the lines without laughing, you know that you’re onto something good! Recording the English adaptation of these notorious Russian comedies was one of the most enjoyable experiences in a dubbing studio that I have ever witnessed. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much!” - Aida Martirosyan, Managing Director at Haymillian.

Watching comedy is known to lift the spirits of even the most morose individual. But, finding one that guarantees fits of laughter from beginning to end is something you won’t stumble upon easily every day. If you are in search of a good belly laugh that will have you roaring with laughter, your entire body in convulsions, we have not one, but three, to recommend. That’s right, we’ve just finished adapting and voicing these brilliant comedies for one of our customers - All Media, Russia: The hugely popular “The Kitchen”, “How I became Russian”, and “Hotel Eleon”. In this article, we’re going behind the scenes of these recordings which we finalized a few short weeks ago.

Before that, it’s important for me to stress that the making of a good comedy is one of the most difficult tasks to embark upon. Even harder is adapting an already hugely notorious production for other regions, cultures, and languages – a challenge that some localization companies may shy away from.

Would it surprise you if I told you that Russians are said to be the most humorous people in the world? Yes, even before the English! Their humor mostly comes in the form of anecdotes; i.e. funny stories with a punchline, making the translation and adaptation of the script into the English language ever so tricky. Stop and think for a moment just how far apart these two languages and cultures are – see you get the idea, don’t you? The same applies to their sense of humor and jokes, so, if you’re not intimately familiar with the language and slang, you’ll never get it!  Add to that the notions of cultural circumstances or references that need to be understood by foreign viewers... Considering all these particularities that cannot be overlooked may help you understand how absolute faithfulness to the original script is a difficult art in dubbing, and even more so when working with comedies.

The three series that we have just adapted into UK English have been hugely popular in Russia, notably “The Kitchen” which met with great success both in Russia and in other countries of the former Soviet Union. It even made the channel STS the number 1 channel in the "21:00-21:30", surpassing Channel 1, HTB, Russia-1 and other channels. It also holds an 8/10 rating on IMDb. While the series has already been adapted and extremely well received in Croatia, Estonia, Greece, and Portugal; it can only be found in English with subtitles, and limited to certain VOD platforms in the US.

Soon “The Kitchen” will be available for distribution to English speaking audiences who will be able to watch, listen and fully enjoy this hilarious series in their own language, without having to read the subtitles. Both “How I became Russian” and “Hotel Eleon” will also be available in English.

So, what part did Haymillian play in getting the voiced English version ready for the market? Quite a lot! Firstly, we began by translating the original script into English. This required skilled and native translators who were familiar with both the Russian and English languages, the target regions, values, and customs. At times, certain references and jokes that only a Russian native would understand had to be swapped for a narrative that someone living in the U.K, for example, would appreciate and find funny.

The humor of “The Kitchen” can be in some sorts likened to the renowned 1970’s BBC comedy series “Faulty Towers”. The original Russian script is hilariously funny, and the adapted version is just as comical, which meant that our dear team of voice actors often had to work overtime because it took many attempted takes before they could finally read the lines without laughing! Both “How I Became Russian” and “Hotel Eleon” are just as comical and had the same effect on the actors. With all this extra recording time, the studio became their second home for those few weeks. Luckily the coffee was good!

All three projects kick started with the translation and casting stages running in parallel. Undertaking multiple phases of production alongside each other serves in reducing project timelines and inevitably results in the foreign language adaptation reaching the market sooner. While casting the voices of the actors our highly talented dubbing director paired the characters according to their age group and tried to match the potential voice to the overall “attitude” of the character. The actors played an important role in transferring the energy and the vibes of their original characters during the dubbing. In fact, they did such a good job adopting their roles that they started to fully identify with their onscreen heroes!!!

Here are a selection quotes from some members of the voice acting team to whom we are truly grateful for the outstanding job they performed.

"I absolutely loved playing Alex and Max.  They are both very nice guys and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the different aspects of Russia through voicing their characters. I have never been to Russia, and don't know much about it, so it has been fascinating to see that we are not too different from Russians. The unique Russian culture is so interesting and quite fun! Even if I wasn't a voice in either of these shows, I would love to watch them because they are brilliantly written, so much fun and my type of humor!" – Rob Coutts, voices of Max in “The Kitchen” and Alex in “How I Became Russian”.

“It’s great when you get to work on colorful characters with a well-written script. Being the voice of the 'Boss' in "The Kitchen" was fantastic fun.” – Peter Faure, the voice of The Boss.

"These quirky series were fun to work on. The irreverent humor and comic situations kept us entertained during the entire recording process”. - Ariella Caira who voiced Anya in "How I Became Russian” and Sasha "The Kitchen”.

If you are an English speaker, we suggest that you keep a look out for these comedies to be released in your region. We hope that they will be just as enjoyable for you to watch as they were for us to adapt!

Related reading:

Haymillian and All Media Seal Content Localization Agreement

Understanding the Fine-Art Dubbing