Int’l comedy no laughing matter

American humor often doesn't translate in key markets

The comedies “The Pacifier” and “Scary Movie 4” did well in the international box office, but “The Longest Yard” did not.

So how to explain what laffers work and what don’t overseas?

As perplexing as it seems, studios say that internationally known stars, broad physical comedy and even raunch help drive returns in foreign markets.

These are by no means hard and fast rules, but performers like Jim Carrey have scored with pics like “Bruce Almighty,” with a foreign total of $242 million, just short of the amount it grossed domestically.

“Comedies that really play internationally have a high concept and big stars,” says David Kosse, U’s prexy of international marketing and distribution.

The problem is that many in the latest wave of comedies don’t feature stars who are international sensations. Sony hopes that “Click,” which opened day and date the weekend of June 23 in Australia, tops “50 First Dates.” That pic, the biggest performing Adam Sandler movie at the foreign box office, grossed $76 million.

The industry is rife with successful comedies that hit the wall outside the U.S. American humor often doesn’t translate in key markets like France, Japan and South Korea.

“Wedding Crashers” took in just 27% of its worldwide total outside the U.S., as did “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Other U.S. hits that nabbed a small portion overseas: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (38%); “Mean Girls” (33%); “Dodgeball” (32%); “The Longest Yard” (17%); “Are We There Yet?” (16%); “Old School” (13%); and “Anchorman” (6%).

The jury is still out on “The Break-Up,” which grossed $7.5 million in five markets as of June 21. UIP is holding back in most territories as the World Cup concludes.

Studios are trying for any edge that can help them overseas.

Fox execs are using significantly more innuendo and harsh language in the international trailers for its pic “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” which stars Luke Wilson, Uma Thurman and Anna Faris. They promise the same for the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “Borat.”

” ‘Super Ex’ is a great physical comedy with a lot of very witty banter that’s very universal in terms of what women say to men,” says Paul Hanneman, co-president of Fox Intl. “We can be a lot sexier in the international trailers.”

Fox’s bigger test may be its selling of “Devil Wears Prada” overseas. It will play up the universal story of a first job with a draconian boss.

“We are also going to amp up the fashion side of it for Asian markets and highlight the fashion labels,” notes Fox Intl. co-president Tomas Jegeus. “In places like Japan, it’s the office ladies who drive the box office.”

Once again, the exception to the rule.

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