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LOST IN TRANSLATION

Netflix built a massive worldwide operation to make Chelsea Handler’s dirty jokes land globally

AP Images/Alexandra Wyman/Invision for Netflix
She doesn’t care what you think, but Netflix sure does.
  • Ashley Rodriguez
By Ashley Rodriguez

Reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade… with vodka.” That’s one of Chelsea Handler’s mantras.

But translating a joke like that into Portuguese, Arabic, and German is a tall order. That’s why Netflix, which recently launched a global late-night talk show starring the US comedian, has 200 linguists devoted to helping Handler’s profanity-laced humor land with worldwide audiences.

Netflix has pegged the global hopes for its new late-night talk show format on Handler’s particular breed of off-kilter humor. And the streaming service has a massive operation that swiftly ensures nothing is lost in translation, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday (May 17).

Each episode of Chelsea is taped 34 hours before it is released simultaneously to an audience in 190 countries around the world. Because of the tight turnaround, Netflix’s linguists only have 12 hours to translate the show into the 20 languages it will run in.

To speed things up, Netflix’s creates a live English transcript of the taping, by having a person repeat lines from the show into voice recognition software, which it then edits and shares with translators.

It also live-streams the tapings to other experts, who flag sticky turns of phrase that might trip up global viewers. They’re on the lookout for things like “Edumacate Me,” a quiz game that Handler plays with her guests; mentions of tools like Snapchat, which are only available in select countries; and grammatically incorrect terms like “anyways.”

To find translators who are up to the job, the streaming service vetted a pool of 5,000 linguists. It had them translate clips from Handler’s Uganda Be Kidding Me stand-up special and Netflix originals including Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, to see how well they interpreted vulgarities, slang, US-centric political terms and idioms” into their respective languages.

As Variety points out, Netflix’s translation processes and underlying encoding technology are so speedy that Chelsea could technically be released in the US 14 hours before midnight US Pacific Time, when it goes out around the world. But even in Handler’s home country, there’s a kind of translation issue: Jokes about dick pics and smoking weed make much more sense at nighttime than they do midway through your second cup of morning coffee.

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