Lip-sync surrealism in Soupy Norman and Couched

Few people outside Ireland are likely to have seen Soupy Norman, a cult comedy that aired in 2007 on our national station RTÉ. Essentially, Soupy uses footage from a Polish soap opera and turns it into an Irish family drama by redubbing the audio track with a surreal Hiberno-English script.

The fun lies in the lip-synching and voiceover, which are done partly to match speakers’ mouths, partly to fit the characters’ actions and interactions, and partly to serve the imaginary and often ridiculous plot. Non sequiturs pile up in disjointed rhythms to wonderfully silly effect.

Below is the first of eight episodes (9½ min. long), from where you can follow links to the rest, including a Christmas special. Your mileage may vary, but if it appeals to your sense of humour, watch the lot; every episode has its own inspired lunacies and running jokes (and, for the dialectally minded, Irish accents, expressions, and slang).

NB: Occasional strong language.

*

Soupy Norman first appeared as a single sketch on the BBC programme Time Trumpet, with the RTÉ series being a spin-off. This style of comedy has been done before in various ways – music and satire are often involved – but Soupy stands out as an original and ambitious example.

Soap opera tropes draw the viewer in; some are native to the Polish visuals, others are introduced by the absurdist dubbing track, and they serve to give Soupy a semi-cohesive structure missing from similar work by, say, the Day Job Orchestra (their audio NSFW).

So as well as being funny, Soupy is also formally interesting. Simian-themed culture blog Spank The Monkey (link is safe for work, and embeds all the videos) says it “plays around with the cliches of soap opera” and has been “assembled with a great deal of care”:

There’s the delight in being allowed to see the narrative strings: watching whole plots being set up in the dialogue which have obviously been inspired by a small visual detail, or a chance bit of lipsyncing.

rte soupy norman lip sync comedy by barry murphy and mark doherty

Mark Doherty and Barry Murphy, who created the show and are among its voice actors, did similar work in other productions, such as the comedy sketch show Couched. A recurring skit showed three men talking in a field, dubbed differently each time until, as a neat punchline, the sixth and final show played the original audio.

Couched has a low profile even in Ireland, partly because it was screened only once (to my knowledge) and has never appeared on DVD. So viewers are missing out on this vintage clip given a Bee Gees makeover, of sorts:

More recently, Après Match has exploited the trick, though some of that humour may be opaque to viewers unfamiliar with RTÉ’s team of sports commentators. Synching may be slightly off in some of these videos, but there are ways around that if you want to fine-tune it.

Let me know what you think if you give Soupy Norman or Mr Bee Gee a look. More importantly: would you write syncing or synching?

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14 Responses to Lip-sync surrealism in Soupy Norman and Couched

  1. Synching. Watched Bee Gee – kinda funny.

  2. missjane says:

    I would write ‘synced’. In talking about data synchronisation recently, a friend used the past tense ‘sunk’, as in, ‘it sunk correctly, so the data should be there’. I liked it, though out of context it would have been confusing.

  3. Stan says:

    fuzzarelly: It took me a minute to decide. I wrote synching first and found it too suggestive of the soft -ch- sound in inching. But syncing was worse, at least to my eyes (though they may react differently another time).

    missjane: Many do. Before I settled on synched I compared the two’s usage in dictionaries and corpora: both are common, the ‘h’ forms about twice as much. Sunk is an interesting option!

  4. Liz says:

    Synching looks better to me, though syncing etc. is more frequent in the corpus I looked at. I don’t like it though, as synch surely comes from synchronise, and so without the h the middle consonant sound seems wrong (s instead of k). Thanks for the clip, made me actually weep with laughter. Another fruitful source of timewasting beckons…

  5. John Cowan says:

    Syncing is think normally used by audio people, like micing, both of which look dreadful to me, though if I had to choose one it would be syncing.

  6. Stan says:

    Liz: That’s more or less my take on it too. I prefer synching, though not by much. Neither is ideal, but syncing has me wincing more. I’ve been comparing them so much now that I’m getting satiation! Anyway, I’m glad to hear Soupy went down well.

    John: It may be a bit like the pronunciation-of-GIF controversy, with insider technicians leaning one way and the general public leaning the other. Reading micing in the right context might cue the -k- sound, but otherwise it’ll suggest mice to me.

  7. Nurn says:

    Hi Stan

    I’d almost forgotten about Soupy Norman! I never followed it, just watched it when I happened upon it, but I really liked it. Thought it was hilarious and very surreal.

    I think synching makes more sense, though syncing wouldn’t confuse me.

    • Stan says:

      Nurn: I was lucky to catch Soupy when it aired, either because it came on after something I was watching, or because someone tipped me off about it. (I don’t watch all that much TV.) I found it hilarious too, one of the better examples of dubbing humour I’ve seen.

  8. mollymooly says:

    ‘This style of comedy has been done before in various ways’

    There used to be a Wikipedia category called “Dub parody” listing such things, but for reasons I don’t quite follow it was deleted.

    There is still a Gag Dub page on TV Tropes.

    • Stan says:

      Thanks for these links, Molly. The Dub Parody category appears to have been deleted because it was a “very loose definition” and there was no associated article, but it would’ve been nice to have a dedicated page rather than having it subsumed into the general Parodies category. I’m not a Wikipedian, though, so I can’t really judge the process.

  9. John Cowan says:

    I watched the first episode, and it is indeed very funny. I laughed out loud at the first appearance of the “grand master” joke and it only got better after that.

    I note the presence of a very Irish trope at 1:21, what might be called “Mind you, I’ve said nothing”, here however prefixed to the supposedly secret information rather than following it. I suppose this descends from Ireland’s centuries-old history of conspiracies: “I think I’ll go down to the pub with me mates and talk a little treason.”

    • Stan says:

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it, John. Lip syncs that are mostly or fully random can be amusing enough, but Soupy’s determination to spin something semi-cohesive out of the material makes it special, I think. I hadn’t thought of the “Erase it from your head” bit as peculiarly Irish, but I see how you could read that into it.

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