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.
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?