"Hey everybody, I am from Holland! Isn't that vwierd?
Foreigners are funny! Or so say a good number of comedy shows. The jokes practically write themselves; foreigners mangle the language
) in funny ways
, they are ignorant of customs
in the show's home country, and they have their own bizarre little customs
that make no sense. They will either be unsure of themselves, or (more frequently) totally oblivious to how odd everybody finds them. This is incredibly old, probably dating back to when cavemen joked about people in the cave down the field.
The Funny Foreigner
is a Cyclic Trope
. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, it seems like at least half of all the English-language comedy in existence consisted of this trope (vaudeville, British music-hall performers...) Gradually, it become a Discredited Trope
due to changing sensibilities. Then it became so rare that it seemed daring and forbidden, and thus became popular again. This can lead to the trope being discredited for some generations and not for others.
Old Funny Foreigner
jokes tended to be stereotypes about a particular country. Modern ones do it with a wink by making up a country
, choosing a real country almost at random and ignoring any actual facts about it, or simply leaving it entirely ambiguous where they're meant to be from
. Part of the joke is that it doesn't really matter where in the Middle East or Latin America or Eastern Europe the character comes from — they're just "generic Latin" or "generic Slav." They can even go so far as to have the character not actually be foreign at all
, or playing up their ethnicity because they can get away with it
In Speculative Fiction
, they might be visitors from a completely different world
, which has the advantage of avoiding Unfortunate Implications
and offense to real-world foreigners (most of the time
). If the character is an otherworldly being (relative to the rest of the cast), then the trope is Amusing Alien
If done poorly, a Funny Foreigner
can turn into an Ethnic Scrappy
Compare and contrast with But Not Too Foreign
, Fun with Foreign Languages
, No Social Skills
, Raised by Natives
and Foreign Wrestling Heel
. Also see Crazy Cultural Comparison
, which is when the Funny Foreigner
's behavior is held against that of his host.
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Anime and Manga
- Freddy Merckx from Zombies that Ate the World when he uses weird sentence structures and starts comparing everything to Belgium. The Princes might qualify too.
- Played with a little in Fin Fang Four, where Gorgilla is an immigrant who loves living in America and speaks in broken English. But his home country is on another planet and he's a giant ape. Fin Fang Foom himself is also an immigrant, from China, but he is decidedly not funny (and easily much smarter than any normal human).
- A later story features Googam posing as an orphan so he can be adopted by a celebrity. When he does, his nanny is a goofy Bavarian stereotype (except from Latveria, naturally) of this sort.
- Who may have been inspired by Chinky from Promethea's Show Within a Show "Little Margie" strips. A buck-toothed, yellow-skinned and positively simian racist caricature, Chinky constantly makes a fool of himself and speaks complete gibberish. In the unpublished last Little Margie strip, Chinky - a native of the dream world Margie travels to - reveals that he has always been the handsome young prince Ching Ki, and speaks perfect English. But it was Margie's dream, and she wanted a funny foreigner, and Ching Ki is nothing if not accommodating.
- The Englishman Mister "Pief" (Peeve?) from a story by Wilhelm Busch who walks around while always looking through a telescope.
- Lampshade Hanging in Short Circuit: Ben, the wacky, vaguely Indian sidekick, spends the whole movie saying things like, "With excitement like this, who is needing enemas?" When another character asks him about it:
Newton: Where are you from, anyway?
Ben: Bakersfield, originally.
Newton: No, I mean your ancestors.
Ben: Oh, them. Pittsburgh.
- The character of Janosz in Ghostbusters 2 is the basis of a similar joke; he's from "De Upper Vest Side."
- The entire Largo family from Repo! The Genetic Opera is Italian, though only Pavi has any kind of accent. He and his brother Luigi make up the main comic relief of the movie. Of course, with a movie like Repo, the comic relief duo is made up of a rapist and a murderer...
- Hilariously subverted and lampshaded in Not Another Teen Movie — Areola is a foreigner from "Europe" (her accent changes every line, and she dodges the question of what country she's from in a deleted scene) that openly admits that she's only in America / only exists to give nerds "pussy". Oh, and she spends the entire movie naked. Stark naked.
- Austin Powers, from the motion picture franchise of the same name, is a Funny Foreigner, not only by virtue of his country of origin but also by his displacement in time.
- The Gumball Rally has several: Lapchick the Mad Hungarian, Franco Bertolli, the British Benz team.
- Frank Eggelhoffer in Father Of The Bride. His assistant Howard Weinstein also qualifies.
- The Mexican comedian/producer/singer Cantiflas as Passepartout in the 1956 film "Around the World in Eighty Days." He had it all—he was short, clumsy, and had a funny accent. Isn't it interesting that to the British (and Americans) apparently "foreign" means "French?"
- By virtue of being produced in English, the film inverts the original novel by Jules Verne, where Passepartout is a funny person who happens to be French - like the author and most of the original readers - and Phileas Fogg is the eccentric, if not uproariously funny foreigner.
- Prince Akeem in Coming To America initially comes off as this to Lisa and her family because of his unfamiliarity to life outside of Zamunda.
- Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot famously uses this trope to great effect. By acting like a Funny Foreigner ignorant of social conventions and demonstrating a lack of command of the English language, he gets people to see him as harmless and reveal their closest secrets and troubles without a thought. This tends to bite them in the ass if they were the murderer.
- Otto Chriek, a vampire from the Discworld novels is an example, playing upon stereotypes of both Eastern Europeans and vampirism. He is similar to Poirot in that his Funny Foreigner persona is to some extent Obfuscating Stupidity used to stop humans from hating and fearing him. This is demonstrated in the novel Thud!!, where he is able to take pictures at an anti-vampire protest without being molested by the angry mob.
- Twoflower, however, is classic funny foreigner on vacation.
- 71-Hour Ahmed makes this trope work for him, in similar ways to Otto Chriek. He plays up Klatchian stereotypes when in Ankh-Morpork, but since he went to school in Ankh-Morpork, he acts Morporkian in Klatch. He tells Vimes "I find it helpful to be a little bit foreign wherever I go."
- Kung Fu Tzu in Michael Moorcock's novel The Chinese Agent is an exaggerated Fu Manchu knockoff. Much Hilarity Ensues.
- Bobinsky, AKA "Mr. Bobo", the old man in the upstairs flat in Neil Gaiman's Coraline, described as being "Romanian or Slovenian or Livonian, or one of those countries" by Miss Spink. The film version makes him an even more obvious example of this trope.
- In The Way of Kings there are quite a few instances of Funny Foreigners. Most notable are Rock's people, (referred to as Horneaters by most), who calls everyone "airsick lowlanders".
- In Wicked Fiyero would be the Funny Foreigner, since no one's ever seen a Winkie (someone from the Vinkus) before. However the humor really only shows up in his first appearance and is at his expense (he's attacked by a pair of antlers that have come alive, and winds up shrieking in his native tongue). He's even wearing clothing that the main characters consider weird and assume is some sort of traditional outfit. It's memorable though, as it's one of the only (if not the only) humorous scenes in the book. He also offers to sing them some kind of traditional song (but he doesn't). The rest of his customs and behaviour are perfectly normal, though he does seem shy, was betrothed at a young age, and his section of the book uses a lot of hunting metaphors.
- Avaric embarrasses Boq by kissing him on both cheeks, a custom from his homeland.
- Animorphs has Ax, the Andalite (alien) ignorant of human cultures and customs, often reacting hilariously to new scenarios he encounters.
Live Action TV
- Borat from Da Ali G Show, pretty much the very embodiment of this trope, is supposedly from Kazakhstan. While that is a real country (in Central Asia, to be exact), it's probably not that ridiculously backwater.
- Bruno, hailing from Austria, also qualifies.
- Mohfaz the Depressed Persian Tow Truck Man from Mad TV is your basic Deadpan Snarker plus poor English ("they are...how do you say...hala....A-holes. Always A-holes.")
- Latka from Taxi is a refugee from a generic Eastern Communist country, with all kinds of jokes based on obscure customs, etc. This makes sense, as Latka was basically Andy Kaufman's "Foreign Man" character given a name, job, and backstory.
- Balki from Perfect Strangers and his famous Mypos Dance of Joy.
- Science fiction example: the two Benzite aliens from Star Trek: The Next Generation (played by the same actor) were essentially generic stage foreigners painted blue.
- Borderline case: Manuel the Barcelonan waiter from Fawlty Towers. Most of the humor revolves around him being just plain stupid, instead of weird and foreign, and his poor English consists not of mangling the language, but of incomprehensibly asking "Que?" every few sentences. (When the show was broadcast in Spain, the Spanish producers made him an Italian.)
- Fes (a nickname which stands for Foreign Exchange Student) from That '70s Show, who eventually gave rise to much Lampshade Hanging over the fact that we never learn his country of origin. His real name is not given, but we're told that it's simply too long and funny-sounding for regular use.
- In one of the later episodes, we meet a friend of his from the "Old Country": a white guy with a British accent. Apparently his friend is from the west side of the island.
- The Czechoslovakian "Wild and Crazy Guys" played by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live.
- And lest we forget, their spiritual descendants the Butabi Brothers as portrayed by Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan—in one memorable episode of SNL, joined by Martin Short as an Afghan goat herder who travels to the US to join Will and Chris as the third member of the duo.
- In the British comedy The League of Gentlemen, the German character Herr Lipp is a Funny Foreigner — he unwittingly says things that make him sound like a pedophile, which is ultimately revealed to be true. Things like "You are still erect" to mean "You are still awake".
- Royal Canadian Air Farce had a set of characters that exclusively used this trope: English As A Second Language News, with the anchors Heiki Flergenpootz and Svetlana, who began their broadcast with "Goodnight" (and, less subtly, ended it with "Hello"). There were also several correspondents attached to the skits, such as the Espresso-Drinking Greek (who would calmly sip his espresso and then energetically shriek out his views on a given story).
- Further, the Foreign Taxi Driver, who would drive around (poorly) in front of a bad bluescreen with a customer who could barely follow what he was saying as he snarked with an accent about recent news events. He usually dropped people off at the wrong stop, and said, "You pay Vy-sa, I kill you."
- And then there was Roger Abbott's impersonation of Jean Chretien who is not, technically speaking, a foreigner, but whose linguistic idiosyncrasies got him portrayed like one anyway.
- Ziva David in NCIS mangles at least one English idiom per episode.
- Dr. Luka Kovac on ER with his so called lukaisms. "You've got an insect up your anus." "It's bug up my ass, Luka."
- A series of sketches in Nickelodeon's All That feature Ishboo, a foreign exchange student from "A Foreign Land." No, really, that was his country's name.
- Frequently complicated by the fact that Sheldon Cooper feels the need to correct Raj on Indian culture.
- However, when Raj' sister appears, far from being a funny foreigner, she is beautiful, strong-willed and professional.
- The king of the Burgundians in Kaamelott: he can't speak...well, whatever language French stands for in this, only shouting sentences apparently taken from etiquette books and bad poems and which he obviously doesn't understand; has very poor table manners; and almost gets swindled out of his kingdom by his own interpreter.
- SCTV had Yosh and Stan Schmenge from the East European country of Leutonia, and Perini Scleroso from...well, from somewhere.
- Disney Channel just loves this trope. If a foreign character appears on one of their shows expect it to be ridiculously over the top.
- Jessie seems to the exception. There are three kids adopted from foreign lands (a Hispanic country, India, and an African country). Only the Indian acts foreign and a lot of his ethnic traits are more informative than played for laughs.
- Some of the customers in Are You Being Served? fit this trope.
- In one episode, an Arab Oil Sheikh visits the store and attempts to buy a pair of trousers in exchange for a goat...When the goat is refused by the sales assistants, the sheik then tries to trade a beautiful woman.
- In another episode, it's a Japanese Tourist with his "Cledit Caa" (Sooooooo!). Captain Peacock's attempts to communicate with him are at least as hilarious as the tourist himself ("You wanty buy?" "Whaty-wanty?")
- Also, a cranky German couple in "German Week", and Japanese businessmen looking to take over the store in "Monkey Business". Also, short-lived regular Mr. Grossman could qualify as a Funny Foreigner.
- In Black Books, Fran tracks down some long lost relatives that fit this trope, hailing from what would appear to be somewhere in Eastern Europe.
- Some talk show hosts like to have funny foreigner sidekicks or recurring sketch characters. Jimmy Kimmel has Guillermo the security guard, and Conan O'Brien has band member La Bamba.
- Andamo falls into this, but not too far - it's limited to occasional misunderstandings of English words and American customs.
- Danish Euro Pop artist Jonny Jakobsen is famous for adopting over-the-top Funny Foreigner personae for his novelty songs, such as the faux-Indian Dr. Bombay and the mock-Mexican Carlito.
- The inhabitants of the fictional country Elbonia in Dilbert exist specifically to play this role; Scott Adams said he wanted foreigners he could deride and abuse without being criticized, so he made up his own, based, in his words, on a perception of how Americans view any country without cable. The concept of an entire country of idiots also amused him.
- Of course, Adams also portrays the U.S. itself as being a country composed (almost) entirely of idiots. The only real difference is in the KIND of idiocy involved.
- This shows up a lot in pro wrestling, often with Unfortunate Implications. One of the more well-known examples in the US is hapless, Engrish-speaking Smackdown! wrestler Funaki.
- Most foreign characters in American Professional Wrestling who aren't Foreign Wrestling Heels are Funny Foreigners, unless they're Canadian or British, especially in the WWE. Yoshihiro Tajiri and Super Crazy are among the more recent examples that spring to mind.
- And, of course, Santino Marella.
- The Japanese promotion Dragon Gate did a legitimately hilarious version, though: constant losers Raimu Mishima and Taku Iwasa took a sabbatical to refine their craft in the US. They returned as full-fledged residents of Eagleland Type 2: their hair bleached blonde and their wrestling attire consisting entirely of reds, whites, and blues. They took the names Michael and Daniel and used loads of Gratuitous English in their promos and theme songs, all while using the sort of cheating tactics that are more common in US wrestling than its Japanese counterpart. They proceeded to go on a huge winning streak - winning every match by disqualification. The result was pretty hilarious.
- The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers in The Eighties and Kenzo Suzuki in The Naughties tried to be Foreign Wrestling Heels, but ended up becoming Funny Foreigners because of how ineffective they were.
- Kenzo Suzuki deserves special mention here, debuted as Funny Foreigner trying to play an All American Face after promos that made him seem like an evil one. The fact that he didn't speak a word of English, and his wife had to translate everything he said, didn't deter him from this plan in the slightest. Didn't even turn face but remained cheerful.
- Louis Bonaparte, Napoléon's brother, was made King of the Netherlands in 1806. The only problem? He didn't speak Dutch.
- He did make an attempt to learn, though, famously calling himself the "Konijn van 'Olland", the Rabbit of Holland.
- And let's not forget Yakov Smirnoff. In Soviet Russia, Yakov Smirnoff forgets you.
- Going out to eat at an American restaurant, an attendant asks him how many people are in his party. Smirnoff replies "100 million".
- Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was foreign absolutely everywhere, speaking neither French nor English very well.
- This was exacerbated by a defect in his mouth that made him look like he always talked out of the side of it.
- This is the origin of the word "barbarian". To the ancient Greeks, anyone who didn't speak Latin was a silly person who went around saying "bar bar bar" all day.
- Interestingly, there is a Chinese term which is essentially equivalent to the Roman term "Barbarian". There are several ethnic groups who are called the Miao, although the most common are the Hmong. Although spelled differently than the English word, it's no coincidence that the word sounds like "meow"- the idea is that those groups' languages were being compared by the Chinese to animal noises (specifically the way a cat sounds)
- As for Foreign "Barbarians," Imperial China simply refers to the direction of their homelands in relation to the Empire (i.e. Nánmán: "Southern Barbarians").
- Americans, particularly in Canada, Mexico and Europe.
- Canadians and Europeans, particularly in the United States.
- Polish tourists tend to be seen as these throughout Europe, mainly thanks to unusual customs like wearing socks with sandals or clapping on planes.
- This cracked article show us the case of George Psalmanazar, a frenchman that in 1703 pretended to be Formosian and Japanese at Italy and England. Using Obfuscating Stupidity he pretended to be a Funny Foreigner that talked in Poirot Speak and had a lot of Crazy Cultural Comparison, playing with the Values Dissonance and Unfortunate Implications of englishmen confirming that all foreigners were idiots.
- Played with in Fahrenheit (known as Indigo Prophecy in the States), when one of the detectives goes to a book shop to find out if there's anything useful to be determined from an old book that was left at the scene of a murder. The owner is a little old Chinese man in stereotypical little-old-Chinese-man dress and with a high-pitched, English-mangling accent, who asks you to find a book for him while there because he's forgotten where he's placed everything. This turns out to be a test to mess with customers because he doesn't like selling to stupid people, and once you pass it he straightens up, gaining a few inches of height, and turns out to have a deep Bronx accent with a voice like he's been smoking since he was born.
- Punch-Out!! Wii... oh where to begin... Quicker to name which boxers AREN'T an example of this trope, who are Disco Kid and Mr. Sandman - and those two are pretty goofy as it is. Everyone else is a Funny Foreigner. From Glass Joe to Von Kaiser to King Hippo to Bear Hugger to Don Flamenco to Great Tiger to Aran Ryan to Soda Popinski, Punch-Out's boxers span the entire Hollywood Atlas!
- Outside the US perspective, Super Macho Man is one as well because of his Eagleland attitude.
- Super Punch Out! gave us Mad Clown (a sadistic Italian Monster Clown), Bob Charlie (a laid-back Jamaican who fights according to "the rhythm"), Heike Kagero (an effeminate Japanese kabuki actor), Gabby Jay (a French Expy of Glass Joe and feeble old man), Dragon Chan (A Hong Kong native Bruce Lee Clone), Hoy Quarlow (a rude Chinese Old Master), Narcis Prince (The Fighting Narcissist from Britain), and Masked Muscle (A Mexican Masked Luchador who fights dirty). It also had Piston Hurricane from Cuba and the Bruiser brothers from Parts Unknown, but neither of them have any traits that are very funny.
- In Fur Fighters you have a strange French cat (that is in no way similar to Andy Warhol) a dumb Australian kangaroo, bizarre little Russian meerkats, and many others.
- Horst Fedders from Freddi Fish 3: The Case of the Stolen Conch Shell, mostly due to Freddi's foreign language phrase book.
- Deconstructed in Kud's route in Little Busters. Because she's only one-quarter Japanese, many of her classmates see her as one of these, complimenting her on her knowledge of Japanese culture and laughing at her foreign mannerisms. However, Kud finds this very isolating, as she learned Japanese from a young age and has been exposed to the culture for most of her life, and since she's lived in places all over the world, Japan is the closest she has to a home country.
- Likewise, Persona 2's Lisa Silverman was born in Japan to Japanophile western parents and raised to be a Yamato Nadeshiko, never teaching her English (aside from Japanese, she knows some Cantonese). Despite this, everyone assumes she speaks English. This comes to bite her back.
- Many of the original Looney Tunes shorts have stock foreigners, including Christopher Columbus as a manic stage Italian ("The world-a, it's-a-round!"). The two most famous of these are Mexican mouse Speedy Gonzales, a perfectly competent hero who speaks in Gratuitous Spanish, and French skunk Pepe Le Pew, a Stalker with a Crush who speaks in romantic French.
- Rolf from Ed Edd N Eddy, who comes up with odd traditions (many of which involve fish) and sayings ("Do not burn the candle at both ends, as it leads to the life of a hairdresser") from his home country in nearly every episode.
- "You have broken the celery stalk on the back of a sea urchin!"
- Another science fiction example: Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama gradually became a Shout Out to vaudeville Funny Foreigner jokes.
- And one robot in the Ultimate Robot Fighting League, “The Foreigner”:
The Foreigner: I’m not from here!! I have my own customs!! Look at my crazy passport!
- The Simpsons uses a few characters like this. There's Apu, the stereotypical Indian convenience store clerk ("Thank you, come again!"), Groundskeeper Willie, the stereotypical angry Scotsman, Luigi, the stereotypical Italian chef, and Uter, the stereotypical fat, jolly German kid.
- And let's not forget Bumblebee Man, the stereotypical... Mexican man in a bumblebee costume.
- He's supposed to be a parody of El Chapul?Colorado, a goofy superhero show on mexican TV.
- Springfield even has a bowling team called The Stereotypes. They have begged Apu to join.
- Toki Wartooth and Skwisgaar Skwisgelf of Metalocalypse frequently mangle the English Language.
- Of course, the entire cast just isn't that bright. "Don't just get booze! That ain't food!"
- Family Guy has Peter's colleague Fouad, who finds sarcasm hilarious and is willing to explain it every time just in case you didn't get it. "Oh hohhh! He say "Nice day," but he covered with rain!"
- There's also this gem from The Former Life of Brian
Stewie: Brian, this is painful. It's like listening to those two foreign guys down at the coffee shop who've been living in the US almost long enough to sound American.
Scene cuts to coffee shop.
Guy #1: Oh man, what a good bunch of partying at that discotheque. They played one of my audience requests.
Guy #2: Way awesome! I myself drank like five liters of beer. Any more and I would have ended up in hospital, man.
Guy #1: Oh, you said it, friend, but I wanted to stay, because I almost had sex on this girl.
Guy #2: Oh yeah, but it was so expensive. Each drink was like six dollars forty!
- Danny Phantom: Gregor the exotic Hungarian in the episode "Double Cross My Heart". Apparently, white is the new black in Europe! He also gives us the only instance of boys kissing on this show, because he called it a common greeting where he is from. Subverted in that he's actually Elliot from Michigan, and was just pretending to be a foreigner, fooling everyone, including an entire school...to score with a chick!
- Someone from Witch pretended to be French and fluent in Russian. Irma actually was so saw through this deception.
- Sanjay on The Fairly OddParents is an Indian boy who talks with such a weird voice that it attracts cats. Most of the jokes involving him center on the fact that he's way too into Timmy.
- Dexters Laboratory had a character in the episode "The Bus Boy" where Dexter's pencil is knocked into the uninhabited, dark back of the bus. A German boy in lederhosen is one of the kids to describe their account of why they fear to go back there. His story involved him dancing around eating food and lamenting how good it was.
- Pixar's A Bug's Life has Tuck and Roll, the pillbugs of uncertain Eastern European origin.
- Doctor Von Goosewing in 'Count Duckula' is an excitable, loud, Germanic chap.