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Do Chinese lack of humor gene? – part 1


“Three, two, one, applause!” The audience in the Beijing studio cheered as excitedly as anyone could be expected to cheer for an empty stage. They had gathered on a January evening last year for a taping of “Is It True?” — a show broadcast on the Chinese state-run network CCTV2 and hosted by the comedian Joe Wong. Before Wong came out to tell jokes, the director wanted to record the audience members’ reaction. “Don’t be too quiet,” he advised them. “This is a lively program.”

“三,二,一,鼓掌!”在北京的这间演播室里,观众们面对空空如也的舞台兴奋地欢呼起来。这是去年1月的一天晚上,他们正在参与录制《是真的吗?》,这是中国官方媒体中央电视台二套播出的一档栏 目,主持人是喜剧演员黄西(Joe Wong)。在黄西上台讲笑话之前,导演希望先录好观众的反应。“别太安静,”他向观众建议道。“这是一个欢快的节目。”

A few minutes later, the lights flashed. “Everyone please give a warm welcome to Joe Wong!” the announcer shouted. The opening bars of Van Halen’s “Jump” played. Wong came running in through a door behind the audience, gave the camera “rock on” fingers and a Gene Simmons tongue wag and bounded onstage. His aggressively unfashionable haircut and glasses, combined with his red dress shirt and gold bow tie, made him look like a very old child. (He is 45.)

几分钟后,灯光闪烁起来。“有请黄西!” 报幕员高呼道。现场响起范·海伦(Van Halen)的《跳跃》(Jump)的前奏。黄西从观众身后的一扇门中跑出来,对着镜头做了一个“摇滚不死”的手势,又像吉恩·西蒙斯(Gene Simmons)那样摆动舌头,随后跳跃着走上了舞台。他的发型和眼镜落伍得厉害,再加上红色衬衣和金色领结,看起来就像一个老顽童。(他现在45岁。)

Wong then launched into 10 minutes of American-style stand-up comedy with distinctly Chinese punch lines. A man was arrested for robbing a bank using pepper spray, he said. “It worked twice. The third time, they caught him because the police were from Hunan.” (Hunanese food is spicy.) “They say that to get married these days, you need a house and a car. But when my wife and I got married, we didn’t have a house or a car — and I still didn’t dump her.” (In China, men are expected to provide.) The jokes were punctuated with sound effects: the boyoyoing of a spring, the tinkle of a piano.

黄西随后开始了10分钟的美式单人脱口秀,其中的笑料都明显带有中国特色。他说,一名男子用胡椒喷雾抢银行被抓了。“头两次成功了,第三次被抓住了,因为 警察是湖南人。”(湖南菜很辣。)“有人说现在要结婚必须得有车有房。但我老婆和我结婚的时候,我们没有车也没有房——我也没把她甩了啊。”(在中国,车 和房一般由男方提供。)这些笑话中间夹杂着一些音效:弹簧弹出的声音,以及钢琴的叮咚声。

Watching his delivery and the audience’s frequently awkward response, you wouldn’t guess that Wong is one of the most successful stand-up comedians in China. This says as much about stand-up comedy in China, where the form is still in its infancy, as it does about Wong. When most audience members watch him perform, they’re not just seeing him for the first time: It’s their first exposure to live stand-up, period. They’re not always sure how to react.

看着他的表演和观众常常有些冷场的反应,你不会猜到黄西是中国最成功的单口喜剧演员之一。这在很大程度上反映了中国单口喜剧行业的状况,这种表演形式仍在 起步阶段,黄西也是。多数观众看黄西表演时,不光是第一次见到他,这也是观众第一次现场观看单口喜剧。他们有时候并不明白该如何做出反应。

The most widespread form of comedy in China is xiangsheng — typically translated as “cross-talk” — a traditional two-person performance that often features wordplay and references to Chinese literary classics, as well as singing and dancing. Cross-talk originated with street performers during the late Qing dynasty. In one classic bit, two men (they were always men) try to perform a famous Peking opera, but only one of them actually knows the script; the other is faking it, while trying to make the competent one look like the fool. The closest American analogue is Abbott and Costello.

中国最常见的喜剧形式是相声,那是一种通 常由两人表演的传统节目,其中通常包括一些文字游戏,以及对中国经典文学作品的引用,此外还包括唱歌和舞蹈。相声的起源是晚清时期的街头卖艺。一则典型的 相声段子中,两名男子(相声演员通常是男性)打算合演一段著名的京剧,但只有一人懂戏,另一个人只是假装会唱,但却让真正会唱的那个人出洋相。美国最近似 的节目是埃伯特和科斯特洛(Abbott and Costello)。

Whereas cross-talk actors mostly use scripts written by masters, stand-up comedians express their own opinions about the world; the form rewards uniqueness. “Cross-talk is just about laughing,” Song told me. “Stand-up is about thinking, too.” 


In stand-up, comedians like Song and Xi discovered a vehicle for not only humor but also self-expression. And unlike some aspects of Chinese society, stand-up is refreshingly meritocratic. “If your jokes are funny, people laugh,” Song said. “If your jokes are boring, people won’t laugh, even if you’re a celebrity.” 


“China does not have stand-up comedy,” Zhou Libo told me, reclining on a couch in his wood-paneled trailer in the southern city of Hangzhou. A slender 48-year-old man with an expressive, almost cartoonlike face and slicked-over hair, Zhou is one of China’s best-known comedians.



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