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Do Chinese lack of humor gene? – part 2

Zhou rejects the term “stand-up comedy” to describe his act because he does more than just talk: He sings, he dances, he does impressions. “They can’t do what I do,” he told me, referring to stand-up comedians. 

周立波拒绝用“脱口秀”来形容他的表演,因为他不只是在说:他唱歌、跳舞、模仿。他对我说,单口喜剧演员“几乎不可能”做到他做的事情。


I had gone to see Zhou because I heard he had a reputation for tackling thorny topics in his act. One of his best-known routines deals with corrupt officials and the absurdity of calling them “the people’s servants”: “Where do you have servants riding in cars while the masters ride bicycles? Where do you have servants living in villas while the masters live in assigned housing?”

我去采访周立波是因为我得知他因为在演出中谈论敏感话题而声名远播。调侃腐败官员并荒谬地称他们为“人民公仆”是他最有名的保留节目之一:“哪有仆人坐车,主人骑自行车的?哪有仆人住别墅,主人住安置房的?”


While Zhou may venture into sensitive territory, he rarely says anything truly controversial. The reason, he said, is simple: “I’m patriotic. Wherever I go, I say: ‘China is good.’ ” Referring to comedians who take jabs at China or its leadership, he said: “They’re whiners, and they’re detrimental to the country. If I were a government bureau, I’d shut them down.”

虽然周立波会冒险进入敏感区域,但他很少提及那些真正具有争议的话题。他表示,原因很简单:“我爱国。我在世界上的任何一个地方,都会说中国好。”提到那些抨击中国或其领导层的喜剧演员时,他说:“那种牢骚对国家是不利的。如果我是国家有关部门,我也会禁掉它的。”


The government bureaus are way ahead of him. In early June 2014, the week of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Joe Wong and a few other comedians were getting ready to perform at 69 Cafe, a small bar in central Beijing. Two officials from the local cultural-affairs bureau walked in and approached the organizer, and suggested that they not perform. The M.C. went onstage and announced that the show was canceled. “That’s not funny!” someone in the audience yelled.

政府部门走在了他前面。2014年6月 初,也就是天安门广场镇压事件25周年的那一周,黄西和几名喜剧演员准备在位于北京市中心的小酒吧69 Cafe进行表演。北京市文化局的两名官员走了进来,找到组织者,并指示他们不要演出。主持人走上台宣布,演出取消。观众席中有人喊道,“这个段子不好 笑!”


A week earlier, two officials dropped in on a Beijing theater show and upbraided one of the comedians for cracking a joke about the Chinese flag. After that, the Beijing Talk Show Club began treading carefully. Cautionary tales arise periodically: In 2012, a Beijing blogger was arrested for tweeting a joke about that year’s national Communist Party meeting. 

在那之前一周,两名官员来到了北京一家剧院观看演出,他们斥责其中一名喜剧演员拿中国国旗开玩笑。之后,北京脱口秀俱乐部开始变得格外小心。警世故事每隔一段时间就会出现:2012年,北京的一 名博客作者被逮捕,原因是他在Twitter上发布有关当年中共全国代表大会的笑话。


Every comedian in China knows that there is a line, but no one knows exactly where it is. That’s how censorship works best: Keep the rules vague, and let everyone police themselves. Some comedians stay clear of the line. Others edge toward it, place a toe on the far side, then skitter away. Occasionally someone plows right across it, but the results aren’t always funny.

在中国,每一个喜剧演员都知道存在界线,但没有人知道它具体在哪儿。审查工作最有效的做法就是,让规定模糊不清,使大家进行自我审查。一些喜剧演员远离界线,另一些则会靠近界线,用脚趾触及边界,然后一掠而过。偶尔有人会直接趟过边界,但结果常常并不好玩。


In practice, though, restrictions are usually felt only at high levels — on TV and in large theaters. In bars, comedians can say whatever they want, except during sensitive periods like the Tiananmen anniversary. “In China, sometimes you just have to wait a little bit, then you can do it again,” Joe Wong told me. In the meantime, controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Song said: “The more you ban something, the more people want to see it.”

但实际上,通常这种限制只能在高层感受到,如电视台和大型剧院。在酒吧里,除了天安门事件的纪念日等敏感时期之外,喜剧演员可以畅所欲言。黄西告诉我,“在中国,有时候你得等一等,之后就可以再去做了。”与此同时,争议不一定是坏事,宋启瑜说:“禁的越多,人们就越想看。”


But most comedians I spoke with argued that in China, there simply isn’t much appetite for sharp-edged political comedy. “In the U.S., people are relatively free,” Wang Zijian, a young TV host, told me. “They have time to follow racial issues or politics. Everyone has an opinion to chip in. The role of comedy shows is very different from China. Here, we’re still at the stage of ‘Just make me laugh.’  ”

但与我交谈过的大多数喜剧演员都认为,在中国,人们对尖锐的政治喜剧没有太多兴趣。“在美国,人们相对比较自由,”年轻的电视台主持人王自健对我说。“他们有时间关注种族或政治问题,大家都有自己的观点要说。美国喜剧表演所扮演的角色,与中国的喜剧表演存在很大差距。中国还处在‘你逗我笑就好了’的境地。”


In this sense, Chinese and American styles of comedy still differ radically. Discomfort is central to American stand-up. But in China, it tends to backfire. During the CCTV New Year’s Gala in 2013, the normally friendly hosts decided, or were told, to make fun of each other. “It didn’t work,” said David Moser, an educator and commentator in Beijing who has long studied Chinese comedy. “They weren’t raised on satire, so it just sounded mean and weird.”

从这个意义上来说,中式喜剧和美式喜剧仍存在很大的差别。令人不舒服的调侃对于美国单口喜剧来说非常重要。但在中国,这往往会带来适得其反的效果。在2013年中央电视台的春节晚会上,通常保持友好的主持人们决定(也可能是受命)要相互取笑。“但没什么效果,”在北京工作的教育工作者、评论员莫大伟(David Moser)说。“他们没有受过讽刺文化的熏陶,因此听起来很刻薄、很奇怪。”莫大伟很早就开始研究中国喜剧。


This, more than political restrictions, may be the biggest obstacle to the emergence of truly good stand-up in China: people’s unwillingness to set aside their pride and take a joke. Wang Zjian told me: “If I talk about the Beijing smog, people will say: ‘You’re losing face for Beijing.’  ” 

相比政治上的限制,这可能才是制约中国出现真正优秀的单口喜剧的最大障碍:人们不愿放下自尊心,开不起玩笑。王自健对我说:“我说北京雾霾,就会有人跟我说,你给北京丢脸。”

2016-06-23

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