Stand-up Comedy in China
“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, an energetic young man in white-framed glasses and a puffy vest, wanted to record the audience members’ reaction. “Don’t be too quiet,” he advised them. “This is a lively program.”
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.)
“Hello, everybody, I’m Huang Xi,” he said, using his Chinese name, then added a pun: “Huang like a cucumber, Xi like a watermelon.” Mild chuckles. Glissando sound effect. “That wasn’t a joke,” he said.
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.
The show segued into the main act, in which Wong and his co-host, Jessica Chen, a tall woman with even taller hair, investigate online rumors, “MythBusters”-style....