July 28, 2009

The first Shanghainese Stand Up Comic

Posted in Chinese tagged at 12:47 pm by The Data Sleuth

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“I am Libo Zhou. Welcome to my Shanghai Stand-up Show!”

A man in his early 40’s appeared on stage. He wearing dark suit with white shirt. His short hair was combed back in a very neat fashion. The comedian smiled and bowed several times in front of applauses and occasional “bravos”.

He is now one of the most famous comedian in this city. His show is so popular that the tickets are all gone within one or two days. Each ticket costs about 380 RMB (approximately $55), which means his show could be one of the most expensive in Shanghai. Yet, they are sold out like crazy.

Mr. Zhou’s comedy talent showed up when he was still a child. He was naughty and funny, and soon enough the neighbors gave him a nickname called “Little funny man”.

In 1981, Mr. Zhou was discovered and then recruited by Shanghai Comedian Company, becoming the youngest member of this group (he was 17). The late Mr. Baichun Zhou (not related to the younger Mr. Zhou) was his mentor. The senior Mr. Zhou was one of the most famous comedians at his time. He and his brother Mushuang Yao were the “Kings” of Shanghai comedy stage. Their stage life had spanned for 70 years until their passing.

The Shanghainese comedy, also called “Hua Ji Xi”(Funny drama) is notably different from the Beijing comedy “Xiang Sheng”(Cross talk). It is restricted to Shanghainese and nearby dialect. Comedians use both funny jokes and body languages to make audience laugh. Contrast to Beijing comedies, Shanghainese comedies are more open and liberal. They talked about politics a lot in their plays, while Beijing comedies avoid doing so.

As soon as Mr. Zhou started his career as a comedian, he went famous instantly. He’s young, energetic, and highly talented. He can imitate different singers, actors, and politicians. He can tell jokes and make people laugh. His body language is also superb.

However, in 1990, Mr. Zhou was asking his would-be father-in-law’s permission to marry his daughter but was refused. He was enraged and hit the old man on his eyes, critically injured him. This incident sent him in jail for four year. His once promising comedian career came to an end. After he was released, he disappeared from the stage and made living by doing small business.

In the year of 2006, Shanghainese comedy fell into its low point. “The Kings” passed away and none of the younger generation is talented to inherit their throne. Mr.Zhou had been away from the stage for 16 years. He was really sad to see the once popular comedy scene had declined so much. In the meantime, many of his friends encouraged him to come back. Dongtian Guan, an famous Beijing opera actor, promised to be his agent and producer. Mr.Guan told him, “Now it’s time for the come-back!”

In the late 2006, Mr.Zhou returned to his comedian career. He decided that the traditional Shanghainese Comedy needed a change. The younger generation would not like the old-fashioned, and slow-paced “funny drama”. What they want is something can reflect the ever-changing world. His return was a success. Mr.Zhou landed a regular role in a Shanghainese comedy soap opera called “Funny tales in Colonial era” on TV. His distinct style brought up the rating of this show.

The success on TV raised Mr.Zhou’s morale. His next project is come back to the stage. In 2008, he started his one-man show “30 years of laughs” in Shanghai indoor Stadium. The show is about the changing of this world in the last 30 years. Whether it’s fashion, politics, celebrities, or just day to day life. The show coined the term “Shanghainese Stand-up Comedy”. Mr.Zhou is then hailed to be its founder father.

Each show is 2 hours and 20 minutes long. Mr.Guan serves as the emcee. Although he made his name in Beijing Operas for more than 20 years, Mr.Guan is a funny man himself. After Mr.Guan’s warm-ups. Mr.Zhou showed up on stage in various costumes, either as Chow Yun-fat in Hong Kong gangster movies or as Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible series. Then, he takes off his customes and begins to entertain audience.

Heavily inspired by American stand-up comic, Mr.Zhou has his own style. His jokes is like telling a story, and there was a lot to say before finally reaching the punch line. It may seem to be hard to understand at first time. But as soon as you figure out, it will keep you laughing for several minutes. For example:

“I was driving on a narrow country road. The one only allows one car to drive though. There was this red car tailgating me and honking at me. Because he thought I was driving too slow. So I let him pass me politely. And this dude gave me a finger! Whatever…After 10 minutes, the red car was waiting for me over there. Yeah right he was WAITING for me, with his car BELLY UP!”

Another example:

“I have a friend who hates wearing seat belts when driving. But ya know, cops fine you for not wearing seat belt. So he bought a sling bag with gray shoulder belt and put it on his shoulder. So the cops believes he is wearing seal belts. But one day, he still got fined. Why?
He put his sling bag in AN OPPOSITE WAY!”

Mr.Zhou managed to keep all his material clean, without any swearing words. It is totally family-friendly although kids might be too young to understand his jokes. This distinct him from the modern Beijing comedy, which use a lot of swearing and tend to make fun of gays. Mr. Zhou is always straightforward and readily to criticize whatever the Shanghainese culture thinks it wrong. On Shanghainese men are considered “not man enough”, he said,

“Some Northerners think us Shanghainese men are sissy. That is not right. For example, in the old days, all the mafia god fathers are Shanghainese. If they decided to kill someone, you know what they said? (Shanghai dialect) Clean it up! And then all you northerners guns for hire took the order and CLEAN IT UP for those Shanghainese bosses! So think about it. WHO IS SISSY?”

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He also made fun of economic crisis:

“The Shanghai Stock Exchange Market is like a magic box. It always turns beautiful things into ugly. Like, ya know. Yao Ming get into the market and then he became Mini-Me! Bill Gates in, Homeless man out; PH.Ds in, Dummies out!” (this part was edited due to cultural differences, some names were replaced)

Mr.Zhou’s shows became a phenomenon instantly. His jokes were quoted thousands of times in newspaper articles, blogs, and even the essay part of the college entrance exams.

Of course his show is made for Shanghainese. Lots of funny jokes were lost in translation, even into Mandarin Chinese. Only Shanghainese understand many of his jokes. He takes pride of being a Shanghainese native and fights back the prejudice and hostility from Northerners. Therefore, comedians from North would hate him guts. Mr. Zhou joked,

“There was this show organizer want me to cooperate with Degang Guo (A famous Beijing comedian). I said no. Well, think about it. A man who drinks coffee is not in the same track with a man who chews onions. Am I right?”

(Most Shanghainese likes drinking Coffee and almost all Northerners like chewing onions)

This statement was immediately protested by Beijing Comedians. Mr. Zhou then explained,

“Some Northerners do not like what I said about coffee and onions. Allow me to explain, please. When you drink a black coffee, it tastes bitter but others think it smells good. Now when you chew an onion. You may think it tastes good but others think it smells pretty bad, right? We Shanghainese like coffee, that is because we want to save the bitterness to ourselves and good smell for others. Am I right?”

His show is very nostalgic. He has enjoyed talking about what happened in the 60’s to 80’s. This made his show attractive to middle aged folks as well as the younger generation. I only have some blur memory about the 80’s while my parents laughed so hard when Mr. Zhou displayed how the 80’s was like.

Then he also talks about the modern days, and he is always amazed how many changes happened in the last few decades. “Poor can become rich, rich can become poor. USSR became Russia, and Saddam became a hanged ghost”.

After his sold out show “30 years of laughs”, Mr. Zhou has plans for more stand up shows. The next in line is “Crazy for money”, poking fun of economic crisis, stock market, and housing market. As for now. his schedule for 2009 is already filled up. As far as we know, all the tickets are sold out, already!

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1 Comment »

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