So An American Comic Walks Into A Chinese Bar ... : Parallels American comics are taking the stage in China's small but growing stand-up comedy circuit. Their bicultural, and often bilingual, shows are a new form of cultural exchange.

So An American Comic Walks Into A Chinese Bar ...

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China has opened up to the world over the past few decades to the point where it has become a destination for foreign artists and cultural entrepreneurs to build careers, including many Americans who are there to open clubs, make films or run magazines. And recently, a few have been drawn to a tiny but growing stand-up comedy scene. NPR's Anthony Kuhn went to some of their shows and filed this report.


ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: An auditorium full of college students in Beijing makes a lively audience. For many, it's their first taste of Western-style stand -up comedy. And Jesse Appell may well be the first comedian they've encountered from Boston.

JESSE APPELL: (Speaking Chinese). I park my car in Harvard Yard. (Speaking Chinese). (In Boston accent) I park my car in Harvard Yard.


KUHN: With more Chinese traveling and studying abroad these days, they're more likely to have actually been to Boston. And so, Appell says, he can joke about a specific city in the U.S., unlike a couple of decades ago when...

APPELL: Being a non-Chinese would've been your entire identity. Now being foreign is still a big part of my identity, but I can start to pick and talk about being from Boston.

KUHN: In 2012, Appell won a Fulbright scholarship to study comedy in China. He apprenticed himself to a master of a traditional Chinese form of comedy called Xiangsheng, or crosstalk. It's very formal. And performers don't talk about themselves. Canadian performer Mark Rowswell also got his start in crosstalk. Dashan, or big mountain, as he's known in Chinese, has been China's most famous foreign TV personality for much of the past two decades. Going from crosstalk to stand-up is like a quantum leap from Abbott and Costello to Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor. Lately, Rowswell's been doing standup

MARK ROWSWELL: It's really liberating for me because all the stuff I did learning Xiangsheng was great, and I hope to bring those skills into it. But now I'm telling my own stories. It's my own creativity.

KUHN: For now, stand-up comedy in China is relegated to bars and clubs. You won't find it in theaters or on TV or radio yet.


KUHN: One recent show was held at a wine bar in a Beijing residential neighborhood. Comedian Des Bishop is on stage. He's from Queens, N.Y., by way of Dublin, Ireland.


DES BISHOP: Hello Beijing. Keep your voice down. The neighbors are not happy - please. Thank you.

KUHN: One neighbor is particularly unhappy because a foreign customer of the wine bar apparently had too much wine and then relieved himself in the neighbor's garden. The irate neighbor then strides onto the stage and points to a Caucasian man sitting in the audience.


BISHOP: Was it you?

KUHN: Bishop sends the foreigner off to apologize to the neighbor while working the whole mess into his comic routine. He launches into a spiel about experiencing a moment of enlightenment amid the swirling chaos of Beijing's traffic.


BISHOP: Like all foreigners, when I got here, I didn't realize that they have a different way of driving to us - right? - bcecause they have, like, this connection on the road. You know, this kind of sense of each other that we don't have? You know, at first you don't get it. And then the minute it clicks, the whole thing makes sense. You just start moving with it, man. For years, I was watching people doing tai chi in the park. I thought it was exercise. It's a driving lesson.

KUHN: Bishop has studied Chinese for just two years. He performs in both Chinese and English. He says he wants to make both Chinese and foreigners laugh and then think.

BISHOP: If I can succeed in my goal and understand them enough to make them laugh, I think we'll be able to translate that into something that people in the West can say, oh, I had never thought I would see China that way.

KUHN: So whether it's about China or comedy, Bishop is just trying to help himself and his audience to say, I get it. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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