What do you get when you dump a bunch of expats from all over the world in the middle of Beijing? A thriving comedy scene that’s what. Stand-up comedy is alive and booming in China, so buckle up for a ride through the dynamics of navigating the Beijing comedy circuit told from the eyes of one of the scene’s newest pioneers, Lauren David, founder of WeiLaugh Comedy Club.
Do Chinese people like to laugh? Well stand-up comedy in general is a new idea to Chinese culture and expat English language comedy in China is an even bigger novelty given that the Beijing circuit is still in its infancy at around four years old. Currently the scene has two English language stand-up clubs, which hold a combination of three weekly open mics at various bars throughout the city. The main player in the game is Comedy Club China, founded in 2012, with a solid list of 18 comedians performing each week at an open mic and one to two showcases per month. With the scene developing at a rapid rate, a few comedians saw the need to establish another club for the purposes of providing new platforms and reaching new audience members throughout the city. Consequently, WeiLaugh Comedy Club was born in June of 2016. WCC boasts a weekly roster of 12-15 comedians and came out guns blazing, selling out their first showcase on Halloween weekend. Altogether there are about 30 comedians who perform on a regular basis, new faces being added each week and bigger name Chinese comedians who bless the mic from time to time. WCC is working together with Shanghai Comedy Club to bring in international headlining comedians like Mike Ward; who is poised for shows coming in December, with the future goal of adding one major international headlining show per month.
However, English language comedy isn’t the only game– bilingual comedy is now a thing in Beijing. The newest type of club on the scene is the US-China Comedy Center, which holds bilingual comedy nights, where Boston’s own Fulbright scholar turned professional comedian Jesse Appell is trying to bridge the communication gap between English and Chinese performances. Jesse is one of the only expat comedians performing in both languages and he is truly spearheading the next generation of comedy in China by providing a home for improv, stand-up and cultural exchange. Jesse’s center is only a few months old, located in a courtyard hutong and seats 60, which makes for an intimate setting in an environment that represents Chinese culture at its best. It’s exciting to see what the future of USCCC has in store for the Beijing comedy scene. Jesse is also visiting the US in November with his Great LOL of China improv and stand-up workshop tour at universities on the East coast and California. Watch out for this guy because he is shaping the future of comedy with this innovative new club.
Who attends Beijing comedy shows? In terms of audience, it is particularly challenging to provide quality humor that hits across the board with every nationality. The audience consists of expats from all over the world mixed in with the Chinese, and sometimes if a comedian is too clever with words or uses obscure cultural references, the humor can be lost in translation. An average open mic audience is about 20 people, where an average showcase is around 80-100, where tickets sell for around $7-10 a piece (equivalent to 50-70 RMB in Chinese). With laughter coming this cheap, it isn’t hard to sell tickets to a bunch of stressed out expats who need to relax and forget about the busy city life for a few hours.
The circle of comedians consists mostly of expats from Britain and America, but there are also comics from South Africa, Brazil and Canada, with a few Chinese citizens. Not surprisingly the ratio of male to female comics is disproportionate, with only two regular female comedians currently in the Beijing circuit.
Let’s start with Tony Chou who is an established stand-up comedian from Mainland China. He performs in both English and Mandarin and has performed all over China, America, Ireland, Thailand and Hong Kong. Tony hosts his own political satire show called Redily Chou, and is the co-founder and host of Humor Section, the best Chinese-speaking stand-up comedy club since 2014. As a comedian, Chou has been featured in numerous magazines and radio shows including the New York Times, The Economist and BBC (Radio). Tony also has extensive experience in media as he worked as a CCTV journalist for 7 years.
The first expat comic worth mentioning is the very British Paul Creasy, the default godfather of English language Beijing comedy, who is not responsible for its creation but has been around since its inception in 2012. A journalist by day and performing comedy for fun at night, Creasy brings a dry wit to the scene and is one of the most polished comedians in Beijing. Creasy is also a member of the Beijing Improv English Players, which has been around since 2007.
Next up is the Burmese-British brainiac Nigel Tu, who heads Comedy Club China. It’s not far-fetched to say that Tu is the comedian doing the most clever comedy in Beijing. He is the king of puns and is known for his deadpan style of delivery. Nigel has performed across stages in Korea, England, Hong Kong and Mainland China, even doing a feature set in Burma.
Let’s make some room for one of the main ladies on the scene now with Jennifer Hsiung, a Canadian born Chinese mother of two and marathon runner who is the CCTV host of Culture Express. Jennifer is one of the only female comics left in Beijing and she has an arsenal of funny accents that the audience adores. Not only is Jennifer a great comic, but she is inspirational as she manages to balance a family, career and comedy with style, grace and a splash of sarcasm.
In keeping with the theme of diversity, there’s Lincoln Van der Westhuizen, the South African charmer who melts the crowd with his stage persona and accent. Lincoln headlined his own show earlier this year and is a staple to the Beijing comedy scene, delivering fresh crowd work every week. Even when he’s snapping on audience members for their weird hair or body language, they still love him. The fans love him, the comics love him and really, well everyone just loves Lincoln.
Lastly, there’s a need to mention New York’s own Paulie Caccamise, who is the only comic in Beijing doing alternative comedy. Paulie calls himself a ‘physical stand-up comedian’ and every week he brings a new character to life on the stage at open mics. Hailing from a background in theatre, Paulie delivers each performance with hilarious commitment and spends countless hours editing his own soundtracks for each set. We never know what to expect from Paulie, but his shows are always exciting to watch.
There you have it- the low down on the Beijing comedy scene. In this land of misfit toys, there’s a bunch of comics coming together for the common purpose of making life a bit funnier in this hazy bustling city by providing a variety of different styles of comedy with an audience as diverse as Donald Trump’s collection of wives. Stay tuned for more scoop Straight Outta Beijing!
For more about comedy in China, visit www.subnormalz.com.