Have you ever heard the term bilingual joke?
Should we assume that what is considered funny in one culture will be as funny in another? Of course not!
Some comedians make a special effort to find out what makes audiences in different countries laugh. In order to do this they must overcome all sorts of cultural and linguistic barriers. Language Connections takes a look at what audiences interpret as funny in China through the experiences of foreign comedians.
Chinese Crosstalk | Bilingual Joke
One form of comedy that is very popular in China is known as xiangsheng or crosstalk. The core component of this type of Chinese stand-up comedy is word play. Namely, by using linguistic puns to poke fun at literary and historical figures, it provides a medium for social commentary. Xiangsheng is thought to have originated in Beijing during the Ming Dynasty.
Ding Guangquan, a master xiangsheng performer, is known for teaching foreign comics the art of xiangsheng through cultural awareness and linguistics. Comedian David Moser, who studied under Ding Guangquan, compares xiangsheng to the “Whose on First” skit by Abbott and Costello. A kind of verbal art, xiangsheng similarly takes its cues from popular culture and is performed as a duet.
Chinese Improv | Bilingual Joke
Humor relies so much upon cultural perspectives and linguistics. But one must be especially careful when poking fun at culture or politics in China. Foreign comedians soon learn that Chinese audiences respond best to situation comedy or jokes about their own deficiencies learning to speak Chinese. One improv troupe, called Big, capitalizes on the fact that some of its members are bilingual. When audiences shout out suggestions, as is the case in improv theater, troupe players improvise a scene in both English and Chinese. The troupe also tailors material depending on whether they are performing for Chinese audiences in China or Chinese-American audiences in the US.
Is there such a thing as a translatable joke? If so, what do you think that might mean? Some jokes are funny in more than one language. The late night TV comedy show the Daily Show hosted by the political satirist, Jon Stewart, is becoming quite popular in China. In the Chinese version of the show, Jon Stewart is known as Jiong Situ. Although the subtitle translation services are not always the best, they are apparently good enough to make Chinese audiences laugh.
In April of this past year a clip of a joke about North Korea went viral in China, receiving three million hits! Several shows have received high ratings among Chinese viewers. Especially after John Stewart decided to cater to his new fan base (to the point where he renamed the program in one segment “The Daily Show with Imperialist Puppet.”) Here are a couple of jokes from this particular segment: “How about this air pollution? I’ve seen Confucius quotes that are clearer.” “What do you call a hundred Taiwanese citizens in a bathtub? Chinese! Because Taiwan does not exist independently.”
Source NPR The World in Words Podcast National Public Radio
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