Anna Chen's radio feature on Chinese humour - Found in Translation - aired yesterday on BBC Radio 4.
Anna talks to American Chinese comic Joe Wong, British academics Dr Ashley Thorpe and Dr Hwee-San-Tan as well as Beijing comic who is still practising the ancient art of cross-talk (xiangsheng). Cross-talk, word play and punning is very interesting - a kind of triple entendre comedy threat!
In fact when I was learning Mandarin this is one of the things that I found really difficult - ideograms/characters will have more than one meaning and the same phonetic sound can have a totally different meaning when given a very slight tonal difference. Aiya! My brain hurts just thinking about it again. My Mandarin never did get past more than menu items and basics (I am ashamed to admit).
When I think of 'Chinese humour' I think more of Cantonese Hong Kong humour and the slap stick comedy found in movies such as Aces Go Places. I also think of Stephen Chow and all of his great comedy films (God of Cookery is my personal favourite)and the Cantonese mo lei tau humour he employs. I had presumed this all stemmed from the theatre and Cantonese opera traditions (which in some ways are comparable to British music hall or American vaudeville satire and entendre).
Mainland Chinese comedy is a bit of an unknown territory and the programme does explore this a little. It seems that the oral tradition of theatre and storytelling were also important. Politics and the Cultural Revolution have meant that comedy in mainland China has not developed in the same way as in Hong Kong. The feature suggests that perhaps because of censorship the traditional method of cross-talk is being favoured to allow comics to joke freely and satirise politics today.
With regards to Chinese mainland cinema I really need to see When the Bullets Fly which is apparently full of cross-talk. I was also intrigued by Red Light Revolution - China's first and only sex shop comedy - which was shown at the Terracotta Film Festival earlier this year. Good news for all who missed it: those lovely people at Terracotta will be distributing it soon in the UK. Watch this space.
If you missed Anna's progamme do tune in via iplayer:
It will definitely get you thinking - and also has a nice little interview with British Chinese Elvis impersonator Paul Hyu.
Anna herself tried her hand at stand up comedy:
All in all an interesting feature which given it's brief time slot of 30mins goes some way to busting a few stereotypes and spring boarding the listener to explore the topic. I wish Radio 4 would use BBC 7 to allow for an extended version of features such as this which could go into more depth.