The story appears on

Page C2-C3

July 31, 2009

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

A Stand-Up Guy

SHANGHAI'S funniest guy is Zhou Libo, "Bobo," a stand-up comic who speaks Shanghainese and pokes fun at everyone in what he calls "Shanghai-Style Clean Talk." Yao Minji laughs out loud.

Wang Xiao, a 28-year-old sales manager, looks at some artsy pictures his overseas Chinese girlfriend sent him, picks up the phone and tells her: "I only like garlic, why do you always feed me coffee?"

His girlfriend is briefly stunned, then gets upset - she doesn't get the joke (that's what it is), but she's furious about the word garlic, which is cheap and smelly.

This comes from a popular joke by immensely popular stand-up Shanghai comic Zhou Libo, nickname "Bobo," who shot to fame last year.

The joke is about the difference between northern and southern Chinese culture, an important element of Zhou's comedy and one of his favorite schticks.

"They always want to put me on the same show with Guo Degang (a famous Beijing cross-talk comic representing northern Chinese comedy), but how can you put coffee and garlic together?" 42-year-old Zhou tells his many audiences, and Shanghai Daily.

Garlic is a necessity in northern Chinese dishes while Shanghai folks are said to be more sophisticated and prefer Western culture, such as coffee.

Many people, though they love his shows, are stung by the reference to smelly garlic and presumably coarse, northern Chinese. They say it's "unfair and unkind."

So, ensuring that he gets the last word, Zhou has added a kicker in his current two-hour show that is sold out through August at the Shanghai Majestic Theater.

"I'm not saying which one is higher-end or which one is lower life," Zhou says with a melodramatic flourish. "But those who eat garlic enjoy that food to the distress of those around them and those who love coffee savor the bitterness but exhale only fragrance."

The audience of more than 1,300 can't help laughing. There's a lot of calling out, repartee and audience involvement in the shows.

The whole garlic/coffee joke is one of his most popular and enduring, and one of the most repeated.

Comedians agree it's difficult to amuse all Chinese people all the time because there are huge differences among regional culture, humor and dialects. Some jokes just don't travel, or translate, well.

But you can amuse some of the people some of the time. And that's what Shanghai boy Zhou does, in Shanghai, speaking mostly in Shanghainese to mostly Shanghai folks.

And he does it solo, one of China's rare one-man stand-up comedians in a nation of comedy sketches.

The famous northern Chinese comedian/actor Xiao Shenyang rose to nationwide fame with his skits on the highly rated CCTV Spring Festival Gala Show in 2009. But his ratings aren't high in Shanghai and he faced smaller audiences on his second visit.

Zhou doesn't even consider leaving Shanghai with the new Shanghai-style comedy he created, Haipai Qing Kou, or Shanghai-Style Clean Talk. It is distinct from comedy shows in which off-color jokes are not uncommon, nor is heavy-handed clownish humor.

"I will never perform Haipai Qing Kou outside of Shanghai because it's rooted in the regional culture and you just can't expect the whole nation to accept the culture of one city," says Zhou.

He plans to turn down offers to appear on the CCTV Spring Festival Gala Show, though the director has praised him publicly.

"Shanghai style is more reserved and subtle and audiences need to think a bit to understand the satire and mockery," says Zhou. "We don't just outright curse or mock people openly."

The market research from Zhou's company, Qing Kou, shows that more than half of his audience are young adults, quite an achievement since entertainers and experts have been trying hard to figure out how to attract young people to live comic shows nationwide.

"To people from the rest of China, the Shanghainese don't have such a good image," says Zhou. "There are a lot of stereotypes about us."

Many outsiders consider Shanghainese men rather weak, unmanly, docile and easily managed by wives, mothers and girlfriends.

"To them, Shanghainese men are very feminine and never dare to fight and Shanghainese women only love Western or rich stuff," says 32-year-old IT consultant Simon Ye, a fan of Zhou.

"I love Bobo (Zhou's nickname) because he confronts all these stereotypes head on and explains why they are wrong in an ironic way. He has built a new reputation for Shanghai citizens and Shanghai culture," he adds.

One of his favorite Bobo jokes is about the definition of gangsters - he uses it to challenge the image of "meek and cowardly" Shanghai men.

"Who are the biggest gangsters in Chinese history? Du Yuesheng and Huang Jinrong and they are both from Shanghai. Shanghai gangsters don't get their hands dirty. They only need to order their thugs from northern China to do it."

So there.

Ye is not alone among Bobo's admirers.

Media and scholars consider him a godsend for Shanghai culture and dialect.

"Zhou (Libo) is the right man and he seizes the right time when Shanghai citizens really are demanding their own culture," says Qian Wenzhong, professor in history at Fudan University and a famous scholar in Shanghai.

"Local Shanghai culture hasn't been mainstream and has been fading for a long time, but recently locals have become aware of the void and need to assert their own local culture," he comments. "Zhou satisfies this need."

The comedian suddenly rose to fame last year with "Xiao Kan Sanshi Nian," or "A Light-hearted Chat on the Past 30 Years," a two-hour show about memories shared by Shanghai citizens as well as current events.

"I was born in 1967, the year right after the 'cultural revolution' (1966-76) started," says Zhou. "So I'm literally a witness to the past 30 years in Shanghai, which includes dramatic and influential events like the 'cultural revolution' and the reform and opening-up," says Zhou.

His routines are filled with many personal experiences, and the audience relates to them.

He jokes about the Shanghai stock market and the Chinese National Soccer Team (he's not very flattering). Every show opens with a topical monologue about current happenings.

He also imitates some Chinese leaders and jokes about foreign leaders, such as French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

Zhou is especially well known for his imitations of widely popular Premier Wen Jiabao, who cultivates a kindly, avuncular image and rushes to disaster scenes to comfort victims. Zhou has the hand gestures and body language down pat, as well as the voice.

Chinese leaders are not common subjects in comedy shows, but Zhou says he has never heard complaints. Most references to leaders have been deleted from his DVDs, however.

While traditional Shanghai comedies are comic dramas or series of skits, Zhou performs alone in stand-up and speaks a mixture of Shanghai dialect, Mandarin Chinese and English in a Shanghai dialect.

His second show, "Xiao Kan Da Shanghai," or "A Light-hearted Chat about Shanghai," started in May as a daily show in the 1,328-seat Majestic Theater. Fans say it's even funnier than his first show.

Zhou spends the second hour of the show describing the excesses of the "cultural revolution" through his own experiences.

In mid-May, all tickets through June were sold out and fans are waiting for the September tickets to be released.

They are all real tickets and everyone has to pay - there are no free tickets to media, friends, celebrities or even relatives, says Zhou. It's a principle.

Celine Li, a 27-year-old art designer, was mobbed by scalpers trying to buy her ticket.

"You can make 100 to 200 yuan by selling the tickets and just go get a five-buck pirated DVD of the show," she quotes one as saying.

Li had never bought a ticket for comedy shows before since she could watch shows on TV or online.

"But he's so popular that I had to see him in person," she says.

Zhou entered the Shanghai Comic Troupe when he was only 15 and studied under late master Zhou Bochun. He became well known in comedy circles in the 1980s.

In the 1990s he mysteriously dropped out and his whereabouts were unknown for more than a decade. He says he went into business. He reappeared last year with his one-man show and Haipai Qing Kou Shanghai comedy style. Zhou Libo's Jokes


Napoleon once said: "Those soldiers who are not willing to be a general are not good soldiers." Don't believe it.

That kind of ambition has led to the downfall of tons of ambitious people who went bankrupt.

Chinese soccer

The greatness of Chinese soccer players lies in their steep learning curve. They have learned to dye their hair, to go clubbing, to speak like Europeans and to play soccer like savages.

Shanghai stock market

(In China, the stock market signs are reversed - red for up and green for down.)

Poor birds! The big screen outside the stock exchange has never turned red, it's green all the time.

But birds don't know the stock market. They just thought they landed in the woods and were so excited that they flew straight into the green screen and died.

The stock market doesn't just play with us, it plays with the birds. Where's the hope for us if even the birds are sacrificed?

The stock market was falling like crazy. You went in as a boss and came out as a beggar, in as one of the elites and out in a coffin.

You went in with hopes of getting rich and came out going crazy, in with both guns blazing and out with two hands above your head.


If you want to stay happy for your whole life, go become a good-hearted person.

If you only want it for half your life, go become a government official because you will have to leave the other half to worry about the country and the people.

If you want to stay happy alone, go to bed and dream.

If you want to make the whole family happy, go do housework.

If you want to amuse the whole table, pay for the dinner.

If you want to amuse 600 people simultaneously, come watch my show. Four Kinds of Chinese Comedy

Distinctive regional comedy styles have developed around China because what's funny often depends on regional culture and language.

Here are four distinctive styles.

Xiangsheng (crosstalk) - Beijing

Xiangsheng, or crosstalk, is probably the most famous form of traditional Chinese comedy outside China. Xiang means resemble and sheng means sound.

Today it commonly involves two fast-talking performers, but it can also feature three or four comics - all speaking Mandarin Chinese.

The style developed from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when a single comedian usually performed alone.

As Mandarin Chinese is the standard language, xiangsheng has been performed nationwide and is traditionally featured in the CCTV Spring Festival Gala Show.

One of the most famous performers is Guo Degang, 36, who became a household name in 2005 with De Yun She, a xiangsheng performing group he established in 1996.

Er ren zhuan - northeastern China

Er ren zhuan, a singing, dancing and comic show, means turning round with two people.

It involves two people, frequently a man and a woman.

It often features heavy-handed jokes, some off-color humor, men dressing in women's clothes and parodying women. Shows involve song, dance and even circus performances.

The heavy northeastern dialect is difficult to understand so the comedy hasn't traveled well, until the 2009 CCTV Spring Festival Gala Show.

Xiao Shenyang, a 27-year-old er ren zhuan performer, made his debut in a skit on the gala and soon became popular nationwide.

Sichuan pingshu - Sichuan Province and Chongqing

Sichuan dialect is one of the most difficult to understand among hundreds of Chinese dialects. That's why Sichuan-style pingshu, or storytelling, is unknown outside the region.

Ping means commenting and shu means book. It is a traditional storytelling art form in which performers tell stories in tea houses, all in dialect.

Li Boqing, who became a monk two years ago, was one of the most popular Sichuan pingshu performers and drew big crowds by modernizing the traditional art.

He told stories of modern life and daily situations.

Like many regional comedians, Li tried to break in nationally by appearing on CCTV programs.

Like many regional comedians, he failed because of the difficult dialect and different culture. He went back home and later entered a monastery.

Stand-up - Hong Kong

Dayo Wong Chi-Wah was one of the first comedians to import and localize Western stand-up comedy in the 1990s. Shanghai stand-up comic Zhou Libo considers Wong an inspiration.

Wong, who performs in Cantonese, has staged only in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, until recently.

The 49-year-old comedian says he plans to go on tour and perform in Mandarin.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend