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January 21, 2010

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Comic mixes music, monologue

SHANGHAI stand-up comedian Zhou Libo was No. 1 in the top 10 Google searches in China in 2009. He is famous for his irreverent daily-life monologues mostly in Shanghai dialect and has never performed outside of the city.

Many people say his Shanghai-centric jokes would probably fall flat elsewhere.

Surprisingly, Zhou's bold response to such skepticism is to take up a baton and conduct an orchestra in Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and other classics.

The funny man, lover of classical music, plans to mix monologue with great musical compositions.

"Humor is my method rather than my purpose," Zhou tells a press conference. "And I hope to popularize classic music through my humorous ways."

On January 30, Zhou will stage his first out-of-Shanghai show in Beijing's Forbidden City Concert Hall, with the China Philharmonic Orchestra. All but around 80 tickets among 1,400 remain, a rare sign of popularity for a classical music concert in China. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to music education foundations.

The program features what Zhou calls "high-end and somewhat mysterious" compositions such as the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th Symphony and the "1812 Overture" from Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony.

Zhou will conduct two pieces and chat with orchestra members, including music director and conductor Yu Long.

The show will be about 50-50, music and monologue.

Zhou, who is in his late 40s, says he wants to contrast "professional difficult pieces with my humorous simplistic interpretations of them."

"The fact that I will conduct classical music pieces is more significant than which pieces I will conduct or how professionally I can do it," says Zhou.

He says he hopes to drag perceived high-brow music out of mystery through his cross-over and humorous interpretations.

Zhou calls himself "a fanatic amateur" who started appreciating classical music when he was in his twenties.

For the upcoming performance, he has taken lessons from private tutors including conductor Yu Long.

"Classical music has always been a high-brow and somewhat mysterious art form because we don't understand it. It seems complicated and we assume it's difficult to understand," says Zhou.

"But it's just another form of expression like writing," he says, adding that anyone can appreciate and understand classical music "as long as they have feelings."

He hopes the concert will prove him right and that "the whole audience will leave the concert hall saying, 'Now I understand'."

The local stand-up comedian rose to stardom in late 2008 with his "Shanghai-style clean talk." He recalls and re-interprets life during "cultural revolution" (1966-76) and pokes fun at some Chinese and foreign leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama.

Zhou plans to apply his down-to-earth wit and examples from daily life to what some consider the arcane world of classical music.

In his rehearsals with the orchestra, Zhou has deliberately omitted any chatting. All talk and interaction during the performance will be spontaneous.

Zhou is currently performing his third major show "Crazy for Money" almost every night in Shanghai, and it sold out a month in advance, like earlier shows.

Since he became famous in late 2008, Zhou has tried crossing over to other fields. Last year he published his first book, "The Witty Dictionary," about Shanghai dialects. These days he appears on a TV show interviewing celebrities, including popular writer Han Han, real estate developer Wang Shi and "Super Girls" champion Li Yuchun.

Date: January 30, 7:30pm

Venue: Forbidden City Concert Hall, Beijing Zhongshan Park, west side of Tian'anmen Square

Tickets: 180-1,880 yuan

Tel: (010) 6559-8285


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