The other day we heard of Dashan, the most famous white guy in China. He’s actually Arizona Coyote legend Chris Pronger:
Wait, no he’s not. Okay, he is really a guy named Mark Rowswell who hails from The Great White North. Somehow he managed to master Mandarin to a freaky degree and make quite a career for himself as a comedian and TV presenter in China.
One of the things that brought him to prominence is his proficiency at something called xiangsheng, the English equivalent of which might be crosstalk. It’s a performance style whereby (usually) two people engage in a sort of free flowing back and forth repartee, which depends upon high level mastery of the language and the culture. Amazingly, Rowswell can do this. He studied Chinese at U of T in the 1980s and continued his studies in China.
Xiangsheng is interesting. Dashan describes it as sort of like Abbott and Costello’s Who’s On First routine. I watched a couple of translated performances and they are sort of weird. It’s like North American comedy from the 1950s almost, without a hint of touching on anything remotely controversial, political, or critical of anything (which for the record must be so much harder to do successfully than just ranting about stupid people, religion, the government, and so on). I suppose this makes sense as North America in the 50s and China now might share a certain reverence for the government and don’t -rock-the-boat ethic that would bleed its way into culturally acceptable comedy. I’m sure Gilbert Gottfried or Sarah Silverman would seem horrible to a lot of Chinese, or Canadians born in 1932.
Here’s a slight taste of Dashan, which to us seems like humour you might expect in a retirement home, or a TV show targeted at six-year-olds.
But here’s the most interesting part! I stumbled upon an absolutely fascinating piece on Quora, written by Dashan himself. Give it a read, even if you know nothing about him, it’s quite insightful. Not using Quora? It’s the place on the internet where people actually have intelligent discussions free from trolls or pithy pointless snark (except for the moronic religious “discussions” – the worst of which are smug American atheists arguing with people and obviously thinking they’re the smartest people in human history), and you’ll learn some genuinely interesting things from people around the world. Check it out. You need in account, but it’s worth it.