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UPDATED: November 28, 2014 NO. 31 AUGUST 1, 2013
Universal Humor
Translators bring American comedy to Chinese netizens
By Ji Jing

POKER FACE: Lady Gaga appears on Late Show with David Letterman, May 23, 2011 in New York (CFP)

Gudabaihua currently receives hundreds of comments each time he posts an episode online.

In Beijing, stand-up comedy shows are put on at clubs located deep in hutongs. Hot Cat Club is one popular venue. Performances are staged by both foreign and Chinese comedians. Tony Zhou, who works as a journalist for China Central Television during the day, performs English shows at the club at night.

Compared to Chinese "cross talks," where comedians tell stories irrelevant to themselves, Western-style sometimes talk shows are more personalized, with performers sharing their real life experiences or observations with the audience, Zhou explained.

A big dream

Guo majored in international trade at university, subsequently working for an automobile dealership that sells imported cars. However, he quit six years ago and has since focused exclusively on American culture studies.

"I earned a lot of money working at the dealership, but found myself unhappy in life. I had to follow my heart and do something that I love," he said.

The translator spends more than seven hours each day studying American politics, religion and philosophy by reading books on related topics, while translating talk shows accounts for only a small proportion of his daily engagement.

The motivation behind his hard work lies in his dream to become a guest on an American talk show one day.

Although some Chinese envy American ways of expression, Guo said the U.S. political system is not without defects, which is evident in stateside talk shows.

A conservative anchor would look for the contradictions in a liberal's speeches and make fun of such incoherence to entertain the audience, and vice versa. As a result, no problems can be solved. It's the same with democrats and republicans. In their debates, both stick to their own ways of thinking, with neither party capable of convincing the other.

In order to make his ideas better suited to a possible Western audience, Guo watches American talk shows and reads interesting quotations to improve his own sense of humor.

"If I convey my ideas in a humorous way, people would feel more inclined to consider what I have to say," he explained.

Guo's dream sounds unrealistic because it is not easy for a Chinese person to gain an opportunity to appear on an American talk show. First, he must speak fluent English; second, he needs to have a sense of humor that locals can understand.

Wong's success as a standup comedian in the United States is very rare. He earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Rice University in the 1990s. When many of his Chinese classmates secured a teaching position at American universities, Wong chose to become a comedian because of his interest in humor. He said Chinese professors are common in the United States, but that Chinese seldom appear in American media. He wanted to make a breakthrough by telling immigrant stories in a funny way.

Guo knows it is not easy to copy Wong's success. In addition, he said they differ in that his purpose is not to make people laugh, but to introduce the Chinese way of thinking into American politics.

"To achieve my purpose will be tough. Nevertheless, I will persist in the pursuit of my dreams," he said.

Email us at: jijing@bjreview.com

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