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So far, one of the brightest Comedy Club China stars has been Ryan Ha, a 20-something American-born Chinese guy from Washington, D.C., whose popularity is enhanced by the fact that although he looks Chinese and hails from a country with a majority white population, he speaks eerily similar to black Americans. His routine is even reminiscent of comedy legend Chris Rock at times. In one particularly popular bit, Ha illustrates that his Chinese face is an advantage back home, because if he’s ever challenged to a fight, all he must do is scream and assume a Bruce Lee kung fu stance, and his attackers will usually flee without a word.
Another standout is Mia Li, who is not only the only female performer thus far, but also the only one born in China. Playing on the common acronym “ABC”, which refers to “American-Born Chinese”, on stage Li refers to herself as “Accidentally Born Chinese.”
“A lot of people don’t expect a Chinese girl to come on stage and do stand-up,” remarked Ottery, “which is traditionally a very male environment, least of all in her second language. I think I want to marry her actually.”
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. So far, critical reception and audience reactions haven’t been all positive. “I don’t know if it’s the diverse crowds, the language, or the fact that I’m rusty, but it’s really hard to get consistent laughs in Beijing,” Californian comedian Scott Huntsman revealed. “Maybe it’s the fact that everyone is used to watching TV and movies that don’t talk back. Live performance is two-way communication. And even the foreign faces don’t necessarily understand English well-enough to get everything. Of course, this is likely all rationalization to justify my own unfunniness, but I doubt George Carlin could win over some of these crowds. I think I’m going to steal and butcher his material next time just to make myself feel better.”
“Stand-ups are always going to riff about the environments they live in and a lot of the foreigners here are fish out of water,” noted Ottery. “So they do a lot of stuff about Beijing, as you can imagine there is a lot of love for Beijing and a fair bit of exasperation too. Taxi drivers are pretty unique, so they seem to crop up in a fair few routines. The other thing is how international the crowd is. If the crowd is Korean, Chinese, American, Spanish, French, German and Nigerian¡ you are not going to be able to use a routine devised for a British pub. So a lot of our comedy reflects the sheer internationalness (that’s not a word is it?) of life in Beijing.”
Until the group’s work enables a permanent venue, Ottery and Smits will continue negotiating with managers of Beijing’s existing bars, promising big, thirsty crowds on performance night in exchange for access to a stage. So far, in this regard, his efforts have been an overwhelming success.
“When we have been promoting our events, one of the first things I ask people is, ‘do you like comedy?’” smiled Ottery. “Very occasionally someone says ‘no’; it always makes them look insane.”