Differences in American and Chinese Humor

Joe Wong is a Chinese national who moved to the USfollowing a brief stint as a chemical engineer in Texasto become a stand-up comedian. Honing his craft since the early aughts, Wong achieved the funnyman equivalent of the American Dream nearly a decade later, following his performances on Late Show With David Letterman and Ellen in 2009 and at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner in 2010. But prior to becoming something of a household name stateside, Wong traveled to Beijing in 2008 to perform the Chinese language version of his act, opening with one of his best-known punch lines: Hi everybody So, Im Irish.

Another popular style of American humor is slapsticka broad form of comedy that consists of boisterous, physical and/or mock-violent actions. Though early forms first appeared during the European Renaissance and in comedies by Shakespeare, slapstick really took off in the United States during the Vaudeville era (1880s-1930s). With so many Americans emigrating from different countries and speaking a variety of languages, slapstick, which wholly relied on the use of body language (pies to the ce), props (the inmous whoopeeHumor cushion) and cial expressions to deliver emotions, was the perfect universal form of humor, as it didnt need spoken language to convey its message. Some of the greatest comedians of all time, such as the British-born Charlie Chaplain and the Three Stooges, were slapstick artists whose routines are just as popular today as they were nearly a century ago. And if youre still not convinced of slapsticks staying power, look no further than the crew from Jackass who put a modern, vehement twist on the genre.

A popular Chinese version of stand-up is called cross-talk, or xiangsheng (). Xiangsheng is a mono or multi character performance thats comprised of speaking, imitating, teasing and singing. The character or characters usually talk directly to the audience, wear elaborate clothing, Humor, use creative puns/metaphors, and are known to take historic comic skits from the past and put a modern spin on them. Though xiangsheng can be critical at times (especially when subliminally poking fun at governmental policy) most of the humor would be considered rather childish Differences in American and Chinese Humorfor the average American audience, perhaps since the Chinese have the unwritten rule of saving ce. In other words, jokes aimed at ones personal life are not perceived as funny in Chinese xiangsheng because this causes one to lose ce. For example, when US comedian Judy Carter opened a gig in front of a predominately Chinese audience by saying, I just broke up with my boyfriend, the audience didnt laughthey actually awed out of sympathy since relationships are such a personal matter in China. Moreover, in a nation where ography is illegal, any remarkscomedic or otherwiseregarding or ually related matters are also extremely taboo and never mentioned on stage. So xiangsheng, unlike the majority of US stand-up acts, stays clear from these touchy subjects, instead opting for a more ce-saving and innocent act.

Modern wordplay is oftentimes more risqu, such as the initially innocent-sounding grass mud horse, river crab and intelligent fragrant chicken. Grass mud horse (con m) is pronounced nearly identically to the Chinese phrase for f you. Meanwhile, river crab ( hxi) is just a few tones off from the Mandarin word harmony, a term used to mock the strict internet regulations that Beijing deems necessary for social and political harmony. And coming in last, intelligent fragrant chicken ( d fij) is just one tone off from the modern slang word for masturbation.

Give me your tired,new york asian escorts your poor, your huddled masses yearning to LOL

The United States is a nation of immigrants, often called the Great Melting Pot due to her citizens deriving from all corners of the globe. With such ethnic diversity, its no wonder that so much of modern American humor derives from distinctive races, religions and ideologies. One group that became extremely successful was the Jewish community with comic legends like Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Rodney Dangerfield, Woody Allen and John Stewart. Another successful minority is the African American community with classic TV shows like the Jeffersons, the Cosby Show and Family Matters; while stand-up comedians like Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock are also extremely popular. Particularly in the past several decades, Latino (Carlos Mencia), feminist (Roseanne Barr), blue-collar (Jeff Foxworthy) comedians and countless other sub-genres have all found a niche in modern US society as well. But while each of these cliques have found success within their own community, the commonly-identified Great Melting Pot mentality has allowed their jokes to permeate racial boundaries and appeal to individuals from all different backgrounds.

While China too is a multiethnic/multilingual nation, 92% of the 1.3 billion are ethnic Han. Due to the homogenization of race and often closing its borders to the outside world, the Middle Kingdom never developed the same kind of racial diversity as the United States. Consequentially, the focal aspect of Chinese humor is its own language deriving from within its own borders. Mandarin is unique since it uses logograms, has many homonyms and homophones, and can be written and read in various directions. The most basic example of this linguistic humor is calling your mother a horse, as the only difference between the two is a slight change in tone (mother is m ; horse is m ). Another common antidote is of a woman on a bus who stands up at every bus stop because she reads the Chinese sign from right to left (When the bus stops, stand up) instead of from left to right ( Stopping at the next bus stop).

The final act

Its not hard to see why Joe Wongs Im Irish joke and others like it are hits in the US and not in Chinaits purely based off the socio-historic development of each nation, just as much as language, customs and religions are. These same cultural differences are what makes Judy Carter breaking up with her boyfriend and the crew from Jackass hurting themselves funny for an American, while an intelligent fragrant chicken and a xiangsheng performance are hilarious for a Chinese. In the age of globalization, however, humor like so many other aspects of contemporary society, is becoming internationalized. As the growing influence of Western and American humor catches on in Chinese pop culture, its hard to say whether or not the puns, idioms and historic parodies of traditional Chinese humor will disappear, or simply evolve. Lets hope, for the river crabs sake, that its the latter.

Confucius says: Man who wants pretty nurse must be patient

Differences in American and Chinese Humor

english.2500sz.com 2012-10-8 8:49:00

While this intentionally ridiculous statement always received big laughs from American audiences, the Chinese crowd was entirely unresponsive, apparently unaware that Wongs comedy routine had begun. Suffice it to say, the rest of his act bombed. Wong learned the hard way that American humor doesnt always translate into Chinese and vice versain ct, he published an autobiographical look at the subject, The Tao of Humor earlier this year. Although humor is largely dependent on individual preferences, by examining broad socio-historic development of the United States and China, we can see how these two nations developed their entirely different sensesof humor.


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