Shanghainese Stand-up Comedian Zhou Libo

26 Apr 2009
Zhou Libo

Zhou Libo: Xiaokan 30 Nian

I haven’t noticed any online English language mentions of Shanghai comedian Zhou Libo (周立波) yet, but he clearly deserves a bit more attention. His DVD, 笑侃三十年, has been selling like hotcakes in DVD shops across Shanghai for weeks, and I hear his upcoming live performances are selling out.

You could say his act is “comedy with Shanghainese characteristics” because 笑侃三十年 is Zhou’s humorous take on the changes Shanghai has experienced in the past 30 years. For many Shanghainese, the act is equal parts nostalgia and comedy. (Well, maybe not equal… my wife was laughing so hard she was crying at certain parts, and she’s not old enough to be nostalgic about everything he was talking about. Her parents loved the act too, though.)

Of course, the most obvious “Shanghainese characteristic” of Zhou’s act is the language it’s delivered in. Being mostly in Shanghainese, Zhou Libo’s humor remains somewhat inaccessible to both foreigners and most Chinese alike. Sure, there are video clips online with Chinese subtitles, but when he starts with the Shanghainese wordplay, subtitles are of little use.


Chinese media comentator David Moser has lamented the death of xiangsheng as an art form in China. So what’s filling the void? To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Zhou Libo phenomenon is that he seems to be a part of a larger development: as two-man “Chinese stand-up” xiangsheng is waning, a new brand of home-grown Chinese solo stand-up comedy may be emerging. Furthermore, it seems to be happening through quirky regional acts like Xiao Shenyang from northeast China (the act linked to can only be described as stand-up comedy), and Zhou Libo, whose act is so “regional” that it can only be directly appreciated by the Shanghainese.

I’m certainly no expert on stand-up comedy, but I’m interested in seeing where this is going. Perhaps sites like Danwei will do some more in-depth reporting on the phenomenon, even if a Shanghainese act is of little interest to Beijingers.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. I’m watching the DVD now (the whole 2 hour and 20 minute act is here). Like you say, it’s somewhat inaccessible (he code switches like mad, but it seems most of the punchlines are straight Shanghainese), but I really like his delivery and stage presence. Would be great to see more of this sort of thing.

  2. But Xiao Shenyang is very much a part of Dongbei’s errenzhuan tradition…. I’m not sure the comparison is so relevant.

  3. John B,

    Thanks for the link!

    Just out of curiosity, had you noticed Zhou Libo before this post?

  4. chris,

    Yes, and Zhou Libo is usually referred to as a xiangsheng performer, but they’re both also independently doing solo performances (even though both erren zhuan and xiangsheng are traditional two-personal acts) which seem very similar to Western stand-up comedy.

    I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything profound going on; it’s just something I noticed with my American eyes…

  5. Another note… I had a conversation with Brad last night about Zhou Libo, and he felt that Zhou Libo’s humor was very much in line with the Chinese tendency to continue with a joke until the punchline is fully explained. [more on this here]

  6. It’s a little bit strange ’cause Zhou wasn’t as famous as that in Shanghai, well, I mean he’s famous but not the most famous ones. I sometimes don’t quite understand the culture crazy, like why and how Wulin Waizhuan got so popular, and you know what, my friend who’s now studying in Australia watched Zhou’s live online and quoted his script before I knew the performance.
    Btw, Zhou do have some foreign fans, I saw one in one TV program featured Zhou. Funny.

  7. John,

    I hadn’t until you posted it, but I’ve brought him up in several conversations with Shanghainese friends in the last couple days and they’re uniformly reacted with a Beatles on the Tonight Show-esque “I love him, he’s soooo funny,” so clearly I was just late to the party. 🙂

  8. I saw a big poster for him at the Majestic the other day when Jodi and I went to catch a movie at Meilongzhen. Is he performing now? Culture.sh.cn says… not now, but soon.

  9. JocelynJ Says: June 3, 2009 at 8:35 am

    I just saw his DVD last week. Comparing with the HongKongnese Standy Up Comedy, his show wasn’t the best one, but i’m so glad that Zhou could bring the this kind of show to mainland China.

  10. Try getting a ticket of Zhou, and you will know how popular he is now. There are seveal saying about him. One is that, in Shanghai, if you have money, you can buy anything but a ticket for Zhou Libo’s show..

  11. I saw the 笑侃三十年, very funny and intrigued. Zhou Libo showed himself a real comedian in Shanghai and enamoured audience through all his solo performance. He looked like a well-educated man with sarcastic voice to scoff northen people. His performance is pretty much like westen style comedian funny show.

  12. […] advantage of his current popularity, Shanghainese stand-up comedian Zhou Libo (周立波) has swiftly published a book on Shanghainese expressions called 诙词典 (something […]

  13. […] 这两年,一个名叫周立波的人不但在上海红了起来,连外国人都开始关注他了。他究竟是谁?许多时候,当红明星有篡改自己生平的习惯。比如这篇有关此周立波的介绍里说他1981年进入了上海滑稽剧团,80年代末已经成名。1981年我还在我娘肚子里,不能作评论,80年代末我却已经上小学了,也听过许多滑稽戏。可是我不记得周立波这人,只晓得姚慕双和周柏春。当时姚和周正处在艺术巅峰时期,周立波如果拜他们为师,也不可能抢师傅的风头,是不? […]

  14. Very happy to see a performance style like Zhou libo’s as a shanghainese! Actually, he was just saying things involved in almost every family in shanghai. Especially, the content of “30 years” hit the experience by the middle-aged people.
    Actually, this kind of style is every similar to huaji xi. But the content is more attractive and updating. It reflects the local culture and life including goods and bads.

  15. Do a google search for him. Its blocked of course. Long love the CCP!

  16. Stephanie Says: March 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    He so failed to amuse everybody during the finals of China’s got talent! He was crippled due to his inability to speak English in front of international ‘talents’. He was so rude pointing to the guests and all, totally inadequate!

  17. Im working as Zhou Li Bo’s English assistant on a full time basis actually… it has really given me a good insight to the entertainment industry in China and pretty deep insight on the Chinese business culture… I didn’t realize how big he really was and is still becoming… its quite incredible if you see it from my angle…

  18. I also recorded some of the classic zhou libo words, I this website to have more classic words, hope you like them

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