China embraces a new generation of female comedians – SHINE

For Dawn Wong, comedy is her way of observing and understanding the world. 
"Ever since I was a kid, I've been into comedy," she recalled. "My dad was pretty funny, and he had a certain wit about him. When we'd to go to restaurants, he'd always make the waiters laugh."

Wong got married to an Irish man in 2019. But more than a union of matrimony, it was her wedding speech in Ireland that really stood out. Her well-oiled comedy routine could've taken the stage at any comedy club, anywhere.
The speech video garnered over 4 million views throughout social media. Soon after, she was signed up for a stand-up set, the beginning of a blossoming career.
Wong is one of many women embracing the potential of stand-up comedy. With online platforms and live houses filling up major cities on the Chinese mainland, comedy has found a niche, and that's especially true among the country's female comedians.
Dawn Wong
From gender issues to marriage, these women are striking a cord with the young generation, increasingly anxious to relate to their peers. Leading the way are comedians like Wong, and in her footsteps a great many female comedians ready for the stage.
Shanghai is already the headquarters for several of China's biggest comedy troupes, with the likes of the Shanghai Xiao Guo Culture Media Co Ltd. It's clear, comedy is on the rise in China.
Stand-up has always had a place in popular culture, especially among the youth. Through it, we hear candid opinion, truth masked as jokes, a chance to make peace with the world through humor. Comedians approach the world with a fresh perspective, dismantling our daily lives, offering it to us piece by piece with a smile.
"I relate to these jokes. They make me feel like I'm not alone. Sometimes, I admire the comedians who can laugh about their love affairs and joke about their weakness so boldly," said Xiao Yi, a 26-year-old IT project manager working in Beijing.
But not all comedy is so well-received, and topics like gender issues can often spur controversies. In the latest "Rock and Roast" Season 5, veteran comedian Wang Siwen jabbed about women dating younger men. The response was staggered at best. 
Yang Li, another popular female comedian, focused on gender issues, and her sharp observations about male behavior and her punchlines hitting overly confident men led some to accuse her of "sexism" and "hating men."
"When I was translating stand-up comedy, I couldn't help noticing comedy is such a male-dominated industry. The topics, the styles and the 'standards' of what's funny are all set around male comics. And people judge female comedians way harder on many levels," Wong, a Shanghai-based comedian and director told Shanghai Daily.
She continued to observe, "When you watch comedy online, you read a female comedian's comments, rather than focusing on her jokes, people judge what they wear, how they look, and whether they should be able to discuss sex or dirty jokes. But when it comes to male comics, these would never come up. Male comics can be fat and ugly, dressed like a homeless person, wear a plain black T-shirt, and tell nasty jokes, but people wouldn't say a thing about what they gave female comics."
With her set on YouTube garnering over 4.5 million views, she's still receiving comments like: "Finally a funny female comedian" or "She's wearing mama jeans," or "Oh no she said the word shit," Wong told Shanghai Daily.
Famous Chinese-American stand-up comedian Joe Wong believes that audiences should be more tolerant of performers such as Yang, as they are just sharing their observations, which is part of comedy.
Twelve years after a successful performance at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in the US, Joe Wong returned to China to do stand-up shows. At the end of last year, he created Joe Club (笑坊) to train young Chinese comedians, including female comedians.
Women in comedy
Since 2016, the comedy industry on the Chinese mainland has been growing exponentially. A variety of new forms of comedy shows have emerged, with female comedians like Yang Li, Wang Siwen, Li Xueqin, Yanyi and Yanyue gaining increasing popularity. Bilingual comedians like Dawn Wong, Norah Yang and Alex Shi are also bridging the cultural gap and turning heads.
Popular female comedians Li Xueqin (left) and Yang Li
Wong's routine speaks for itself. Her content is poignant, clever and fresh, with her Chinese accent delivering a sense of authenticity. Shi slows her pace, with punchlines on sex, love and foreign interaction dropping hard. Yang pokes at PC with jokes hitting back at body shamming and gender swapping. Quips about life in America and Chinese parents push welcome crowd work.
Comedy has always been about challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries. As such, being a professional comedian in China, a country to an extent governed by tradition, is not easy, especially for a women. But while many of us are bound by expectation, Shi and Wong are among a rare few who can have found support from both family and friends.
"I have Chinese parents. Though they are happy to see me doing something I'm passionate about, I'm not sure they even understand the form of art, how it works, and they barely ask any questions. All they know is people would tell them 'I follow your daughter online' or 'Your daughter is brilliant, you did a good job raising her,' and that surely keeps them from meddling in my 'business'," Wong replied to Shanghai Daily with a LOL emoji.
Beginning her career at the alter, Wong's Irish husband is also supportive of her foray into comedy. Nervous about the initial step forward, telling jokes to strangers, and speaking in a second language, "Mr Dawn Wong" voiced reasonable concerns. But after watching his wife's performance, he's pretty reassured Wong is moving in the right direction. "You're really good at it, you should keep going," he said.
Part of being a comedian is observing the contemporaries, and whether performing or not, Wong is at the comedy club most evening. That means late nights, a sleeping husband, and time spent honing the craft. But the husband is there by her side, with nothing but support. "He's been nothing but supportive and I really appreciate it," Wong said.
Yu Yan Bu Zhi said on her official WeChat account, "Women really shouldn't be afraid to talk about controversial issues on a public platform, the discussion itself will bring about changes, and that's precisely why stand-up comedy can't do without women."
Stand-up comedy is a fascinating art in that it questions the taboo, convention and even our traditions, and questions them with laughter. Often enough, comedy shows us new perspectives, changing the way we see the world. Whether it's gender issues, marriage, or dating, where we were once rigid, we now laugh, and what better way to bring about change than with a smile?
"Indeed, the popularity of stand-up comedy in China really breaks stereotypes as Chinese people or Asians are often seen as lacking a sense of humor.

Furthermore, Chinese stand-up comedians are turning to English. You may think English stand-up comedy is a niche market in China. However, a small explosion of this art form has led to many new venues and unknown comedians attracting solid audiences.
China Comedy Club is a major player. It was founded by Irish Carlos Ottery and Efi a few years ago, currently run by Donnie Fan, an upcoming Chinese-American comedian.
"When I tell jokes in English, I feel that another totally different version of myself comes out and there is more free space for creativity," a woman comedian of China Comedy Club said.
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