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Big Fish in the Middle Kingdom

Jul 14, 2017

“I always sum up China in two words: cognitive dissonance.” - Jesse Appell 
Boston native Jesse Appell has launched a successful business and speaks Chinese like a local, but that’s not all he’s accomplished during his time in Beijing. Jesse is one of only a handful of Westerners who is trained in the Chinese comedy art of xiangsheng, or crosstalk. It’s a discipline with a storied history here, and Jesse won a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to come study under a true master of the art, Ding Laoshi. But that was just the start of his career in China.
Jesse’s primary focus nowadays is on running the US-China Comedy Center here in Beijing. At the Center, they feature both single language and bilingual improv and standup comedy shows. Jesse founded the Center just about a year ago, but it’s already become a focal point for the growing comedy scene here. To give you an idea of what these shows are like, in the show notes I am including links to several examples of Jesse in action, which are subtitled and really funny regardless of your native language.
As a writer, Jesse has also been working hard to crack the elusive cross-cultural comedy code for movies. He has been developing a buddy picture that’s designed to truly appeal to both markets, and from what he says about it here, I think he might be onto something. 
This episode gets very deep into the worlds of comedy, creativity, and filmmaking, so it’s  especially worth checking out if you work in those worlds, aspire to, or just enjoy them and want to learn more. But Jesse’s thoughts about the obstacles to true communication are keenly observed, and should be interesting to anyone trying to understand the other cultural better. I hope you enjoy it!
Lastly, another quick reminder that we are still a featured show on the website and the Castbox podcast app! Castbox works in your web browser, iOS, and they have an especially nice new app for Android devices. Please check us out on Castbox, and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to us. 
US-China Comedy Center:
Jesse Appell - Chinese standup (subtitled):
"Chinese Mitch Hedberg" routine: 
Xiangsheng overview:
"BFMK" site:
Brendan Davis on Twitter:
Carl King (composer):
Apple Podcasts: