“Laughter is an amazing bridge that connects people.”
If living in China as a foreigner can teach you anything, it’s how easily things can get lost in translation. This especially holds true for jokes. However, this difficult aspect of cultural exchange is exactly what Jesse Appell aims to tackle. After first coming to China in 2010, Jesse didn’t speak Chinese, but quickly learned that “the surest and quickest way to make a real, personal connection with a friend from another culture is to laugh together.”
In 2012, he was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to live in Beijing and study Chinese humor and performance. He has produced writings, viral videos, and bilingual stand-up and xiangsheng—traditional Chinese “cross-talk”—performances. For Jesse, who has loved making funny videos since he was a kid and was a member of his college improv group, humor is a natural way reach out to others.
He gained popularity early on, from both Chinese and American audiences. “Laowai Style,” his “Gangnam Style” parody video created in 2012, had over a million views on his first posting, and this success led to more exposure on television and live performances.
Now, partnered with Asia Society’s China Learning Initiatives, Jesse has launched a new web series called The Great LOL of China. A combination of standup and sketch comedy, these bi-weekly videos are meant to add a humorous voice to the conversations about cross-cultural exchange. They highlight the “little things” that are often missing in mainstream American conceptions of China and help to deepen our understanding that the U.S. and China are not so different.
In a recent episode of The Great LOL of China, Jesse takes a comedic spin on the US-China relationship, likening the two nations to roommates that each have their idiosyncrasies, and although they sometimes have awkward moments and misunderstandings, they coexist quite peacefully.
The skit alludes to various current events from China’s astounding pace of real estate development, (the actor portraying China, Jay Wang, takes over the Monopoly game board (2:25-2:34)) to China’s investment in African public infrastructure, (Wang offers the actor portraying Africa, Michael Tawanda, a railroad for his Monopoly game property (4:07-4:13)) to the common misconception that all Chinese dishes found in America, such as General Tso’s chicken, originated in China (4:14-4:22).
This Sunday, Jesse is bringing his show on the road, speaking at the People to People Exchanges in US-China Relations Speakers Forum co-hosted by Project Pengyou, Johns Hopkins University – SAIS China, and the Committee of 100, in Washington, D.C.. We hope that all pengyous will be inspired by Jesse to seek new, creative ways to bridge the gap and relate to one another. As Jesse explains, “But really, when it comes down to it, Chinese lives similar lives to what we have in America and laugh at similar things…and the Chinese Internet is crawling with cat videos.”
See more episodes of Jesse’s Great LOL of China on Asia Society’s website: http://asiasociety.org/china-learning-initiatives/great-lol-china
All images courtesy of Asia Society
About Asia Society:
Asia Society is the leading educational organization dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context. Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, the Society provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future.
Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit institution with headquarters in New York, centers in Hong Kong and Houston, and offices in Los Angeles, Manila, Mumbai, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, and Washington, DC.