Compared to stereotyped TV variety shows and ideological programs presented by governmental troupes, these grassroots entertainers have been welcomed because of their relevant topics, earthy jokes and close interaction with the audiences.
In A Laughable Talk on the Past 30 Years, a show that premiered last year which made Zhou widely known, he talked about the drastic changes in Shanghai since the "reform and opening-up" in a light-hearted and humorous way. The content of this show included the changes of clothing trends, ups and downs in the Chinese stock market, and the shoe-throwing incident during premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Cambridge University.
Although the "Shanghai-style stand-up comedy" is a new performing genre started by Zhou, it is actually based on the tradition of huajixi, or comic drama, which first appeared in the 1930s and became popular in Shanghai and its adjacent Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Zhou himself used to be a comic drama performer with the Shanghai Comic Drama Troupe.
"The difference between the traditional comic drama and 'Shanghai-style stand-up comedy' is that the latter is not only about joking, but pays more attention to the culture of Shanghai," says Zhou. "My works focus on current events. Though there is also memory of the past, I always try to relate to what is happening now in the society."
Guo Degang and Xiaoshenyang, who became famous first in North and Northeast China respectively, are doing the same work: to inherit their local comic traditions while incorporating new elements to cater to contemporary audiences.
Guo is known for carrying on traditional xiangsheng repertoire but he fills his work with faster-paced punchlines within the structure of xiangsheng. In Xiaoshenyang's performance, the singing and dancing of authentic errenzhuan have largely given way to imitation shows.