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Dashan 3.0: China's favorite foreigner nurtures stand-up comedy revolution

By Dominic Morgan | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-01-25 10:56

Dashan 3.0: China's favorite foreigner nurtures stand-up comedy revolution

Mark Rowswell, or Dashan, performs stand-up comedy at the Beijing Stand-up Comedy Club in Beijing in October 2014. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Ladies and gentlemen," Mark Rowswell, or Dashan as he is known in China, intones in his deepest, gravest CCTV-presenter voice, bowing so low he almost kisses the stage. "Good evening."

But this is no television studio, and the response is nothing like the polite applause typically offered by audiences at Chinese State broadcaster CCTV's New Year Gala, the world's most watched TV show that catapulted Rowswell to overnight fame in China in 1988.

Instead, a chorus of whoops, cheers and guffaws erupts from the rows of young Chinese squeezed into the KungfuKomedy club in Shanghai.

Most of them are too young to remember Dashan during the height of his fame in the 90s as the first foreigner ever to master xiangsheng, China's fiendishly complex traditional comic art. But that is not an issue, because both they and Dashan are here to escape the conservative world of CCTV and xiangsheng, hence their glee at the former TV host's self-mocking introduction.

The Canadian is here to perform a much newer style of comedy that is beginning to take off among this new generation of independent, individualistic young Chinese: Stand-up.

For the next 45 minutes, Dashan has them in the palm of his hand, mixing xiangsheng-style verbal trickery with self-deprecating anecdotes from his life as the most famous foreigner in China. One routine in particular, where he imagines how he should have responded when asked how famous he is in China on NBC's Today show, brings the house down.

For Rowswell, it has been an excellent night's work, helping him fine-tune his act for April, when he will become the first person to perform a full one-hour stand-up set in Mandarin at Asia-Pacific's biggest comedy event, the Melbourne Comedy Festival, a task he tells China Daily he is "about 80 percent" ready for.

From there, he plans to do a recording of Dashan Live for one of China's Netflix-style online media platforms, then take the show on the road across the Middle Kingdom in a bid to push the country's stand-up scene to the next level.

But if things are starting to move fast for Rowswell and the Chinese stand-up scene he is helping to nurture, he freely admits that it has been "heavy work" to get to this point.

The decision to launch "Dashan 3.0" came after serving as Canada's commissioner-general for the 2010 Shanghai Expo, Rowswell explains.

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