Foreign Policy Digital

China’s Censors Love The Laugh Track

Chinese comedians are learning the art of the American sitcom.

The Chinese comedian Yu Zhenzhong knows how to make 50 people laugh at a stand-up night. But tackling a potential TV audience of 1.4 billion people is another challenge — especially when there’s a smaller but less friendly audience of censors to face first. That’s why Yu headed from Shanghai to London last year to learn the secrets of the laugh track and the family sitcom.

Chinese love comedy as much as anyone else, but the two forms most popular in the country — traditional “cross-talk” and the scathing online humor of the young — don’t always translate to regular commercial programming. Cross-talk, reminiscent of the old Western music hall routines down to the somewhat naughty jokes and the comedy accents, turns around individual performers in a way that’s hard to replicate every week. Online sarcasm, meanwhile, is increasingly scoured from the internet and impossible to put on TV. Audiences and authorities want something regular, safe, and universal — like the multicamera sitcom.

Yu’s company, Houghton Street Media, has partnered with the U.K.-based China Media Centre

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