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Arts & Culture: Comedy

Jewish comedian big in China

Sometimes the humor translates — sometimes it doesn’t

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How do you tell a joke in China about Jews, when the only things most Chinese think they know about the Chosen People is that they’re smart and good with money?

That was Jesse Appell’s quandary when he moved to China three years ago from Massachusetts. He had plans to become a comedian — and, like many stand-ups, he planned to mine his own upbringing for material.

“All the bad stereotypes about Jews in the West are considered good in China,” Appell said. “Chinese say: ‘The Jews control the media and the banks — amazing!’ When people find out I’m Jewish, they say that’s why I speak Chinese so well, because Jews are super-smart. I’m like, that’s not how it works.”

Appell, 24, is one of only a handful of stand-up comedians in China, a country of 1.35 billion people that until very recently didn’t have much of a stand-up circuit. The country’s first stand-up show premiered on Dragon TV in 2012, the same year that Appell graduated from Brandeis University and moved to Beijing.

 
 
 
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