Chinese comedians living abroad are winning fans But some topics are off limits

Chinese comedians living abroad are gaining popularity, but some sensitive topics, especially related to politics, remain off-limits. Melbourne-based comedian Xi Diao, who shares a family name with Chinese President Xi Jinping, humorously navigates this challenge in his performances. While Mandarin-language stand-up comedy has flourished globally, there are unwritten rules within the community to avoid subjects that may portray China negatively. Political jokes, references to censorship, and discussions about sensitive issues like COVID lockdowns are generally discouraged.

Image showing Chinese comedians living abroad are winning fans But some topics are off limits

In China, there are pre-screening censors who review jokes, and performers risk penalties for crossing political red lines. Overseas, comedians may not fear direct punishment, but they often avoid political humor, considering it either unfunny or uncomfortable for the audience. Many Mandarin-language comedians grew up in a country where political content was heavily censored.

Despite these constraints, comedians still push boundaries on social issues. For example, Lin Dongxiao, who performed in Toronto, used his platform to discuss a congenital disorder and challenge societal perceptions of disabilities. Some venues, like Women’s Idea in New York City, host uncensored comedy shows touching on politics.

However, even indirect references to politics can make Chinese-language audiences uncomfortable. Comedian Xi Diao experienced challenges, such as a restaurant owner asking him to be cautious and getting zero audience votes at a stand-up competition. This awareness of potential consequences influences performers’ choices, with some venues reviewing jokes to avoid crossing political lines.

Chinese nationals abroad are cautious, aware that statements can affect not only their careers but also impact the entire industry. While there’s recognition of political sensitivities, there’s also acknowledgment that topics critical to China’s political landscape should not be entirely avoided. The delicate balance between humor and political awareness remains a challenge for Chinese comedians living abroad.