Mosaic of China Season 01 Episode 02 – The Chinese Comedian (Maple ZUO, Stand-up Comic)

Oscar Fuchs
Maple Zuo is an up-and-coming comedian in China. We start off by talking about her comedy, and how her approach is different in English versus Chinese.
Oscar Fuchs

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Original Date of Release: 20 Aug 2019.

Maple Zuo is an up-and-coming comedian in China. We start off by talking about her comedy, and how her approach is different in English versus Chinese.



MZ: They did normal gangster stuff like killing, fighting, beating. Sorry, I just went to the top. It should be like hitting, beating, killing', OK.

Mosaic of China Season 01 Episode 02 – The Chinese Comedian (Maple ZUO, Stand-up Comic)


OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. When all of their stories are pieced together, they form a Mosaic of China. I'm your host Oscar Fuchs.

In today's episode, I talked with Maple Zuo, who is an up-and-coming comedian in China. She has amazing energy, which I hope you can hear in this conversation. We start off by talking about her comedy set, and how her approach is different in English versus Chinese. But then we veer into some unexpectedly dark territory. So there's part of this chat which might not be suitable for all audiences. Some really interesting details, though, about her family, and her background growing up in Inner Mongolia. Thankfully, the stuff that she mentions has no bearing on the situation there today. This is another recording that I did at home. So there are some similar sound issues to last week's episode. Sorry about that. But at least this time, I don't drop anything during the recording. So look, that counts as progress, I think.

Thanks so much for all the support on Instagram, on Facebook and WeChat. It was really nice to hear from you about your thoughts on Philippe from last week's episode. And I'm really looking forward to what you think about today's episode. It's quite a contrast. So enough of me and here's the interview.

[Part 1]

OF: You've been in Shanghai how many years now?

MZ: I've been in Shanghai since 2017, two years now.

OF: OK, so actually I am your superior. I've been in Shanghai more than you.

MZ: Oh, expert, huh?

OF: Yeah!

MZ: 老外 [Lǎowài] expert.

OF: Well, the first thing I ask every guest on the podcast is, what is the object that you've brought that represents what you're doing right now?

MZ: It's a Tom Ford lipstick. Yeah. My partner bought me this. You know, when he first gave it to me, I thought "TF?" I didn't know, you know, this brand. I said "Oh, TF. Like TF Boys". There was a Chinese band called TF Boys. "So is this TF boys?" He said "No, it's Tom Ford." You know, I don't use expensive stuff. So this is very expensive lipstick. I've used it on stage every day. Yeah.

OF: Right. So tell me why does that have some particular resonance? What does that symbolise to your life in China?

MZ: I feel like, as a female comedian, the difference with the males is that you do makeup on stage. If you look very normal, people will think you're not serious about it. So each time I go on stage, I will do makeup. But I don't want to do it too strong. Lipstick is just enough. It also… Without lipstick, I feel like I'm not prepared. I'm just ugly, just not confident. But once I'm wearing lipstick, I feel so good.

OF: So where should we start, then, from that? Because there's a lot that we can talk about, your partner … Let's start with … About the actual performance side of what you do these days.

MZ: Yeah. OK, so I started comedy in 2016 in Beijing, that was my first time doing some open mics. I was so scared, because performing for other people is not easy. And making people laugh is even harder. So they give me three minutes, and I go on, I say something not funny, and I shake – and then I just get off. And then after, even like, three months, I didn't dare to go on stage again. But then I moved to Shanghai, I think since nobody knows me, you know, I'm new here, maybe I should try again. So they have a workshop that teaches you how to do stand-up comedy. So I went there, I learned some skills, and went back home, wrote some jokes. And I did my five minutes, and it worked OK. Because I feel like people are addicted to the stage. Like, once you go on there, and you get a big laugh, oh, that's just so rewarding. You just want to do it more and more. So from there, I just started my comedy journey.

OF: Let's go back to Beijing then. So what happened that first time?

MZ: That first time, my partner was having a gig, he organised one. Because there weren't enough comedians, he said "Can you just go there, to just … because we don't have enough. Can you just be there?" So I just get there, and say a few words, and get off. It's just rough.

OF: Wow.

MZ: Yeah.

OF: And were you angry that he made you do that? Or were you actually like "Yeah, that was a good try." How did you feel?

MZ: The thing is, I think it's a performing thing, right? Before comedy, I was live performing poetry. So I performed a lot. And I'm a teacher, you know, so I am not afraid of standing in front of people. But I just don't know how to make people laugh. So when he made me go on stage, I wasn't worried. But I was just worried that I'm not funny, you know. But I wanted to give a go, yeah.

OF: And you use English only, or do you also have a Chinese set?

MZ: Last year, I was only doing English comedy. And then later on, some people recommended me to do some Chinese comedy, and I started to try. And then I realised there is a huge difference between Chinese and English comedy. So number one, in English comedy you can talk about anything; in Chinese comedy, people get offended very easily. And number two, the audience in English comedy, they're very chill, very 'enjoying stuff'; Chinese audiences, they're very uptight, like judging you. Yeah. And then if you didn't perform well, the English comedy audience will give you a cheer, clap their hands, like to encourage you. Chinese audiences, they just nod down their heads, play on their WeChat, and ignore you.

OF: Oh, wow, that's rough.

MZ: Yeah. And also, before, I just translated all my English jokes into Chinese. And the translation doesn't always work. So I needed to go back to the Chinese way of thinking to write jokes. And that only works for Chinese people. And then you change your brain back to the English kind of humour. You realise, you're two different people. And my friend who is bilingual, she came to see both sets, she said "You're a totally different person". Because in English I'm very spicy, aggressive, like, "OK, I'm talking s**t about foreigners" you know. But in Chinese, I'm a loser, you know. I have to be a loser, "I'm s**t, I'm s**t", and people are "ha ha" laughing about you.

OF: That's interesting. And when you said that Chinese audiences can be offended, what did you mean? Can you think of some examples?

MZ: So for example, comedians always joke about their partners, right? So in English comedy I a say "Oh, my partner has some flaws". You know, it's a funny thing. And people go along with it. I have a 20 minute set about my partner, and we even have a tour together called 'This relationship is a joke'. We toured all around China with that, you know, that was an amazing thing. But then when I tried to talk about it in Chinese, My first night is "Hi, everybody, I have a partner, he's a foreigner". And people said "Don't show off".

OF: Oh, wow. OK.

MZ: So I was like "I'm not showing off. Like, have you met him? I'm trying to say something funny". So it's like, some Chinese audiences are like "Oh, you've got a foreigner, you have a better life". They want to laugh at a loser. But who is not a loser, because they can stand on stage. So I don't know what they're seeking. If you say "Oh, I went aboard to study, I have a foreign boyfriend, I have a rich life" they will be like they just like don't wanna… So it's a weird feeling for me.

OF: Right. Well, because in a way, I can see how it would distance you from your audience. If most of your audience wouldn't understand the life that you have with a foreign partner, right? MZ: Yeah. So in Chinese comedy, I just miss out the modern part of me, like who I am now. I always go "OK, when I was young… my dad…. and my country… and my hometown". And that's can relatable to a larger Chinese audience.

OF: Right. And so after you've got them on side, after you've given them your China background, then do you come on to the modern side? Or do you just leave it?

MZ: I haven't had a set about modern life yet. I haven't figured it out. Because I've just been doing comedy for two years. I think I should try more, but I haven't. So I think my major right now is doing English comedy. Chinese comedy is slowly drifting away for me. Because it's too hard for me to do two kinds of humour.

OF: Right.

MZ: Because in China, we had 相声 [Xiàngsheng] for so many years. Like, it's a different technique to stand-up comedy.

OF: So what is the Chinese understanding of comedy? Because of course, stand-up comedy really hasn't had a long history here anyway,

MZ: Usually we have 相声 [Xiàngsheng] in China. It's very local. A lot of the stuff is recited, it's not original. But stand-up comedy is original. Because stand-up comedy is more about who you are, like "This is me. I'm funny. This is what I've experienced". And they want to make connections with the audience. But with 相声 [Xiàngsheng], everybody can watch. It's like a show.

OF: Right. And it's not very personal. It's just…

MZ: It's very general.

OF: Yeah.

MZ: It's never too personal, like "This is who I am". I think that's where you can find a big difference.

OF: Well you said then, when you do comedy in Chinese, you talk about your family background, and your history. So maybe let's talk about that. Like, what is it about your past that you talk about?

MZ: It was a very strange past, family. OK, see, my family is very weird. A strange family. Because my dad was a gangster.

OF: Your dad was a..?

MZ: Gangster.


MZ: Before I wouldn't dare to say that, because people would report me or get my dad. But he is out of that business now. So I can talk about it finally, you know.

OF: Right. So tell us how that was as a child, growing up in the house of a gangster.

MZ: It's rough. A lot of people maybe see the movies, right, and you say "Oh my god, gangsters are so cool. As the daughter of a gangster, you must be like a princess and stuff". But the reality is not like that. Because my gangster dad and my uncle, they are all a gangster family and had a gangster group that controlled the town. So they don't have a lot of education. You know, they didn't even go to primary school. So all they know is violence. So they don't like talking to you. So if there's a conflict, my dad would use his fist rather than talk to you. So the gangster family actually is a very violent family. It's a very insulting family. Like, whoever is the loudest has power; whoever is the strongest has power. So as a female, a woman, we have no power at home. So in my family, I have a bunch of brothers, the only females are my mom and me. My mom didn't get respect, you know, and then me neither, so. And then, you know, the reason I brought lipstick is because my mom never used lipstick. And the first time I saw a woman using lipstick, it was a girl – like a prostitute – my dad brought home. So that made me think "Oh, that's sexy". You know "That's what a sexy girl should be doing." You know, you look at my mom, it was like a Cinderella type of thing, you know.

OF: Wow.

MZ: So it's not fancy. People say "Gangster, gangster", it's just what they want to think of. The reality is not very nice.

OF: And can you say which part of China this was?

MZ: Inner Mongolia.

OF: Right. So you spent how many years in Inner Mongolia?

MZ: 18 years.


MZ: Before college, all my life was there.

OF: And so can you give us an example of what forms of gangster work your father did?

MZ: OK, so they did normal gangster stuff like killing, fighting, beating. Sorry, I just went to the top. It should be like 'hitting, beating, killing', OK. And then there was just the normal things. They did gambling. They did business in 麻将 [májiàng], Chinese 麻将 [májiàng]. Or they did prostitution, hotels. That's the dark side. Because gangsters, they have like a company, you know. Different people control different parts. And so another part, they controlled transportation. So you know, on a main road from this city to another city, there would be a big bus carrying people or carrying goods and everything. So my dad's family controlled the best time of day. OK, for example, from morning 8-10am, my dad controlled that, nobody else could go on. Also on the other bus going there, my dad needed to charge money.

OF: Right. So that means like, he would have a roadblock, and he would stop the bus and go on the bus?

MZ: He doesn't need to be there. His crew just stopped the bus. And they all know who they were, they all know who they worked for. So they just gave them the money.

OF: And so, what were you personally exposed to? Like, are these stories that you knew at the time? Or these are stories that you just learned later?

MZ: I was there. I think I realised my dad was a gangster when I was in primary school. I didn't know, even though there were so many guys coming and going from my house every day. And then one time there was a girl in school who was kind of insulting me and beating me. And another girl was like "Don't, don't! Leave her alone, her dad is a gangster!".

OF: Right.

MZ: And I was like "My dad is a what?" I didn't even know, like "How do you know?" She said "My dad told me, your dad is a gangster."

OF: Yeah.

MZ: So I kind of realised. But I didn't dare to ask my dad, you know. Because my dad told me he's a businessman. He's doing business, you know. But after I knew, I didn't get any good advantages. Because in school, nobody wanted to be my friend. They were just worried my dad would beat them. But actually, they don't, you know. So…

OF: There are so many questions I could ask you.

MZ: Yeah, sure.

OF: It's so difficult to even know where to start.

MZ: Yeah.

OF: So let's talk about your relationship, then, with your father. And I remember, the reason I know you is because I saw you – it wasn't so much a comedy set, It was a storytelling – at one of the Unravel events. And it was about your relationship with your father, especially when you stood up to him. Can you talk about what was the lowest point in your relationship?

MZ: OK, so I think I'm very easygoing. You know, because I've seen a lot. So I feel like I have no boundaries in my life. But then, I didn't like my dad when he hit my mom. Because normally he just slapped my mom on the face. I saw that a lot, I kind of didn't feel anything anymore. I know it's bad. But when I was 12, I walked into the house, I think they had just been arguing, something about money. So my dad just grabbed a lot of money, threw it on my mom's face. And he was smoking, and he just threw the cigarette on my mom's face. And my mom was having her period, and he just kicked her so hard on the stomach. It was just like he grabbed everything he could to destroy her. He pushed her head on the wall, the blood was all over the place. And he threw water on her face. I felt like he was just treating her like an animal, you know. Like, no dignity, this woman gave you so many kids, and you treat her like that. So I said "You're a monster. I don't like this." And then after that, we just stopped talking to each other. And then I tried to poison him. And that didn't work. And then he just sent me away from the family. He sent me to some uncle's house. I didn't live with him anymore after that thing, you know.

OF: And so are these stories that you now use in your comedy?

MZ: No.

OF: Right. So what kind of things do you use in your Chinese comedy, for example?

MZ: OK, so people say the darkest side can be the really funny bits, right? But I don't have the ability to change that dark side into comedy yet. So in my comedy, I will say "Hey, guys, my dad is a gangster. So you'd better laugh". Like, something like that.

OF: Right.

OF: Or "Some funny things happened", small things. "Oh my dad… got this thing for me" or "Oh my dad is a very loud, he's an alcoholic, he snores." Like, in general, people can say "Oh, a lot of dads do that". But those other bits, it's so painful. I don't want to even think about it, you know. So I can't, you know, transfer them to my comedy set. Maybe I'm not good enough yet, you know. I don't think I'm forgiving him right now. If one day I forgive him, maybe I can let it go more, and then talk about it. But now I don't want to. People say "Oh, anything can be changed into comedy." No, it's not. Because whatever you say, it's a sad thing. It's not funny.

OF: So what is your relationship like now, with your family, with your father, with your mother?

MZ: I think he influenced me so much. Like, because it was a very intense relationship, I was so scared. Every night after like, 10 o'clock, I was so scared. When he came in, if he was drunk, I was just literally shaking. I had nobody to talk to. Because whenever I talked to my mom, my mom doesn't know anything, right? My brother, the siblings, they're very harsh to me as well. They didn't accept me as a friend. So I have no friends. When I was young, I just learned the habit of writing a diary. And then, because you write a lot when you're young, I started learning poetry. You know, the poetry is sad. So I'm just like, sad, sad, sad. But then the good thing is like, I moved on to comedy. It's the same writing. But when I do comedy now, whenever I go through my life, I'll pick the happy side and write it down. You know, before comedy I was a very miserable young lady. You know, no smile. You go home, you look at the pictures of me in my house, it's all grumpy face. No smile, you know.

OF: Let's go back to today, then. So when you talk about comedy, what is the comedy scene like, here in Shanghai and across the rest of China?

MZ: It's very nice that we're having this conversation now, because I just did a tour of all of China. So I can have am opinion on this.

OF: Great, so where did you go?

MZ: I went to Shanghai, Beijing, 深圳 [Shēnzhèn], 武汉 [Wǔhàn], 重庆 [Chóngqìng], 成都 [Chéngdū], 苏州 [Sūzhōu], 杭州 [Hángzhōu]. Basically, all the cities that have comedy, I've been there already. So I feel like among them all, Shanghai comedy has the most active comedy scene, because we have so many clubs here, we have so many open mics. Each night, we have like three different places. So you have more time to practice. And then Beijing, we started in Beijing. There were a lot of good comedians, but they all left. So it's all new people in Beijing. And when we did our tour stop in Beijing, it was very nice. You know, people are still very supportive of comedy. We had 120 people in the audience. But then when we move down to other cities, it depends. You know, we had like 40, 30, 20… Sometimes 11.

OF: Yeah

MZ: So it's just depends.

OF: But it's growing, right?

MZ: I think it's growing. Slowly.

OF: And so what do you want to achieve with your comedy?

MZ: The world is becoming global. I slightly quit my Chinese comedy, it's not because I don't like my country or whatever. I want to do English comedy because I love my country so much, I want to go out to the world to represent a Chinese woman. I think there aren't any Chinese female comedians, like proper Chinese. Some are ABCs, BBCs maybe, outside. But not proper China, China, China-born Chinese, actually going out. So I want to work myself hard, and go out, and speak my own voice, and represent China, you know. And then recently, I set up a group called China Girls. It's a comedy club, open to Chinese girls. Like, whoever wants to try comedy, they can come along and do shows. Just like encourage more local people who want to talk, you know. I feel like we have a voice. You go to the comedy scene, it's all white male.

OF: Right.

MZ: Yeah, you know?

OF: No, absolutely. And I think the world is now more open to diverse comedy. Just look at the States. Look at Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. A few years ago, you would never imagine that a foreigner would be so popular in the U.S.

MZ: Yeah.

OF: And it's the same with John Oliver, another news comedy show.

MZ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Again, he's another white dude. But he's not American. I think the world is now becoming more open to different voices.

MZ: Yeah.

OF: And you've got such a unique voice. I mean, I loved your story. But even without that story, just your ability to represent yourself, your country, your story. Just from what I've heard in the shows that I've seen you in, yeah I'm looking forward to seeing where you go.

MZ: Thank you. Let's see, let's have this conversation in 10 years.

OF: Absolutely. Oh, you'll be way too big for me at that point. Well, thank you so much for that Maple.

MZ: Thank you.

OF: Now on to Part 2.

MZ: Yes.

[Part 2]

OF: So I've got 10 questions to ask you. And let's start right now. So first of all, what is your favourite phrase in Chinese? So it could be, like, a new phrase that you see on the internet; it could be a phrase that's really hard to translate into English… Like, what's something that you want to say?

MZ: My favourite one?

OF: Yeah.

MZ: My favourite one is called 道 [dào].


MZ: You know 道 [dào], 道 [dào] is like philosophy, 道家 [dàojiā]. I think, it's similar to Confucian stuff. But 道 [dào] is a very vague. It's like the truth of the universe. I don't know how to translate that one.

OF: Yes.

MZ: But it's like, it's vague. You don't know. Sometimes you can get it, sometimes you don't get it. I want to study more about it, and then translate it in the future.

OF: Right. I think English speakers probably know the Japanese reading of 道 [dào] which is 'do', because we know hudo and kendo, aikido.

MZ: Oh, yeah, yeah.

OF: So that's the 道 [dào], isn't it?

MZ: Yes, that's the 道 [dào]. But then the Japanese didn't pronounce it right..! Or they changed the pronunciation. It's the same character, yeah.

OF: Exactly. What is your favourite China related fact? So for example, it could be about your hometown or a story from Chinese history…

MZ: Oh, that one. You know, because I'm a female, I like strong female characters. So you know, 5,000 years of Chinese history, there was one woman called 武则天 [Wǔ Zétiān], right?

OF: Yes.

MZ: And she's the emperor, I so admire her. You know, I read all the books, seen the movies, and I can't imagine how she got through it. I know she killed a lot of people. But like, every emperor killed loads of people.

OF: Yeah.

MZ: But now people judge her "Oh, you're evil". But all male emperors are evil. So I feel like she must have done something so spectacular to get there. And that inspires me. You know, I want to be a queen some day like that.

OF: Yeah. And from what I've read about strong women leaders in the past, it's always the men who come after that leader who start to make these stories of how evil she was.

MZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

OF: How terrible she was.

MZ: But actually that period, that was very peaceful and very thriving. It's very good. Even the people after her would say a lot of good things about her.

OF: Mmm. Excellent. What's your favourite destination within China?

MZ: Tibet.

OF: Oh, awesome. When did you go?

MZ: Last summer, August. I love it. Because my partner proposed to me there.

OF: Ah.

MZ: Oh, there was a place I actually got to and was like "Oh god", that was amazing. Because we climbed nine hours that day, to the top top mountain. And then there was a beautiful blue lake. And then above that was snow on the mountain. It was so pure. And then the name of the lake was 'Tears of God'. And it was amazing. And then over the lake, there was a some stone. And on the stone, there was a Buddha. Like you can't see it, but it was a natural Buddha thing. And the shadow contained a whole Buddha image. So that's amazing. I was like "Oh god, this is…" I believed in God in that moment.

OF: Yeah. Wow, amazing. If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?

MZ: Miss most is the food. Of course.

OF: I knew you'd say food. OK, but be more specific. Like, what is the food that you can't live without?

MZ: 饼 [Bǐng]. You know, pancakes, Chinese special pancakes.

OF: Ah right.

MZ: So they can roll everything in. It's easy, quick and just very tasty. I eat them every day.

OF: Really. Like 煎饼 [jiānbing], right?

MZ: Yeah, any kind of 饼 [bǐng], 煎饼 [jiānbing], 卷饼 [juǎnbǐng], all these different 饼 [bǐng].

OF: Is there any food then, in that case, that you totally hate and you would not miss at all?

MZ: Oh, you know Chinese people eat weird animals, and organs. I don't like all of that.


MZ: People go to hotpot… You know, there was one time, I was eating normal stuff, one of my friends put in pig brain in that one, or some blood. It just ruined everything.

OF: Oh, wow.

MZ: I wouldn't miss that.

OF: But you'd try it once though, wouldn't you?

MZ: No I didn't.

OF: Not even?

MZ: There's a short story. One of my friends opened a 四川 [Sìchuān] restaurant, and then she had a competition. She said "OK, anyone who wins the eating competition will get a year of free hotpot". So in the first round, I enjoy spicy food, so I beat the other girl in the first round. Second round was eating strange food. So it was a bowl of pig brain and a beer. And I said "I quit". And the other girl, she didn't eat it, but she won. You know, because I just quit.

OF: How funny.

MZ: Yeah.

OF: Great. Is there anything that surprises you about modern life in China? So for example, any latest surprising apps or trends or fashions?

MZ: China is very big, it has loads of people. And we have one big party to rule the country. So once there is a decision, it goes down so quickly. Like technology, Alipay and everything, Taobao. It amazes me. Even though I'm using it, I feel like I can't get rid of my phone. And it's saving me so much time. I want everything just like 'click click'. You go to England, you still need cash and everything. Right now, you can just scan everything. It's amazing.

OF: Yeah

MZ: But then because of technology - because we have 5G now, right? - everything is going so fast. I was wondering, all this time you saved, what do you use with it? You know, that makes me think. Because people took transportation, you know, it took days and days to get there. And now just quick. OK, but when you're gonna do with the time you got there? A lot of people just stand on the train, just going on WeChat Moments or watching small, funny videos. I want to do something more, because we're saving so much time, right?

OF: Yeah, you're right. You're right. All of these conveniences. And yet we still complain that we have no time, and we're still just wasting time scrolling. You're right.

MZ: Yeah.

OF: What's your favourite place to go out, to eat or drink, or hang out?

MZ: In China?

OF: Yeah.

MZ: OK, there was a Japanese restaurant I really really like. I like that restaurant because of the design. Because in other restaurant you get in and it's like a closed space. But that Japanese restaurant - because the designer is from Japan, he's very good - so you're sitting there, you look through the window, you can see the area you're in, you can see the lobby, you can see the outside view. It's like you're starting from here, and you can just see the world connecting. It's so beautiful and peaceful.

OF: Wow, what's it called?

MZ: It's called 百川 [Bǎichuān] restaurant.

OF: Here in Shanghai?

MZ: Yes. I'll recommend it later.

OF: Yeah. OK, I'll get the details and I'll definitely share those. I haven't been to that one actually. It sounds good. What is the best or worst purchase you've recently made?

MZ: Oh, the worst one I bought is a printer. Because I thought "I'm going to write more, write more, and then print it out". But I didn't use it. So…

OF: So it's just sat there.

MZ: And an oven "Oh I want to cook" but I didn't.

OF: Oh the same issue.

MZ: All impulsive buying. I always do that, I should stop it.

OF: Well, if there any best purchase then that you actually have ended up using?

MZ: Some books?

OF: There you go.

MZ: Yeah, I like reading books.

OF: Are you still writing poetry too?

MZ: Yeah. When I'm sad, I'm writing poetry. When it's funny, I'm writing comedy.

OF: Right.

MZ: Because it's not to say I have no friends, because after doing comedy I met a lot of people who know me. But I still am a very introverted person, I want my own space, calm down my brain. I like reading and writing.

OF: And do you think you'll ever publish them? Or is it just for yourself?

MZ: I think at the end of the day when I'm famous, and people want it, I can publish some of the best pieces. But now, because nobody knows who you are, you just write on your own, you know?

OF: Yeah.

MZ: Yeah. I hope I can publish a book.

OF: Absolutely. And what's your favourite WeChat sticker?

MZ: 櫻桃小丸子 [Yīngtáo Xiǎo Wánzi], like a Japanese cartoon. She's so happy and innocent, you know? And she has a happy family as well. And I think I just I want to be her. But I can't be her. But I like her. She's just so happy and doesn't think about anything. I had such a dark side in my childhood, but hers doesn't.

OF: Right.

MZ: So I hope that my daughter maybe can grow up like that.

OF: That's nice. And particularly the one that you've sent me, she's eating with with gusto here.

MZ: Yeah. Loads of food, so happy.

OF: What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?

MZ: I love Adele.

OF: Yes.

MZ: Adele, with a very deep voice and very emotional…

OF: Yeah but very hard to sing.

MZ: I go to KTV always on my own.

OF: Oh really?

MZ: So I can scream. I'm really bad at singing, but I like to scream "I can find someone just like you" or something like that. And then Taylor Swift, because she also likes writing a diary and poetry, and her lyrics are very good. So I like her. I don't go to KTV very often, because right now it's like a team building thing with friends. And my friends all know I'm bad at seeming, so it's very embarrassing.

OF: Well, maybe - going back to your best and worst purchases - maybe you should buy yourself a KTV machine at home.

MZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

OF: And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you rely on?

MZ: WeChat.

OF: Really?

MZ: That's the only thing I'm using right now.

OF: Right. Well, thank you so much Maple.

MZ: Thank you, Oscar for inviting me

OF: And you've shared a lot about your story, so I really appreciate that.

MZ: That's OK.

OF: I'm sure people out there who are listening are really angry, because there are so many different questions I could have asked you. But it's a short time only. The final question that I ask everyone here is, who would you recommend out of people you know in China, that I interview next?

MZ: OK, that person, his name is Björn. He's from Sweden. And he's an international clown. He's very professional. I met him in comedy, he's a very funny clown. And then later, we worked together in a charity hospital. And we talked more. And I feel like he's very warm-hearted. And he's very professional. And he's not only doing charity here in Shanghai, he's doing it everywhere in the world. I feel that part is very rare, you know.

OF: That's great, I can't wait to meet him. If he's half as interesting as you, then that'll be fine.

MZ: Oh he's more interesting than me. He's travelled around so many places.

OF: Well, thank you so much again, Maple.

MZ: Thank you.


OF: So that was Maple. What a great story, and having seen at one stage two or three times… Well, I mean, you haven't even heard the half of it. Please check her out. She's not much on social media, actually. So watch out for China comedy listings in general to learn about where she is performing next.

So the first thing I wanted to mention was that we discussed during the conversation that I first met Maple through 'Unravel'. So let me just give them another name check. Unravel, so they're a storytelling group, they're based in Shanghai, and they've done an amazing job at putting on shows and building a real community of people around the art of storytelling. I was inspired to do a couple of storytelling shows myself, but it's nice to just sit in the audience at those things. The team there - so that's Clara, Sarah, everyone at Unravel - they also have a podcast out. So I wanted to urge you to check it out. Just search for 'Unravel' or 'Unravel storytelling', I think either of those should work, and you should be able to find it.

So what else? So the images are up on social media, please check us out on Instagram and Facebook, or send me a message and I will add you to the group on WeChat. Which images do we have this time? So we have Maple with her fancy TF lipstick - that's Tom Ford. I also found a photo of the boy band, TF Boys. I'd never heard of those guys. But yeah, I mean, they they look like boys. I don't know what year that photo was taken. But yeah, that's literally a boy band. Maple's favourite WeChat sticker, so that's also up there. She called the character '小丸子 [Xiǎo Wánzi]', and I kind of thought she looked familiar at the time, but I couldn't quite place her. Anyway, I did a search on the internet and it is ちびまる子ちゃん [Chibi Maruko-chan]. So that's the classic manga character from the 80s. At another point in the conversation we mentioned 'ABC' and 'BBC'. To people who live in China, they probably know those terms. But for everyone else, they mean 'American Born Chinese' and 'British Born Chinese'. It's pretty common to hear those phrases here in China. So in the context of our chat, I think Maple was saying that there are a fair number of 'ABC' and 'BBC' comedians, but far fewer mainland Chinese female comedians. What else? So Tibet, this is the second time in a row that someone has chosen Tibet as their favourite place to visit in China. Yes, I am going to keep a tally of these things. I looked up the lake that she mentioned, it's called the 'Blue Tears of God' or 'Yamdrok' Lake. I'll post a photo of that too, it does look incredible. And the Japanese restaurant she mentioned, so that was 百川 [Bǎichuān]: 百 [bǎi] as in 100, 川 [chuān] as in 四川 [Sìchuān], and I posted a photo of that too. And finally Maple mentioned that her favourite food, the one that she'd missed the most if she left China, was 饼 [bǐng]. So this basically refers to all kinds of pancakes. Some of them are like crêpe, and some of them are a little bit thicker, and some of like biscuits. There's a whole bunch of them, so I don't want to really go into too much detail. What I would say to you is just do a search, and you'll find out a whole lot more. I recommend a Bing search. A 饼 [bǐng] search. OK, maybe I'll leave the comedy to Maple.

Mosaic of China is me Oscar Fuchs, graphics designed by Denny Newell, editing by Milo de Prieto. If you like us, please rate and comment on iTunes or wherever you download this podcast, and I will see you next week.

Mosaic of China Season 01 Episode 02 – The Chinese Comedian (Maple ZUO, Stand-up Comic)

Oscar Fuchs: Creator, Producer and Host of the Mosaic of China podcast

Oscar Fuchs was the Co-Founder and Managing Director of a global executive search firm dedicated to the Human Resources profession. He was born in the UK and has lived in Asia for 18 years, including 3 years in Hong Kong SAR, and 7 years in mainland China. In 2019 he sold his company, and launched Mosaic of China.

In China, the podcast can also be found at 苹果播客, 小宇宙 and 喜马拉雅.

Internationally, it can also be found at Apple, Spotify, and all other podcasting platforms.

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