Crosstalk is a traditional form of Chinese comedy – the like of which does not really exist in the West. Xiangsheng (to use its Chinese name) involves two fast-talking performers, speaking in Beijing dialect, in a punning style. As an earthy and partly spontaneous genre it can become satirical and surprisingly political. For example, crosstalkers were the first to openly criticise the Gang of Four after the death of Mao Zedong.
However, ‘cross’ talk took on a whole new meaning last week when Guo Degang, one of the genre’s top performers referred to Beijing TV journalists as “whore-correspondents” and “green-light” prostitutes.
Guo’s outburst came after a run-in with the channel’s reporters, who had visited his home to air a story on how his property was encroaching on a small patch of public land. The claim was that it was an illegal expansion, and had upset neighbours. Tempers soon flared when – angered by the intrusion – one of Guo’s employees allegedly beat up a reporter.
Guo is the highest paid crosstalker, owning a series of theatres and earning big royalties from books, DVDs and endorsements. But he soon felt the financial backlash from the incident. His TV show was removed from Beijing TV. Then national state broadcaster CCTV labelled him “vulgar”. In quick succession his theatres were shut down and his books and DVDs removed from Beijing shops.
Nanfang Daily says the performer is now “suffering an all-round ban” and is “likely to disappear from public view”. As the blog Shanghai List put it, it has been a sudden fall from grace. Guo started the month as a “maverick people’s hero”. Now it looks too late to save his career.
Guo’s success seems to have bred enemies in the industry, many of whom have been waiting for a chance to settle scores. It was also a case of bad timing; the authorities have been conducting a campaign against “vulgar” discourse, and the remarks about the city reporters seem to have counted against him.
However, the scope of the ban – instigated by the Beijing Bureau of Radio, Film and Television – seems to have led to a reversal in attitudes to the incident. As the Southern Metropolis Daily points out, “Public opinion has undergone a subtle change. From the initial criticism the trend is now towards sympathy after the ban. In the view of many internet users it is wrong for the authorities to administer an across-the-board ban.”
Top film director Feng Xiaogang has also come to the comedian’s defense. Arguing that the local media is far from perfect and that apologies have since been made by Guo for his apprentice’s behaviour, Feng says “we should give them a break”.
Guo’s fall offers a warning to the entertainment industry in general: at the government’s whim anyone can be banned.
Guo meanwhile maintains that the TV crew infringed on his privacy and trespassed on his property. He has also been quick to make a public donation to victims of the recent landslide in Gansu’s Zhouqu. But as the Global Times notes the controversy has not subsided. Two of his company’s crosstalking apprentices, He Yunwei and Li Jing, have recently resigned too, reports the paper.
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