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Meet China's Father of Stand-up Comedy, Li Dan

Meet China's Father of Stand-up Comedy, Li Dan

Too busy to get your daily dose of RADII? We got you every Tuesday with a summary of all the freshest takes on China’s youth culture in the last week.

Intrigued? Keep scrolling, my friend.

Having a Laugh: Li Dan and His Stand-up Comedy Kingdom

Walks of Fame is a monthly column covering renowned personalities from China (or of Chinese heritage) who have made waves in their respective industries. This month, RADII brings you none other than household name and stand-up comedian Li Dan.

“When I returned to China in 2013, I was more popular than stand-up comedy itself,” quips Chinese American comedian Joe Wang in the first episode of Rock & Roast’s fourth season, Tencent’s popular stand-up comedy contest. Both joke and keen observation rolled into one, Wang’s comment encapsulates stand-up comedy’s relatively late start in China.

Much has changed in the past decade, however. A constant figure in this rising phenomenon is Li Dan.

A standout comedian, Li is also the curator and host of Rock & Roast. Many credit him with introducing stand-up comedy, once a subculture, to the greater public in China.

Far from an overnight success, Li has had to work his fingers to the bone. But hard work usually has a way of proving worthwhile. In 2012, he made his steep ascent from scriptwriter to guest star on Shanghai’s Tonight 80’s Talk Show.

In the decade since his debut on the celebrated Shanghai TV program, the 33-year-old has worn multiple hats — comedian, poet, screenwriter, author, and ‘king of punchlines’ — and accumulated 8.8 million followers on Weibo.

One of his most quoted lines, “Be happy my friends; the world is not worth being taken too seriously (人间不值得),” has been pinned to his Weibo page for years — long enough for the phrase to spread like wildfire and be taken out of context, especially by proponents of the ‘lying flat’ generation.

Recognizable for his round spectacle frames, signature changshan attire, and carefree attitude toward life, Li is also responsible for the saying, “All pretty faces look the same; one interesting soul is to be found among a million (好看的皮囊千篇一律,有趣的灵魂万里挑一).”

Li, whose stardom represents the ‘Chinese dream’ and a ‘modern dilemma,’ is well aware of the contradictory tags attached to his name: ‘Pessimistic comedian,’ ‘nihilist businessman,’ and ‘lazy workaholic’ only just scratch the surface.

New Chinese Buzzword ‘Let It Rot’ Takes ‘Lying Flat’ to New Heights

Even with countless errands on your to-do list, do you find yourself taking excessive breaks, scrolling through social media, or binging one Netflix series after another? If yes, congratulations: You’ve joined the ranks of Chinese youth who are ‘lying flat,’ or at least claim to do so.

In this involuted era triggered by China’s intense ‘996’ work culture, new slang terms are being coined to capture young people’s sense of doom and despondency.

The latest to join the Chinese lexicon is ‘let it rot’ (bailan 摆烂).

‘Let it rot’ means to let things that are already beyond repair deteriorate. Some suspect that the word originated from NBA fan circles and was used to describe teams that intentionally tank games or lose on purpose to secure a competitive advantage in the next round.

The phrase was picked up by Chinese gaming communities after reportedly being popularized by ‘Big Eggplant’ (大茄子), a livestreamer known for using colorful language.

Not long after, memes related to ‘Let it rot’ began circulating the internet and became embraced by the masses.

Unsurprisingly, many of said commenters are caught in Shanghai’s drawn-out lockdown or other cities in China that are experiencing movement restrictions. The buzzword describes how they have gone into ‘goblin mode’ and are enjoying it.

Whether the ‘let it rot’ mentality represents the final stages of cynicism among Chinese youth remains to be seen. Meanwhile, all we can do is sit tight while enjoying a tidal wave of memes on the Chinese web.

  • More plant-based options arrive in China, and at one of the country's biggest convenience store chains, to boot.
  • Everyone in China Lockdown, needs a haircut, even celebrities like Eddie Peng.
  • From retro videogames to boys' love-inspired jasmine tea, brands have gotten creative to help divert your attention from lovey-dovey couples this Chinese Valentines Day.
Shop (left) or play (right) games in Balenciaga’s ‘520: Arcade’ mini program. Screengrab via WeChat

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