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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 08:56, June 08, 2006
News Feature: Tibetan comedian works to preserve China's ethnic comedy
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Thupten looks perfectly composed as he pauses for a moment waiting for the audience to finish laughing before bouncing another tongue twister off his straight man, which again is interrupted by a roar of laughter.

For 60 years, the folk artist in the brown Tibetan gown has triggered laughter wherever he goes. Thupten's comedy circuit has taken him to outlying Tibetan communities, China's major metropolis and clubs in Europe and the United States.

He was among the first to adapt "Xiangsheng", or crosstalk, a traditional form of Chinese standup comedy to the Tibetan language.

Nowadays the 70-year-old's main worry is finding a worthy successor to pass down his crosstalk techniques.

"The audience is more demanding these days and it's increasingly hard for the young comedians to make them laugh," he told Xinhua in an interview.

As a child, Thupten became a monk at a lamasery in Lhasa where he not only passed the rites of Buddhism but, strangely for a monk, he was also trained to perform traditional Tibetan operas.

"Our living Buddha loved folk arts and inspired us to learn. We even formed an amateur troupe to give performances around Lhasa," he said.

At the lamasery he also learned the epic poem, "King Gesser", which at a million lines is considered the world's longest. Written 1,000 years ago it tells how an ancient Tibetan king conquered the devils of other tribes and studying the tone gave Thupten a gift for the gab, an essential requirement in crosstalk.

Thupten eventually left the lamasery to become a professional performer. In 1962, he followed Losang Doje, known as the founder of Tibetan crosstalks, and became a comedian with the Ethnic Art Troupe in Lhasa.

A versatile artist, Thupten soon gained fame for his creative ethnic ballads and dances and his unique crosstalk performances.

He and the eight-member troupe toured Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece and Norway in the 1980s.

Yet Thupten's success story is full of trials and troubles as even the good old days lacked financial rewards. "In the heyday of Tibetan crosstalks in the 1980s, we were often invited to perform in the countryside. All the eight of us had to live in two small offices for the night and the food was meagre at best," he said .

"We were poorly paid back then, and my wife insisted I quit the job and make a stable income as a farmer." But the love of art and the laughter and applause from local herders kept him going.

When he officially retired from the troupe in 1998, he and 15 other retirees formed their own troupe in the hope of attracting fresh blood to the craft. For more than a decade he's been headhunting young artists with potential to take his place on stage. He thinks that he's finally found "the younger version" of himself -- a high school teacher in Shannan Prefecture who plays numerous musical instruments, sings and writes and performs comic dialogues in Tibetan. "I hope he'll be my replacement someday and carry forward the art of humor," he said.

Source: Xinhua


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