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Two expats make up the first-ever English crosstalking duo

By Jonny Clement Brown (Global Times)

08:31, July 09, 2013

Emcee of the night at Hot Cat Club, Niko Martinez, doubts English crosstalk's appeal to foreigners.

The first guy is tall and wiry. The second, slightly shorter and thicker set.

On stage together, Jesse Appell and Nick Angiers physically resemble a classic, Laurel and Hardy type of comedy duo. Everything about their performance last Wednesday for a weekly open mic night at Hot Cat Club in Fangjia Hutong seemed unconventional.

They don't use vocal amplification; everyone else uses a microphone. There are two performers; others go solo. Their set is about 13 minutes long; open mic rules stipulate a maximum of five minutes on stage. They don't swear or use vulgarity; others do, and in abundance.

"We're going to do something very special tonight, an English version of xiang­sheng," declares Angiers from the stage through the hullabaloo of the audience.

The traditional Chinese comedic form of dialogue xiangsheng, or crosstalk, differs greatly from the other comedy acts appearing on stage that night, usually imitating the styles of Western comics.

A couple of enthusiastic whistles and a groan from the back ring out. This is certainly not what the crowd's expecting.

"Yep. That's right," says Appell confidently. He then focuses on the size of Angiers's head, claiming it to be the source of his cleverness as a xiangsheng performer.

"I look at your head and think wouldn't it be great if I could just take your head and rip it open and take out the brain to figure out how you do what you do," he says theatrically.

Before any of the largely expatriate funny boned fans in attendance know better, the crosstalking duo are up and away into the world of xiangsheng performance - a slightly strange bantering style of comedy that is light in tone and delivery, at times even slightly surreal.

"Wait. What does my brain have to do with anything?" Angiers replies in jest as their conversation begins to ramble. There's a loud groan from an audience member again. But there are smatterings of laughter, too.

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