Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Celebration, Guangzhou

Recently our school held its annual English Festival, a two-week long fun fair where students and teachers alike celebrate English in all its variety and splendor. It was quite a show.

As part of that festival I judged the Movie Dubbing contest, which involved me sitting in a movie theatre watching a silent video clips while students used microphones to redub scenes from their favorite American movies (classics like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Peyton Reed’s The Break-Up (though this one was pretty good — Jon’s rule of Comedy #1 is that hearing a little Chinese girl scream “You’re a prick!” is much funnier than hearing it from Jennifer Aniston)). It’s like Mystery Science Theater where instead of riffing the robots just say the lines from the original movie and also happen to be non-native English speakers.

Before I go any further and you get the idea that I’m planning on making fun of the students who participated in this or any other contest, let me tell you: that is not my intention.

OK it is a little bit my intention, but really only the slightest bit. Because the commitment that these students showed to a two-week long contest devoted to a language which is not their own but happens to be the most widely-used language in the international community was really exemplary and humbling. I applaud all of them, and you should too. As one of the hosts said at the end of his introduction to the dubbing contest, “Give up your ladies and gentlemen!” (This is either a mangled version of “Give it up, ladies and gentlemen!” or an incongruous and polite call for the release of political prisoners — either way, I agree.)

Last night was the crowning moment of the English Festival, where all the winning acts from the dubbing, drama, speaking, and singing competitions got to perform in front of the whole school. And what made this night different from all other nights? On this night, Gus and Jon, the two resident native English speaking foreign assholes, got up, ate some bitter herbs, and performed with the students.

But first, the headmaster gave a speech in English. His English was not great, but, again, think about how extraordinary this is. Imagine if a university president in America (say, just for the sake of argument, Baylor’s Ken Starr. Go Bears!) were to stand up and give a few remarks in Chinese. I don’t care how poorly it’s pronounced, Ken Starr, I tell you here and now that I start telling everyone that you are lord among lawyers if you ever say anything in a language other than English at any official university function. I give our headmaster tons of credit, even though his speech was not perfect. He ended by saying, “I have song for you. I hope you lick it.”

And then he sang “Edelweiss”.

(Ken Starr I swear to you, sing a song in Chinese and I will name my first son Kenneth and swaddle him in the Starr Report and posters saying in no uncertain terms that Jesus Has Never Been “4” Bong Hits And Is Quite Frankly Surprised That You’d Think He Was.)

And then Gus and I got up and performed Monty Python’s “The Argument Clinic.” I had to wear a fake beard for part of it because we only had two actors and you really need at least three to make it work. This was the least of our challenges, most of which were conceptual.

Earlier in the day we gave our Cantonese tutor Serena a private performance, and at the end she clapped and said, “It was very funny! Do they actually have such businesses in America?” In response to the video; another Chinese friend said, “My only question is: why would a man pay to have an argument?” I found these questions troubling. You ask why a man would pay to have an argument but don’t question the fact that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn continue to live in the same condo after breaking up or the fact that a hippo has the same voice as will.i.am? These seem to be the questions we should actually be considering, from a comedic standpoint.

Anyway, after last night, I am now prepared to offer the following data:

Things Chinese people find really funny:

  • Me in sunglasses on stage
  • Me in a fake beard on stage
  • Me, my existence, in general
  • Edelweiss

Things Chinese people find mildly funny:

  • The comedy of Monty Python

Things Chinese people do not find funny:

  • Tibet (I know this not from last night, just from in general)

So yeah, in summary. They laughed. They clapped. We put it together in about an hour and had to change a shitload of words. I’m happy.

We’re not winning any big comedy awards here, but neither did Ayn Rand, and people still considered her a great teacher, according to a google search I just did for “famous teachers”. I see a lot of myself in her. I think it’s the hair.