2014 is the year of comedy for China’s TV market. Statistics have shown that during last year, more than 20 comedy shows have sprung up on television channels across the nation. Though some made huge fortunes out of the business, many others proved poorly-received, possibly as results of cliché jokes or a lack of originality. Producers of improv comedies therefore fully took advantage of the flexibility and unpredictability of their programmes, adopting a format relatively novel for Chinese audience and successfully grasped their attention.
On June 6, 2014, Joy Street appeared on CCTV-1 at 22:38, achieving an audience rating of 0.53% in a non prime-time. Adapted from the long-run German Comedy show Schiller Street, Joy Street tells the story of four friends living in the same street. It retains the unscripted and improvisational nature of the original show, and adds more elements of reality shows in the meantime, such as interviews with actors and shots of their preparation before filming. During the filming process, actors are given orders by the director through earphones, according to which they create their lines and design movements rapidly.
“We deliberately choose this format in an attempt to attract young viewers,” explains Tong Guo, one of the producer of Joy Street, “above all, a number of drama elements are specially added to Joy Street, making each episode relatively independent while connected to each other by the main plot which runs through the whole season, just like American TV series. Furthermore, the shooting style resembles that of a microfilm, presenting a situation like a gathering of close friends who joke and chat casually. We are convinced that this easy style is more attractive to the young audience.”
Apart from the novel format, the comedy resonates in young audience with its topics close to the social reality in China, such as lightning marriage and lightning divorce, broken families, and older unmarried adults, deeply concerning the majority of Chinese young adults these days.
Another equally influential improv comedy show, Laugh Out Loud is originally designed by a production team based on Hunan Television, which is currently China’s second-most-watched channel. Since its launch on February 15 last year, Laugh Out Loud has obtained an average audience rating of 0.9% in the same time slot. Instead of developing contents as its main selling point, the programme focuses more on separate stage sets that make up one single show. Settings of these scenes go to a definitely opposite direction from everyday life, so as to create bizarre and hilarious effects. For example, in “Slippery House”, actors perform on a 22.5° slope instead of a horizontal floor, but they are required to act normally as if it were a normal house. Viewers burst into laughter when seeing their favourite actors, singers or models make extreme efforts in performing a simple movement but keep sliding from the top of the slope to the bottom. According to netizens’ calculation, Laugh Out Loud makes audience laugh every 8 seconds on average.
Di Mou, chief director of Joy Street, says, “no matter how splendid or dull the show is, what happens in the spotlight appears before the audience directly, and immediately.” That exactly explains the attractiveness of improv comedy shows.