Looking for laughs on a stage in Beijing

Stand-up comedy is becoming more popular in China

BEIJING - You hear the one about the American comic trying stand-up in China?

Twenty-three-year-old Jesse Appell performs stand-up comedy in Beijing, 7,000 miles from his Massachusetts home.

We met Appell at a tea market where he tests his jokes.

"And the shops are small enough where they would have a hard time getting past me if they didn't like the jokes and get out of the room," he said.

Jesse Appell, 23, right, performs stand-up comedy in Beijing
CBS News

He came to China on a Fulbright scholarship to study comedy.

"In Beijing they do...a 'cross-talk,' and you have two people on stage and they go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, like Abbot and Costello style," he said. "But the thing about standup is that it comes from the West."

West, as in America. Appell says it's Chinese comedian Joe Wong who deserves credit for importing stand-up.

Seven million people tune-in to see Wong crack jokes on China's state TV. He realized he had a knack for standup while studying in the US.

Why does he think stand-up comedy is becoming more popular in China?

"I think one of the reasons is because young people now has their own individuality," he said. "Like when I was growing up - all I wanted to do is to be just the same as everybody else."

Joe Wong's joke about Vice President Joe Biden went viral
CBS News

On stage, he jokes, "I'm not a very religious person but I think I'm going to go to heaven anyway -- maybe illegally."

Appearances on the Letterman show made him popular but it was this jab at the American vice president that went viral in China.

"I actually read your autobiography," he told Vice President Joe Biden. "And today I see you. I think the book is much better."

What was it about that joke that resonated so much in China?

"People just found it funny," he said. "You're poking fun of a politician and he's sitting right there."

He wouldn't do that in China?

"That's something people usually don't see here," he said.

Said Appell: "They come to a show because they want to laugh and they want to enjoy their lives and that's not fundamentally different than people in America I don't think."

In the end, Appell says audiences across cultures laugh at what's relatable.