Today I read a blog post talking about a Canadian guy called Mark Rowswell (aka 大山) that appears on Chinese TV shows and who is able to do 相声. This 相声 is referred to as "the art of language".
What does 相声 exactly mean?
相声 is a form of Chinese traditional stand-up comedy where two two performers talk back and forth to each other, telling a funny story or just chatting about a humorous topic. Because it's a traditional Chinese art form and originates in northern China, it has a higher political status than other Chinese art forms. This means that it gets broadcasted across the country on CCTV a lot, and sinophiles like Mark Roswell get introduced to it when they are studying Chinese.
相声 performers who become make a name for themselves can establish their own styles and take on students to pass on their skills. Mr Roswell/Dashan's mentor was a performer named 姜昆. Dashan is not the only foreigner to have studied under a famous artist -- another name that I remember off the top of my head is Julien Gaudfroy (朱力安), a French student of Chinese who also studied 相声.
Probably the best way to get a better feel for 相声 would be to search for the term on Youtube, or if you're in China then search on Youku. Combine it with 大山 or 朱力安 to find videos of these talented performers.
Usually, Cross Talk (Xiangsheng), a comic dialogue, features two men humorously sparring back and forth. By vivid and rich descriptions of characters and events, it is intended to express thought-provoking things behind the humor. Although cross talkers, now highly respected and recognized as folk artists, worship Dongfang Shuo of Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) as their forefather, it is in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that this popular plebeian culture began to prosper. In early years, street cross talkers in Beijing's Tian Qiao area included Qiongbupa (not-fearing poverty), Wanrenmi (adored-by-ten-thousand-people) and Li Dexi. They wrote and performed many popular pieces, making indelible contributions to the development of this art form. Although Beijing was home to the cross talk, the port city of Tianjin, with its proximity to Beijing, was a place where cross talkers must go to perform. Gradually, Tianjin became a place where any new pieces had to be first performed and recognized before being staged in Beijing. Many famous cross talkers all once performed in Tianjin for many years before their names were widely known across the country, including Ma Sanli, Hou Baolin, Zhang Shouchen, Chang Lianan, Chang Yukun, Chan Baoting, Bai Quanfu, Su Wenmao, Gao Yingpei, Fan Zhenyu, etc. Although Tianjin is not the birthplace of the cross talk, it is a city that once cultivated many famous cross talkers who has achieved artistic excellence of unique depth. The cross talk is loved by the people of Tianjin and has become a glamor of the city.