After giving so many speeches in China I learned the oddities of what works and doesn’t work in cartoons with a Chinese audience. Some things can’t be explained, for example light bulb jokes make no sense to the Chinese, and can’t be explained. I’m told this is because it really takes four people in China to screw in a light bulb. Try to explain light bulb jokes and you’ll get a blank stare. They don’t care for ironic cartoons. The typical, wordy American cartoons are lost in translation, even when they address world issues.
For some reason I don’t understand, the Chinese audiences all laugh at pigs. My advice for any cartoonist giving a presentation to an audience in China is to show all the cartoons you’ve ever drawn with pigs in them. As part of my stump speech, I show a batch of my work from my illustrator days, before I became an editorial cartoonist, and I explain that only a very tiny percentage of American cartoonists are political cartoonists, most cartoonists work in illustration, animation, comics books and other non-political genres. When I show the cover at the right, the audience busts up laughing. I’ve asked them why, and the answer I get is, “We think pigs are funny.”
In fact, after each talk I usually get a crowd around me asking for sketches, and they want me to draw a pig for them. There are a few other requests for Chinese zodiac animal characters like bunnies, sheep and monkeys, but mostly it is pigs.
The Chinese just eat up those pigs. Literally. Pork is the staple meat on every Chinese menu. China has a strategic pork reserve, much like America’s Strategic Oil Reserve, in frozen caves underground in different places around the country. The Chinese can continue to enjoy pork dumplings after the apocalypse.
I learned that the Chinese word for pig is “ju,” pronounced, “Jew.” An unfortunate choice of words, I think.
The other big thing they find funny in my presentation is homosexuals. The cartoon at the right gets a big laugh. This was a Larry Craig cartoon; the Chinese audiences have no idea who Larry Craig is, but they know the donkey and elephant party symbols, and the gay reference makes them bust up. Homosexuality isn’t much accepted or discussed in China; as it turns out, when it is discussed they find it quite funny.