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Cheeky humor a hit

By Li Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-16 23:08:01

A poster for <em>Diors Man</em> Photo: Courtesy of Da Peng

A poster for Diors Man Photo: Courtesy of Da Peng



With stars as beautiful as Tang Wei and Lin Chi-ling shown washing customers' feet at a massage parlor, and a woman so brazenly asking a waiter to fill a water cooler with coffee after learning the restaurant offers free refills, viewers cannot help but find the satirical twists on Chinese stereotypes funny.

In its second season, the online mini-series Diors Man, presented by Chinese video-streaming website Sohu TV, continues to drive Da Peng to fame as audiences laugh out loud at their laptops and mobiles.

Da Peng, whose real name is Dong Chengpeng, is the creative director, chief script writer and main actor of the comedy.

But the 31-year-old, who plays a protagonist that embraces the diaosi archetype, a buzzword in China which refers to an average-looking and often single man with a low-paying job with bleak future, has come a long way from his own diaosi days a decade ago.

Apart from Diors Man, he also hosts Sohu TV's talk show the Da Peng Show.

The enigmatic star from Ji'an, Jilin Province, reveals the highs and lows of his meteoric rise in showbiz in his new Chinese-language book, Laugh Out Loud in Tough Times, released yesterday.

Reluctant start 

In stark contrast to his outgoing on-screen persona, Da Peng admits that he was anxious about telling his story in a book that he had second thoughts on publishing.

In an interview with the Global Times, Da Peng expressed that he "totally respects" books, so much so, that he was initially "totally against" the idea of writing one, without confidence that he was qualified to carry out such work and fearing that no one would want to read his story - even though more than 10 publishers approached him after Diors Man.

But then one day, a little girl came to watch one of his shows and suddenly burst out into tears.

She was sick and had come to Beijing to see a doctor; she had watched all of Da Peng's programs while bedridden and found him funny and encouraging, but was saddened when she failed to find out more about him when she searched for him online.

"That untied the knots in my heart," he said. "People want to know about what I've been through, and I'm touched to know that my story may help somebody one day."

Turning points

But gaining such popularity was hardly easy. Though coming to Beijing was the starting point that changed his life, he was even cheated in that journey.

A fake record company promised to make him a star after he graduated from college, but they instead took all of his money and then disappeared.

Though the scam was "devastating" at the time, he managed to pick himself up and landed a job at Sohu.

When an online host called in sick one day, he quickly found himself in the spotlight.

He reached another milestone when he met one of China's greatest comedian masters, Zhao Benshan, backstage at the China Central Television's 2009 Spring Festival Gala, which he had attended as a Sohu entertainment reporter. Zhao said then that he would take Da Peng under his wing as a "disciple."

Yet to Zhao's surprise, Da Peng failed to jump at what many aspiring comedians would consider the opportunity of a lifetime - instead asking for a rain check when he was good and ready. Da Peng finally got on board with Zhao about a year later.

The ultimate turning point came last year, when Diors Man opened doors for Da Peng to a much wider audience, shooting him to mega-fame.

'Copycat' woes

Both Da Peng's shows have been criticized as copycats.

His very own Da Peng Show was accused of plagiarism last year by US late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien, who mocked Da Peng's show for ripping off the American host's opening Conan show sequence.

"We weren't aware then that our production team had used Conan's sequence, but I couldn't pass the buck on it either," said Da Peng.

In his apology, Da Peng used a pitch black screen with only the words "opening" on it and followed that up with an apologetic dance for O'Brien.

O'Brien replied in his next show, saying that Da Peng had no need to be sorry and asked his own graphic team to make a new opening sequence for the Da Peng Show.

Da Peng continues to express gratitude to O'Brien by thanking in him a shout-out in Diors Man's closing credits.

But Da Peng's Diors Man has also been snubbed by critics, who describe the mini-series as a knockoff of the German hit show Knaller Frauen. Da Peng's seemingly neurotic, crazy and funny behavior as well as story-telling ways are said to share a great deal of similarity to the presentation style of the German show's host Martina Hill.

But while Da Peng admits that he draws inspiration from the German show, given that there is only a limited format for comedies to run on, he said that what Diors Man does is "totally different."

To ensure he has enough "funny" material that works for Chinese people, he reaches out to a group of writers on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service.

"They write 40 to 50 acts and then I select the top 5 or 6 funniest ones for my show," said Da Peng.

Diors Man also invites big stars to appear as guest performers, while the German show simply relies on a handful of actors and actresses.

But unlike the relentless criticism received at home, Da Peng's overseas counterparts have been more than forgiving.

Da Peng said that Hill was pleased to "see Chinese culture and humor incorporated into the German show."

Possible cooperation is even on the way, said Da Peng, revealing that Diors Man fans could soon see the Chinese male diaosi encounter the German female diaosi.

And, as the lead actor of comedy Hello Babies, set to hit the big screen in China early in the New Year, Da Peng is hoping to venture beyond comedy and break into film.

Directed by long-time Hong Kong comedy film director Bak-Ming Wong, the new film about celebrating the Chinese New Year could be just what Da Peng needs to transform into a comprehensive entertainer.

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