The man next door
Updated: 2011-07-29 08:01
By Chen Nan (China Daily)
Chen Peisi introduces the cast of Ridiculous Dinner at the press conference. Zhang Wei / China Daily
Comedian Chen Peisi, whose drama Ridiculous Dinner is his first attempt to adapt a French comedy for local audiences, says he is still learning about theater. Chen Nan reports.
Although comedian Chen Peisi is a household name in China, with TV and movie series and five plays under his belt, he still considers himself a newcomer to theater. He rose to prominence with his xiaopin (Chinese skit), Eating Noodles, at CCTV's annual Spring Festival Gala in 1984, becoming a regular fixture of the annual variety show till 1998. He also directed and starred in his movie series, which gave full play to his talents, from 1991 to 1997.
Weeks before the start of the second tour of his drama, Ridiculous Dinner, Chen is in a small rehearsal room on the third floor of a theater located on the east side of the capital.
As the 57-year-old introduces his cast, dressed in casual overalls, jaded white T-shirt and wide-toed shoes, Chen looks every bit the comedian.
Chen wrote his first drama, Tuo'er, in 2001, following it up with Even Relatives Keep Careful Accounts, Balcony, A Duo and Old House.
But Ridiculous Dinner is his first adaptation in 10 years, and is based on the popular French play Le Diner de Cons (The Dinner Game) by French writer-director Francis Veber.
"I was worried about whether Chinese audiences would understood it," he says. "But the first tour (at the end of 2010) was very well-received."
The upcoming tour will see Chen playing the role of Francois Pignon, the "idiot" instead of Pierre Brochant, the wealthy businessman.
He has also added more laughs to the plot, to cater to local tastes.
In all his skits, Chen invariably plays the fool with bad luck, who somehow always manages to change the situation to his advantage. "I feel much more comfortable in plain clothes. The suit and tie I had to wear as Pierre was torture," he grins. "I think it's my fate to play guys with bad luck."
He calls himself a newcomer to theater, not only because he is adapting a foreign comedy for Chinese theater for the first time, but also because he is still learning about comic dramas and Chinese audiences.
"The audience here enjoys various types of comedy - from black humor to crosstalk. It is always harder to make audiences laugh than to make them cry," he says. "You have to understand their sadness and transform it into happiness. That's a huge task."
While writing the script for Ridiculous Dinner, he says he made many changes to the dialogue and body language to make a connection with the audience.
"French comedy is quiet and slow. Chinese audiences don't have the patience to wait for the laughter points. I know when they want to laugh and what can make them laugh. I have the confidence," he says. "Meanwhile, I don't mind if the joke is on me."
Of course, that confidence also comes from the fact that his dramas have been big winners in China's theater scene. Despite the ups and down in Chinese drama in recent years, nearly all of Chen's plays sold out, and won critical acclaim.
"Good comedy will always stand the test of time," he says.
Sitting in the rehearsal room that he shares with the cast, Chen talks about himself humbly. He says he lives a simple life with his family, asking for no more than "a normal and healthy life".
"Acting is my job, as is directing and producing," Chen says. "But it's only a job. Other than that, I'm just like anyone else."
He left the TV screen to devote himself to the stage after his last performance with long-time partner Zhu Shimao in 1998.
Despite the clamor for his return, Chen has consistently said no to the Gala.
"I want to spend all my time and passion on comic dramas," he says. "I feel young and happy now."
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