Roaring Laughter Among Gulou’s Rickshaws
On a relaxing afternoon stroll around the winding hutong streets of Beijing’s Gulou area (鼓楼), it’s very easy to bear witness to a unique mix of things both new and old. The familiar sight of a fleet of rickshaws patrolling the narrow streets looking for passengers, against a backdrop of dreamy live pop music coming from a nearby bar, surely makes it a special place.
Aside from the trendy cafés and endless swarms of visitors clicking their DSLR cameras at every possible opportunity, the area around Gulou and tourist hotspot Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷) currently play host to an exciting trend of growing creative talent. Long-term expats will be familiar with the sound of music from countless live bands echoing through the streets of Gulou and nearby Houhai (后海), as well as frequent rocker gatherings at the underground music shrine that is the Mao Live House. Music aside, however, recent years have seen a surge of activity and exposure for those involved in the written and performing arts — in particular the art of stand-up comedy.
Located on Gulou Xi Da Jie (鼓楼西大街), a roughly 200 meter walk from the Bell Tower if you’re facing west, Tushuguan 98 (图书馆98, The Library 98) — which stands true to its name — acts as a relaxing haven for those who fancy a cup of coffee and a good read. But at night, the space takes on another role as a venue for various events and performances.
If it’s a tickle of your funny bone you’re after, it may just be worth checking out Tushuguan on Thursday night at 8:00 PM for its popular stand-up comedy open mic night. Each stand-up show provides performers a particular topic to focus on, which have previously included everything from religion and politics to thirst and zombies. (The latter perhaps being a testament to the comedians’ tendency to go wildly off-topic into interesting, yet bizarre, territories whilst performing. But hey, that’s why they call it “open mic.”)
Each performer has five minutes of joke time onstage, and the audience is exposed to a good mix of local Chinese and expat performers making use of banjos, keyboards, songs, dances, or whatever they may have in an attempt to get a rise out of viewers. The event attracts regular stand-up comics who are well known within the Beijing performing arts scene, such as frequent host Paul Creasy, as well as a smattering of locals and tourists passing through who simply want to try their hand at comedy. What all this adds up to is an interesting array of content and style from beginners and seasoned comics alike.
Tushuguan, which also hosts live music and literature nights, has adopted a role in the area not unlike that of The Bookworm in Sanlitun, serving as a hotbed and popular gathering place for local creative talent. Many of the performers and punters are also active in the Beijing Improv group, a team of comics that have gained notoriety around the city for their hilarious unplanned comedy shows. On any open mic night at Tushuguan, look around and you may see many of the brains responsible for the recent boom in Beijing’s written and performance art scene sipping a beer and enjoying the show.
If you fancy heading down to Tushuguan on a Thursday night, be prepared to take in what could well be a strange and unpredictable evening of comedy — though that is undoubtedly one of its main charms. (The other being its function as a window into Beijing’s ever-expanding trend of creativity, which will only come on stronger and offer us more original and intriguing talent to sink our teeth into in the near future.)
53 Gulou Xidajie, Beijing