Enter Jesse Appell ’12: comedian and global Internet sensation

Returns to Brandeis for comedy show, the Great LOL tour of China

Photo/Julian Cardillo

Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is a smile.

Living by this philosophy, Jesse Appell ’12 has become a global comedic sensation, a Chinese social media star and a master of parody. His journey began at Brandeis when he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to go to Beijing and study Chinese comedy.

“You couldn’t have guessed any of this, especially to study comedy in China in the first place,” says Appell, who still lives in Beijing as a comedian and entrepreneur. “Even when the fellowship ended, I thought ‘this is a lot of fun and I’m enjoying these new experiences,’ and I knew that if I didn’t make these jokes up, no one else would.”

The Newton, Mass. native has always loved making people laugh. His comedic background goes beyond his days with the Brandeis improv group False Advertising.

While in Beijing, Appell found that he also was able to tickle China’s funny bone, which led him to be an Internet and television celebrity. “Laowai Style,” his parody video of “Gangnam Style,” the highly popular K-pop song, generated millions of views on Chinese sites within days and numerous interview requests from Chinese television outlets.

“It’s hard to say whether I have celeb status,” jokes Appell. “Celebrity is tricky, lots of people know my stuff but I don’t have one consistent platform where people can find me. But I do have videos that have gone around the Internet.”

Appell’s website, laughbeijing.com, promotes his work as a comedian, parody song artist, and writer of satire. But he does live shows as well. He performed his latest show, “The Great LOL Tour of China,” at Brandeis on Nov. 13 as part of International Education Week. Appell’s show, the first half of which was conducted completely in Chinese, was part of a North American comedy tour he started seven weeks ago.

His Brandeis show, which featured a stand-up routine and spoofs on American rap songs, was met with great laughter from the packed lecture hall of American and Chinese students.

Appell practiced the craft of xiansheng, a type of crosstalk comedy, with 69-year-old Chinese actor Ding Guangquan while he was studying in China as a Fulbright Scholar. He then combined what he’d learned about Chinese comedy, language and culture with his natural ability to make people laugh.

But behind the smiles and jokes, there is a more serious side to Appell’s work. He believes that he can be a force for positive relations between China and the U.S. by connecting the two countries through laughter. Appell says his experience at Brandeis, during which he embraced the commitment to social justice and social change, as well as his responsibility as a global citizen, drives what he does.

“The idea of doing what you do because it has a social purpose is really strong in my work. The easiest way to make a friend is to learn how to laugh with them,” says Appell. “It’s true in global life, too. “I’m worried that the relationship between the U.S. and China won’t have that dynamic aspect to it. You want to like others and laugh with them, it’s a general human connection between two countries.”

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