Funny about that hutong

Updated: 2012-08-20 13:20

By Darnell Gardner Jr. (China Daily)

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Henshaw says Schwab's ability to speak Chinese sets him apart from other tour guides. "He's able to investigate parts of Chinese history that are usually hidden to foreigners."

Thinking beyond the hutong, Schwab has led groups to Inner Mongolia, and he hopes to develop a tour of the Forbidden City. Ultimately, Schwab wants to lead tours between the US and China, especially to Jiangxi province, where he once taught English.

"I often went to visit many of my students during the weekends in their cities and towns, and I was so overwhelmed by the hospitality I received wherever I would go in Jiangxi," he says. "It would be an amazing experience for any traveler."

Jiangxi province isn't a major tourism destination for Westerners, says Schwab, "But there are some amazing sites: Jingdezhen, the capital of Chinese pottery and Lushan Mountain, which is a very impressive mountain often noted in Tang Dynasty poetry."

Schwab came to Beijing in 2008, and says travel, like laughter, has always played a role in his life.

"Every summer, as soon as it got hot, my family would just drive in a van out to Colorado," he says. "And when I was 2, we lived in France for a year because my Dad was a professor."

"I remember doing improv with my brother when I was a kid," he says. "In college I joined an improv group, and afterwards I lived in Portland and started an improv group there."

He says a bit of truth goes a long way when performing comedy.

"If you're truthful, you'll be funny," he says. "Usually when you laugh the most, it's when someone is just being truthful."

His journey into the world of Chinese improv comedy started when he chanced upon an advertisement for Beijing Improv, a local improvised theater group. Schwab began going to the group's shows and workshops, and now he's one of Beijing Improv's only comedians to perform in both English and Chinese, despite having little formal Chinese language education.

"It's a lot of guesswork," he says. "It helps your Chinese because you have to think on the spot."

Lottie Dowling, co-founder of Beijing Improv, says Schwab has an affinity for the comically absurd.

"He's always staying positive, performs bilingually, and knows enough about improv to teach at our workshops," she says.

For Schwab, it doesn't matter in what direction you're going in life, only that you keep putting one foot in front of the other, much like in improv.

"You're living in the now when you're doing improv. You're not thinking about what's going to happen next," he says. "It creates this immediate, positive gratification. It's like walking backwards because you have no idea where you're going."

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