BBC to launch first ever Chinese comedy

New sketch show aims to tackle Oriental stereotypes and repeat success of 'Goodness Gracious Me'

Forget the ancient stereotypes about stale prawn crackers, kung fu, Chinese laundries and 19th-century opium dens. The BBC is planning to emulate the success of the award-winning Asian sketch show Goodness Gracious Me with Britain's first ever all-Oriental comedy series.

Satay Night Live, a blend of stand-up and sketches, aims to introduce mainstream audiences to what its producers see as the UK's most misunderstood and neglected sense of humour: that of the British-Oriental community. They hope to do as much to challenge stereotypes about Chinese, Japanese and other Far Eastern minorities as stars such as Meera Syall and Sanjeev Bhaskar have for British-Asians with their series Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at Number 42.

News of the proposed BBC3 series has received a generally positive welcome from prominent performers, although some were sceptical about the claim that there is such a thing as a "British-Oriental sense of humour". The actor Burt Kwouk, 73, best known as Cato, Inspector Clouseau's sidekick in the Pink Panther films, said he approved of the idea in principle, but disputed the notion of a homogenous Oriental sense of humour.

"It would be dangerous to approach it that way," said Mr Kwouk, who was born in Manchester but raised in Shanghai. "I'm Chinese, and I don't really know much about Korean or Japanese culture. China is vast, a continent almost, and different parts of it are different.

"There's also a generational gap in the Chinese community. There's a generation that came over from foreign parts, which includes me, and then there's the generation that was brought up here, which has slightly different ideas about things."

Mr Kwouk said he hoped the new series would question the stereotypes used in the past to portray people of Oriental descent, adding: "I've faced all of them. When I started as an actor 50 years ago every Chinese character had to say 'flied lice'. Now, thankfully, that's finally changing and we are allowed to say 'fried rice' like in real life."

David Yip, who played the BBC's Chinese Detective in the 1980s, said he was convinced there was such a thing as an Oriental sense of humour. However, he added: "Unfortunately, the establishments in both TV and the media tend to generalise about Oriental people and be very stereotypical: it's always Triads and Chinese businessmen.

"I was born in Liverpool and I don't speak Chinese, but people sometimes just assume that I do."

Satay Night Live is a collaboration between Baby Cow, the TV production company owned by I'm Alan Partridge star Steve Coogan, and the UK's only British-Oriental theatre group, Mu-Lan. Paul Courtenay Hyu, Mu-Lan's artistic director, said: "I hope that the show will be a great success for our community in much the same way as Goodness Gracious Me has been for the Asian community."

Stereotyping has been tackled in other art forms. Most famously, the Hong Kong-born writer Timothy Mo broached the issue in Sour Sweet, his 1982 Booker Prize-nominated novel about a Chinese family living in London.

While some might cringe at the pun in Satay Night Live, it is at least an improvement on "Groping for Trout in the Yangtze River" - the original title of the series.

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