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Xinjiang team takes comedy online

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-07-28 01:25

Cast and crew members of the comedy show "Anar Pishti" work in the studio in Urumqi. Ma Kai / Xinhua

Daodao is a shortened version of bishi daodao, the Uygur phrase for powerful man. In the show, he is a country bumpkin, a hapless sheep herder, who can call his flock by name but struggles to remember what his wife is called. He clamors to speak out for his friend but is less forthcoming when he is faced with a group of brawny men.

"It's the contrast between his name and his personality, and the plot reversal that makes people laugh," Yasin said.

Yasin is a natural at scripting comedy, while Memeteli was born to act. This, added to their ability to identify relatable trends and memes, means the duo are the linchpin of the production team.

In Counting Sheep, the 30-second sketch that catapulted Anar Pishti to fame in August 2016, Daodao struggles to get his flock to react to him. At his wits end, he calls them by their social media handles: The sheep are instantly more responsive to their online personas.

The success of the sketch motivated the team to release the show in weekly installments. They recently commenced their fifth season, and now release episodes daily.

The show does not have an outlandish budget, and the crew must wear many hats. Aside from acting, Memeteli helps Yasin — who directs — with the script and editing. Unarhan Seitqazy is the show's gaffer and sound recordist, and when she is not acting alongside Memeteli, Zubeydam Hasan must source all the costumes.

"Anar Pishti was not created by just one person, just as a pomegranate is not made of a single seed," Memeteli said.

Sketching Xinjiang

The show is multilingual, with Mandarin, Uygur, Kazakh and other languages spoken interchangeably.

"That's how we talk in Xinjiang. It's a multiethnic region, and we borrow terms from all our different languages," Memeteli said. "Language is not a problem. Neither is ethnicity."

In fact, the region's ethnic diversity is often a source of inspiration.

In one musical sketch, Daodao plays a street food vendor whose girlfriend leaves him for a rich man who, she says, can afford steak and spaghetti. Beside himself, Daodao turns to song: "I was your kebab, and you were my noodles. We used to such a perfect match. What happened to us?"

In the first few seconds of another episode, Superman and Spider-Man look set to go head-to-head in battle. When the camera pans out, however, the fight turns out to be a naan-bread baking contest.

Viewers from across the country have praised Anar Pishti for the way it challenges stereotypes.

"I thought Xinjiang was just meadows and horses. I didn't know that the region was actually quite modern or that it had high-rise buildings and cities, too," one netizen said.

Yasin said it was the desire to educate people about his hometown that keeps the comedy group going. "Life in Xinjiang is not all about cows and sheep, or singing and dancing. Many people outside Xinjiang know little about life here," he said.

As the show has become more popular, the team has had to face the fact that with fame also comes great responsibility.

"Being funny is not enough," Tohti said. "So we have decided to incorporate public awareness themes." Last year, this meant a short film about drugs, which won first prize in a national contest.

The Anar Pishti production crew now has 35 members. As the team has grown, so has its ambitions.

"Some people have called us 'the Xinjiang Mr. Bean'. That's OK right now, but as for the future, what about 'the Xinjiang Christopher Nolan'?" Memeteli said, laughing.

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