Brother Sway: more than just get­ting laughs

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By HEZI JIANG in New York hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­

Cui Baoyin was quite suc­cess­ful by most stan­dards — work­ing as an in­ter­preter for Boe­ing and Mi­crosoft and later own­ing a com­pany with 70 em­ploy­ees. But he longed for some­thing more.

“I can’t leave this world with no­body know­ing how damn great I am,” he said.

“I want to be China’s Jay Leno,” said Cui, now known as Brother Sway, a standup co­me­dian, or as he prefers to be called, a talk-show host.

“Co­me­di­ans just make peo­ple laugh, but a talk-show host has a point to make,” he said.

“Sway” is Cui’s English in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his last name and also re­flects his life: Sway­ing be­tween the US and China, he en­ter­tains the Chi­nese res­i­dents of two coun­tries with his bit­ter­sweet life sto­ries.

“We came to Amer­ica for dol­lars,” he said. “We worked very hard so that one day we could go back home like a rich man. But sud­denly, China got stronger and peo­ple got rich.

“When we go home, we are poor again,” he said in Chi­nese to au­di­ence laugh­ter. “China, why couldn’t you wait for a few years? Why did you grow so fast?”

The video, shot in the base­ment of his house six years ago, has been viewed more than a mil­lion times on­line.

A na­tive Bei­jinger, Brother Sway grad­u­ated from Bei­jing Univer­sity and worked as an in­ter­preter in the For­bid­den Palace. He left China for the United States in 1988, look­ing for a bet­ter life.

When he ar­rived in Seat­tle, Cui said he went “wher­ever money is”. He worked as a waiter in Chi­nese restau­rants and as a movie stunt man. Like many early Chi­nese im­mi­grants, Cui said he “changed from a white col­lar in China to a blue col­lar in Amer­ica”.

He at­tended law school at Seat­tle Univer­sity. Though he didn’t prac­tice law upon grad­u­a­tion, Cui said he learned a lot about the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem, and more im­por­tantly, it im­proved his English and led him to work as a part­time in­ter­preter for some ma­jor com­pa­nies in the area, in­clud­ing Boe­ing and Mi­crosoft.

Things be­gan to look bet­ter af­ter he sealed a con­tract to sell beer and snacks at some ma­jor sports and en­ter­tain­ment events in Seat­tle. As the busi­ness grew, he had 70 Amer­i­cans work­ing for him. “On a good day, I could sell $200,000,” he said. “That was a re­al­iza­tion of my Amer­i­can Dream.” But a new prob­lem cropped up. “I con­sid­ered my­self to be pretty suc­cess­ful, but I was so frus­trated that no­body knew how suc­cess­ful I was,” Cui said. “My nat­u­ral in­stinct was: Let me brag about it.”

Ap­pear­ing on a China Ra­dio In­ter­na­tional talk show, the host pressed him on his mo­ti­va­tions. “Did you want to be­come a su­per­star?”

“No, I just wanted to brag,” Cui replied.

He be­gan do­ing standup com­edy in a Seat­tle tav­ern that held weekly open mic nights. Cui en­joyed talk­ing to the Western au­di­ence about China, race and dirty jokes, “es­pe­cially the dirty jokes”, he joked.

But af­ter three years, he felt talk­ing to Amer­i­cans wasn’t enough. “No Chi­nese in my town knew what I was do­ing; that was not sat­is­fac­tory,” he said.

So in 2009, he put on a show in his base­ment, where Brother Sway was of­fi­cially launched.

To at­tract an au­di­ence, ev­ery week­end Cui’s wife cooks a huge pot of zha jiang mian, a tra­di­tional Bei­jing dish of noo­dles topped with pork sauce and cu­cum­ber cut in juli­enne style.

“Ev­ery­thing is free. Ev­ery­one in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity knew that Brother Sway served free noo­dles and told jokes that were quite funny,” he said.

In 2010, a friend recorded Brother Sway per­form­ing his iconic show Don’t Come to Amer­ica, in which he blames China for grow­ing too fast and leav­ing him be­hind.

He chides Amer­i­cans about their math education. In the video, a poster of Chair­man Mao and the Chi­nese and US flags are be­hind him.

As a Seat­tle res­i­dent for 28 years, Cui knows how lo­cals or­der their coffee.

“I would like a triple venti, 2 per­cent, cin­na­mon dolce, ex­tra-hot mac­chi­ato,” he im­i­tated in an­other vi­ral video in which he cre­ated a rap set to Chi­nese mu­sic, teach­ing Chi­nese how to or­der coffee.

“Ex­cuse me, sir. Ex­cuse me. I want to or­der a latte coffee. Don’t put sugar and don’t put a lid. Here is five dol­lars and you can keep the tip.”

Brother Sway’s cre­ative and satir­i­cal videos have earned him fol­low­ers across the globe.

He has per­formed in 11 cities in the United States and is pre­par­ing to tour Aus­tralia and Europe. In China, he has bragged on the stages of sev­eral broad­cast sta­tions, in­clud­ing the New Year Gala of Bei­jing Tele­vi­sion.

Cui sold his busi­ness in Seat­tle and now fo­cuses on cul­ti­vat­ing a talk-show ca­reer. Cui said he now is able to sup­port his fam­ily with his per­for­mances.

“I love what I’m do­ing. This is my pas­sion,” said Brother Sway, a father of three boys. He said that his sons are all pur­su­ing their pas­sions: The old­est is now a pre-med stu­dent who loves do­ing re­search and vol­un­teer work; the middle son is run­ning two YouTube chan­nels; and the youngest is a bar­tender.

“Don’t plan your life, be­cause it never goes as you planned,” Brother Sway tells his sons and also his young au­di­ence. “I left China to pur­sue a bet­ter life, but that’s not what hap­pened. My class­mates from Bei­jing Univer­sity, who have stayed in China, have be­come bil­lion­aires. Friends that I met in the US and came back in the early 2000s have be­come top ex­ec­u­tives in large com­pa­nies.

“I’m noth­ing com­pared to them, but I have sto­ries. I have been a waiter, a stunt man. I’ve been hired by Amer­i­cans, and I’ve hired Amer­i­cans. I’ve been in jail, and I’ve been on court. I can tell the sto­ries that no­body else can.”


Brother Sway poses with other per­form­ers at the BTV Global New Year Gala in Bei­jing on Jan 10.

Brother Sway, talk-show host

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