Co founder of Kung Fu Komedy, Turner Sparks returned to the US in late 2016 after 12 years in the Middle Kingdom. But now he is back, as part of his 10 city Asia Tour, and he is ready to spill the beans on a severe case of reverse culture shock.
How is it being back in China?
I love coming back. Its like being back on my college campus, only most of my friends are still there and weirdly so is my wife’s entire family. The only downside is my Chinese is terrible now which is embarrassing. Luckily I’ll be staying in the former French Concession, so if I say “Ni hao” waiters will be impressed.
How did the latest tour come about?
I started comedy eight years ago in Suzhou, and spent my first six years on stage at the Kung Fu Komedy clubs in Suzhou and Shanghai. Late last year while in New York I decided that I wanted to record my first live hour of comedy, and really there would be no better place to do it than the Kung Fu Komedy Club in Shanghai.
Once that was settled, the shows in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Beijing all fell into place. Oh, also my wife and I were coming back anyway to spend Chinese New Year with her family, so this was a way to get the trip paid for.
Any tales from the open road?
On this tour I have performed for oil tycoons and cowboys in Southern New Mexico, survived a near riot in Ho Chi Minh City after the country won a big soccer match and toured the 'Hanoi Hilton' prison, where John McCain stayed during the Vietnam War. It's been a wild January.
Have you switched up your material for China, having moved back to the US?
I am proud to say I do not. My goal when moving to New York in late 2016 was to develop an hour of comedy that would work anywhere in the world to any audience. After testing this stuff in New York City, New Mexico, California, Thailand, Singapore and beyond I can say that it seems to be working. I do try to write a few minutes of local material in every city I’m in though, so I’m still cheating a little.
How is that reverse culture shock treating you?
Brutal. I was in China for 12 years. I left America when I was 22 and returned when I was 34. Dude, I didn’t know how to get a bank account, write a check, direct deposit, schedule a payment. Ok, it was mostly banking related...
I also didn’t know how to buy a phone, get a phone plan or buy contact lenses (you need a doctor’s prescription, I found out). In America you can buy guns and alcohol over the counter but you can’t buy contact lenses.
I recently found out that barbershops don’t have magazines anymore. They expect you to bring your phone. I went without my phone one day and had to sit four feet from a dude’s head and stare him in the face for 30 minutes while he got his weed snipped. Very uncomfortable.
It’s endless. I have a weekly podcast on Itunes called Lost In America where we talk about this topic every week. We are 70 weeks in and I have not run out of things that confuse me about my own country.
Tell us a bit more about the podcast...
Its great. I started Lost In America to deal with my reverse culture shock and invited my friend Michael Kaplan on as a co-host to answer my questions about America. Turns out he knows nothing either, and with his two kids he is equally as lost as a parent as I am as a human.
Ultimately it's a cross-cultural comedy podcast and we’ve gotten amazing guests like comedians Ari Shaffir, Ruben Paul, Gina Yashere, Ronny Chieng, Mark Normand, plus recently Oscar-nominated screenwriter Michael H. Weber and all kinds of international journalists.
Overall people are seemingly really enjoying it, or possibly listening because they hate us - but we will take the downloads either way.
What can people expect from your China shows?
For anyone thinking of moving back to their home country, wherever that may be, my show on Saturday should be required viewing. I don’t know if it's a cautionary tale, a tale of success or possibly both. Maybe it's the story of what happens when you take a 22-year-old kid out of California, drop him in Suzhou for 12 years and then, just for fun, dump him in New York.
So what does the future fold for you?
For the rest of the year I’ll be touring the United States and performing in New York when I’m not on tour. Beyond that I’ll probably keep trying to help Joe Schaefer find a girlfriend in New York.