American Comedian Curt Mabry Realizes His Dream in Shanghai


This is what Curt Mabry has always loved to do. Before moving to Shanghai from the United States four years ago, he spent years hosting radio shows and singing at weddings. However, his life took a sudden turn.

“I became relatively successful very early in life. Immediately after university I got a job in a television station, and worked my way up very very quickly. But other things in my life, including what led to my divorce and the death of my father caused me to rethink my career. And I took some time off,” said Mabry.

Mabry says, during his time off, the television industry changed a lot, with the advance of digital editing. He didn’t want to learn everything again from the beginning and his life started to take a downward spiral.

Finally, Mabry decided to take a break, and came to China. And he has never left. He started his own comedy club–Zmack, teaching and performing improv and stand-up to both locals and expats here.

Improv is a kind of comedy made up right before your very eyes. There are no scripts or rehearsed scenes. It’s just about crazy ideas, and tons of energy.

“Some of the fundamental aspects of improv, such as always agreeing, listening, trusting yourself and others and being willing to take risks helps Chinese people take it away from just my classroom and the stage into their daily lives. One of the things we teach with improv is to be accepting of change, plans will change and Shanghai is a great place to teach improv because to live in Shanghai you’ve got to learn how to improvise.”

Since Zmack opened two years ago, Mabry has taught nearly 100 students, and is now performing regularly, with other Zmackers, twice a month in a downtown resturant. The shows draw small crowds, about 30 to 40 people at a time.

“There are rarely such shows in China. I feel we should learn more form such improv shows,” said Gui Lifang.

And many of the Zmackers are Mabry’s students, who say improv has really changed their lives.

“I really like it. Because when I started out, I was scared to be on stage all the time. I didn’t want to talk in front of people, and I talk really fast before. But now, you get to feel the audience and what they want. So as I go with Zmack, I get more confident, and just happier to be on stage,” said Vanessa Lim.

One of the Zmackers, and also a long-term friend of Mabry says coming to Shanghai was the best decision Marbry ever made.

“Shanghai does have so many other opportunities here, because it’s up and coming, very mordern, very convenient. I think a lot of things like that definately helped him out too. And the fact that he met the love of his life…that’s just awesome,” said Erik Barnes.

Mabry now lives with his fiancee — Elva Yao, in downtown Huangpu district. Yao comes from central China’s Henan Province. Although she’s not that fluent in English, they found love with one another.

“Elva makes me want to be better. I want to be a better man for her, working to lose weight, earn more money, be more successful, not that she demands it, but that it’s something I’d like to do out of my love for her, kind of the same thing with Zmack. Although Zmack is enjoying a certain level of success, I want to push that to greater heights.”

“Curt loves Shanghai, and I love Shanghai. We will always tour around the neighborhood and parks, enjoying the mordern and also the traditional part of Shanghai,” said Yao.

Mabry has been learning Chinese for over a year now, and he goes to the wet market in the neighborhood nearly every day. He says he feels at home here and consider himself a Shanghainese.

“Shanghai is not just China, it is the world it is a truly international city. It’s a mosaic of different cultures. I’m countryside people, I’m from rural Mississippi, I’m from a town of 3,000 people that’s not even a town. So this is a city in which I can meet the world.”

Mabry and Yao are getting married next week in Thailand, but say they plan to raise their family here in Shanghai.