Ma Ji, 72, a roly-poly Chinese comedian best known for his mastery of puns and satirical dialogues with other performers, died Wednesday of a heart attack, state media reported.
Ma, whose given name was Ma Shuhuai, died at the Anzhen Hospital in Beijing, Chinese Central Television reported.
A biography on the official China Daily website said Ma was born in Beijing in 1934 and had worked in a textile factory before he started studying xiangsheng, or “crosstalk,” in 1951.
Crosstalk is a traditional Chinese comic form involving one or two actors bantering on a fixed topic, usually at a quickening pace, that relies heavily on slang, puns and imitation.
He joined China’s Central Broadcasting Recitation and Ballad Troupe in 1956 and later became a regular feature on CCTV’s hugely popular Lunar New Year variety show, it said.
Ma, who was pudgy and had big ears, was a talented mimic and particularly quick with puns. He innovated the crosstalk art form by focusing on the absurdities of China’s rapid modernization and other social changes.
Among his more famous monologues was “The Universal Brand Cigarette,” in which he played a cigarette salesman with a gift for gab and a hopelessly shoddy product. The skit poked fun at newly rich Chinese obsessed with brand names but blind to quality.