Public discourse under authoritarian rule is not monolithic. Yet how popular rhetoric engages with the hegemonic rhetoric in the same discursive space remains understudied. This article examines the rhetoric of a standup comedy show in China, streamed online and widely popular among Chinese millennials, to understand how alternative views on social issues can coexist with the hegemonic rhetoric. Using critical discourse analysis, it argues that some standup comedy performances transgress the hegemonic rhetoric of positive energy without outright subversion. Comedians use subversive affirmation, self-deprecation, ambiguity, absurd fantasy, and irony to present alternative viewpoints on social issues of broad interest, such as the neoliberal work culture and gender norms. The subtle yet powerful transgressions introduce previously marginal views into the public discourse, diminishing the aura of wide acceptance and authority assumed by the hegemonic rhetoric. The standup comedy performances thus open up new discursive pathways towards non-state-sanctioned views on important social issues.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2022 Informa UK Limited. Article first published online: August 2021. DOI:

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.