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Must Scream TV

Taiwan’s garishly loud talk shows have spawned a new branch of the entertainment industry

Author Cain Nunns Illustration Luci Gutiérrez

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TAIPEI – Tucked away in a shabby industrial outpost in northern Taipei, the building that hosts the Taiwanese TV show “Happy Sunday” doesn’t look like much. Inside, however, the studio is a riot of poor taste: tangerine-colored walls, mirrored ceilings and a cow-shaped sofa that’s occupied by a portly, perspiring man named Na-Dou.

Earlier, behind the scenes, the “Happy Sunday” host seemed pensive, almost professorial in his preparations. Onstage, sporting a stars-and-stripes jumpsuit and a two-foot ginger afro, he is a flurry of flailing limbs and screamed introductions.

Manic talk shows are nothing new in Taiwan; they now account for about half of the nationally produced content here. What is novel, though, is the slew of television superstars they have spawned, people who have made careers out of little more than an ability to squabble in a loud voice and a willingness to endure humiliation.

One of the more prominent regular chat show guests is Ruby Lu, a pint-size radio host and writer who is on “Happy Sunday” to discuss God’s Blacklist, her book about serial killers. She is doing her third show of the day, having already appeared on a show titled “What’s the Most Embarrassing Thing in Your Pocketbook?” and another called “Your Most Heart-Wrenching Breakup: Surprise! He’s Here!”

Her host now, to the audience’s glee, is spoiling for a fight. “Jiangui la!”—“No way!”—he shrieks, scandalized by the book’s sordid content. His fury is fake, a device used to ramp up the energy, and Lu plays her part with equal vigor. “Just because you wear jumpsuits and sweat a lot,” she snaps, “it doesn’t make you an authority on serial killers.” Later, in post-production, whizbang sound effects will be added to augment the debate.

As the bickering reaches a crescendo—“Jiangui LAAAA!”—a six-foot-something Ukrainian model fidgets in the wings, waiting for her turn to be shrieked at. “This is nothing,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I was on a show today where they dressed me like a huge bunny rabbit and introduced me to my boyfriend’s mother for the first time.” She smiles and shrugs. “It’s an interesting gig.”

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