The Popularity of Comedy in Japan
The Japanese people may have a very conservative culture however, it would seem that there is value for comedy in their society. There are a number of comedy duos in their entertainment industry. There are comedians who have been in the industry for more than a decade making generations of Japanese roll with laughter.
What is interesting is that in Japan, there is a “Golden Time” on TV that lasts between 7 P.M. to 10 P.M. as this is the time when people reach their homes from work. What is more interesting about this is the fact that this is where foreigners would see a general overview of Japan’s entertainment industry. It includes the news, some dramas, and other shows. However, it could be seen that there are no less than two programs that feature comedians or whatever form of comedy.
This could show a great deal about the importance of comedy for the Japanese. In fact, there are talent agencies that hire comedians specifically. They are trained for stage presence and acting – but it is a pure talent to make some other people laugh.
Most of the comedians in Japan are best known for their comedic skits. These usually involve dialogues and scripts that are sure to make anyone laugh. There is always a story to tell that will build up to the climax of the joke. The entire point of the skit is to create a background that will support the depth of the joke to be told. There are characters and roles to play and it is amazing to find the comedians change from one character to another. This skill and talent are what makes comedy in Japan successful and impressive.
Every month, there are live shows of different comedians almost in every place in Japan. There are TV shows and gag shows that have been running for almost a decade now – the Downtown’s Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende is an example. Comedy is pretty much everywhere in Japan.
Types of Comedy in Japan
There is no specific formula for making any person laugh. However, through the centuries the Japanese have been able to formulate four different styles of comedy that surely works every time. They are as follows:
The word owarai directly translates to “laugh” or “smile” and it is the most common form of Japanese comedy style. It is what is usually seen on television and on the stage. This is most popular because it is also the broadest form of Japanese comedy. What is so distinctive about the owarai is the fact that it consists of a pair of people who challenge each other comedically. Often the skit is showered with sound effects, hidden cameras, and puns. This is a more modern form of Japanese comedy as it is more freestyle.
The comedians under the owarai style call themselves owarai geinin. The name of the pairs are usually puns as well of something very funny, there are some that use random English words or phrases. Although it is more common to find pairs or duos, it is also possible to find trio groups.
Out of all the styles of comedy, this might be the most traditional and theatrical. The term kyogen literally translates to “wild speech” which is what characterizes the style best. It was developed as an intermission between theatrical shows during the earlier times and they often consist of short skits. These skits involve exaggerated movements and crazy scripts.
What makes the kyogen different from other forms of Japanese comedy is the fact that there is a need for an elaborate costume. Maybe because it was a different time, but until today those who perform the kyogen still wear impressive costumes. Often times these are satirical and slapstick style of comedy.
The manzai style of comedy consists of a duo as well called the Boke and the Tsukkomi. Unlike the Owarai style, the manzai style involves a high-speed exchange of jokes. Often times, the subject of the joke is each other where one person always corrects the other.
What is interesting about the manzai is the fact that it had been in the Japanese culture for centuries and could date back as far as the 18th and 19th centuries. However, during this time it was only a show performed during the New Year celebrations. It was quite popular at the time until comedy was put to a halt in the Second World War. Unlike other styles, the word manzai means long life and there is no specific explanation as to how it was transformed into comedy.
Unlike all other forms of Japanese comedy, Rakugo may be the only type which consists of an individual. It is a traditional form of comedy where the person tells a lengthy, yet comedic, story. The story is made even livelier with the comedian’s use of different voices for multiple characters in the story. It may the most serious and traditional out of all but the rakugo style is still sure to make audiences laugh.
The duo: Tsukkomi and Boke
Boke and Tsukkomi meaning/ Boke and Tsukkomi in English
In the manzai comedic act, there are usually duos performing the skits. This duo consists of the boke and the tsukkomi. The Boke is known to be the “Funny man” of the duo. This person is often described to be “airheaded” or often senile. The boke is forgetful and often confused which is what makes that side of the duo very funny.
The other half of the duo, known as the tsukkomi, is there to correct all the mistakes of the boke. He is known as the “straight man”. The tsukkomi is often seen hitting the boke on the head with a pleated paper fan known as harisen.
Most often than not, the entire dialogue revolves around the fact that the individuals have continuous miscommunications and misunderstandings that seem to see no end. During the earlier times, the Boke is to say a word or a phrase and the tsukkomi is to create a way to oppose that word or phrase comically.
Boke and Tsukkomi in Japanese
The word boke is written as (ボケ) in Japanese and it is believed to have been derived from the word bokeru (呆ける). On the other hand, the word tsukkomi can be written as (突っ込み)).
Famous Japanese Comedy Duo and Owarai Geinin
Pronounced as ten dara, this duo is one of the most popular pairs of comedians in all of Japan. It consists of Hioaki Hamamoto as the Boke and Satomi Shirakawa as the Tsukkomi. They are a duo that originated from Osaka and they soon were able to break into the mainstream. They are most popular for their konto skits. These kinds of skits are usually focused on made up, fantastic stories that are often less than a minute long.
Also a comedy duo, Bananaman consists of Osamu Shitara and Yuki Himura. They started performing in the early 1990s and had gained popularity just a year after they entered the stage. They are still quite popular now and are considered as the Kings of Konto in 2008. Their impressive theatrical style in doing stand up comedy made them different from all other groups which could explain their tenureship in the industry.
In fact, the duo is so popular that they are hired as hosts of many of Japan’s shows on television. This includes Why did you come to Japan and Banana-juku. They are also the hosts of Nonstop! One of Japan’s most popular gag shows.
Pronounced as kokoriko, they are a duo consisted of Shozo Endo and Naoki Tanaka. They are among the most popular comedy duos in all of Japan. They host their own shows and have even discovered other comedians as well. One of their most popular shows is Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende, which is one of the longest-running variety shows on Japanese TV. It is said that their name was a Romanization of the Coq au Rico which is similar to the sound of a rooster.
A group consisted of Shinya Ueda and Teppei Arita. The group had been in the industry for almost two decades and had made millions of Japanese laugh through their skits and jokes. They are also regulars in a number of TV shows, variety shows, and stages. In their group, Arita is known as the Boke and Ueda is known as the Tsukkomi.
A Japanese comedy duo consisted of Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada. They have been on stage since the 1980s and had continuously gained popularity until present. Just like other comedy duos mentioned above, they were given their own television shows to host multiple times. One of their most popular show, together with the group Cocorico is the Downtown no Gaki no Tsuka ya Arahende and Hey! Hey! Hey!
Both men are known best for their slapstick comedy and their exaggerated reactions that are sure to make their audiences roll over with laughter. Out of the two, Hamada is known as the sadistic member of the group while Matsumoto is known to be the masochistic member of the group – creating an interesting complement. Furthermore, Hamada is the Boke of the group while Matsumoto is the Tsukkomi.
Comedy in Japanese Manga and Anime
Other than the fact that there are really funny stand-up comedians, comedy is intertwined in many of Japan’s media as well. One good platform and example would be in manga and anime. Here are a few examples:
The story is about a budding relationship between a young girl and a freelance photographer. The surprising twist is that the girl came from a lineage of vampire royalty and it is through the photographer’s journeys to Europe that he met the girl. After an uneasy meeting, some crazy family drama, the very unlikely pair seem to go as strong as ever.
A lot of people find the story very funny because of the fantastical characters. The puns are also quite subtle and the background story is hilarious. The fight between their love and the family with the continuous attacks from the vampires is interesting.
The story is about aliens from outer space who invaded the Earth at the time of the samurai. The witty story and the overly unusual plot is an interesting combination that is sure to make anyone cry with laughter.
Not only is the animation of the characters funny and bizarre, the story also does not disappoint. As the story goes, the main character can defeat any monster with only one punch. He finds this boring and so he sets out to find a monster that could survive his powerful fists.
The story revolves around a young girl with a gang who got arrested and expelled from her school. When she transferred to a new school, she was determined to change her look, and personality. What makes the story ultimately funny is that the beautiful girl gets courted by seven suitors – all of which are delinquents! It is no ordinary rom-com manga, in fact, it is a story about a super power, a crime fighting young girl who couldn’t care less about love but still gets in trouble for it.
The story revolves around a high school student who accidentally found the heir to the underworld, Beelzebub. However, it was not some ordinary boss fight as the future Lord is still actually a baby. Left with no other choice, the main character is left to take care and raise the baby Beelzebub while being surrounded by evil demons and evil people.
As if raising a baby is not enough, the life of the main character is made even more fantastical with bullies and demonic creatures. The story is light and the combination of the powers of an ordinary human and an evil-ish powerful baby is hilarious. A lot of people find the plot extremely funny and the interesting turn of events always end up with something comedic.