“What about your career in showbiz?” – Working as a low level entertainer during COVID-19 in Japan

It’s day two of my new “write more crap!” mindset and, I’ve gotta tell ya, I’ve run out of things to tell ya.

In case you’re just emerging from a long medically-induced coma or living in the COVID-free paradise of New Zealand, the world has been in the grips of a raging pandemic over the last year, which isn’t really conducive to a lifestyle full of things for a random dude to write about on his site that no one reads.

Sure, Japan has thankfully avoided the full brunt of the pandemic but I’ve tried to my part to stay inside, wear a mask, and interact with as few people as possible. (In my defense, this was pretty much my strategy pre-pandemic as well.) The furthest I’ve traveled in the past year is probably my aforementioned long-ass trip to the Chiba countryside for a TV thing and even that was only an hour away by freeway. My travels within Tokyo itself have been just as limited, which is to say I can pretty much count the number of times I have rode the train in the last year on my fingers alone.

Really one of the best parts of this entire situation (if pandemics can even have good parts) has been the long walks I get to take on the abandoned Tokyo streets at night. Sure, it’s night so you wouldn’t expect many people out and about anyways but in the before times, an uncrowded Tokyo street was still crowded by normal human being standards. Now though? Pure solitude. And now I can laugh at dumb podcasts while walking without having to worry about drunk old salarymen giving me the stinkeye.

“But what about your career in showbiz, Stephen?” you ask, sleepily feigning interest as you read this while taking a poop.

Ah, good question! Let me see…

The theaters are still open and shows are still preceding much as they normally would have, albeit at “limited capacity,” which pretty much just means not letting people sit in the two front rows of the theater and occasionally leaving doors open for added ventilation. Should we still be doing shows like we are? It’s a tough position to be in and I certainly haven’t been encouraging people to come to our shows of late. It helps that the theater my duo’s performing at, Jimbocho Yoshimoto Manzai Theater, is sorta hard to get to for a lot of people (the middle of Tokyo but pretty much in-between most of the major train lines) and not necessarily a destination in and of itself, unlike Yoshimoto’s bigger, more famous theaters like Namba Grand Kagetsu or Lumine the Yoshimoto.

Having pretty much had our service clock restarted when reforming Iruka Punch, we’ve had to start back at the bottom of the Yoshimoto theater system totem pole. I honestly don’t care that much about it, having other outlets/things to do, but I can tell that it’s eating at my comedy partner, Reo. As a bottom ranked young comedian in Yoshimoto, you’re entitled to two live shows a month at the smallest theater in the Yoshimoto theater portfolio: one ranking battle live to help push you up the pyramid and one live that pretty much just exists for Yoshimoto to extract a couple thousand yen out of your pocket for “advanced ticket fees”.

The battle live format seems to change every other month but currently is a gong show where you’re only guaranteed one minute before the unseen big shot “comedy writer” guy at the back of the theater can buzz you off the stage. If you get to the end of your full two minute slot, you’re on to the next round of battle lives. This format works well enough but for the simple fact that the aforementioned bigwig writer dude (the comedy writing veteran who is somehow “good enough” to tell young comedians what is or isn’t funny but not good or current enough to work in any of the actual money making sectors of the vast Japanese showbiz labyrinth) doesn’t really like Reo or his line delivery much. As you can imagine, it’s been a whole point of frustration for Iruka Punch since we’ve returned to the Yoshimoto live circuit, especially as other duos who debuted in the same year as us are high up there in the rankings and pulling in the “big bucks” (in this case, making enough money a month for a pizza and Coke).

As far as solo work, I’m still getting individual unique gigs thanks to different relationships I’ve developed over the years and, well, my “unique” skill set of being able to read Japanese as a gaijin and chew gum at the same time. Behind the camera/backstage/whatever metaphor you want to use for the part of showbiz where actual business gets done. I’ve been getting enough translation/localization work from Yoshimoto to live comfortably during the pandemic but not nearly as much as I would have probably gotten had the Olympics went according to plan last year, not that I mind that additional stress not happening.

I’ve got a commercial “appearance” coming out as part of a Yoshimoto “GET TO DA CHOPPA- er, THEATER!” campaign run in conjunction with a big beverage company in a month and the hellish TV re-enactment segment I kvetched about earlier airs next Monday so, as much as I guess I really care at this point, things are going fine in my career as an anonymous gaijin in Japanese showbiz.

I do miss the outside world though.

What have you got to say for yourself???

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