The updates and blog posts have been few and far between of late. Of course, if you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever you already know this. Life has a funny way of coming back around on you. One minute you’re convinced that you have enough to say or write to put into words every day and the next you’re sitting around pounding your head into the wall trying to squeeze out a word turd through your prolapsed mental asshole. Continue reading
I realize now that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about my entertainment career while doing an absolutely awful job of actually giving anyone a chance to see what I do up close and personal.
Japanese owarai live events can give you a great view of a side of Japanese culture yet to really attract any international attention and I encourage anyone living in Japan to check one out at least one show during your time in Japan, even if you have little to no Japanese ability. You don’t even have to come to my show (though I certainly wouldn’t object to that). Just go to an owarai live.
With that said, here’s a list of my appearances for the month (at least the lives where we’re actually performing, rather than simply working warmup). If you want to go, hit me up in the comments or on twitter and I can get you tickets at a slightly reduced rate (day of tickets usually have a several hundred yen mark-up that I can get rid of for you).
IRUKA PUNCH OWARAI LIVE SCHEDULE: SEPTEMBER
- Thursday, September 15th: Trial Lesson
- Shibuya Theater D
- 3PM start time.
- Tickets: 1000 yen.
- Tuesday, September 20th: NEXT
- Ikebukuro GEKIBA
- 6:45PM start time
- Tickets: 1500 yen (WILL CALL ONLY. Contact me for tickets!)
- Wednesday, September 21st: Trial Audition
- Shibuya Yoshimoto Mugendai Hall
- 4:15PM start time
- Tickets: 1000 yen.
- Friday, September 30th: Satora Next
- Shibuya Yoshimoto Mugendai Hall
- 2:15PM start time
- Tickets: 500 yen.
Tickets are still available for all the listed shows. All appearances will be as part of my combi, Iruka Punch.
We’ll be waiting.
Long story short: I’m a pro Japanese comedian now.
Unfortunately, I can only write on company sanctioned sites, which means my blog is now at http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/stephentetsu
So it’s almost been an entire year since I made the rather impulsive decision to uproot my (nominally) cushy life, quit my easy-to-do English teaching job, and moved to Tokyo to pursue a career in Japanese comedy.
As it turned out, joining the Japanese geinoukai (“entertainment world”) was both as simple as one, two, three and much much more complex than I anticipated.
The main thing you need to understand about the Japanese entertainment system is that the agency rules all. Whereas the wide-ranging perception of the western entertainment world is that of the managers and agents working for the talent, the reverse can be said of the Japanese system.
To get into the Japanese entertainment world, you need to get into a company. And to get into a company, you need to go to school. And so, go to school I did, a twenty four-old college graduate white dude in a world mostly unknown to the unwashed gaijin hordes (Take that, dude who just posted the five-thousandth weird-Japanese-ice-cream flavor reaction video on Youtube.)
I’ll possibly get into the different companies of the Japanese entertainment world somewhere down the line but for now, I’ll just tell you that I am on track to become a part of Japan’s largest comedy company by the end of the month after an arduous grind of a year at Tokyo NSC, Yoshimoto Kogyo’s school for aspiring comedians, wannabes, and people who have absolutely nothing better to do and drop out after three months (this constitutes a large chunk of the entering class every year). It’s been a slog, some parts fun, a lot of parts varying degrees of infuriating and boring, but its almost done and I finally, FINALLY, find myself in a position where I’m allowed to talk about the stuff I’ve done, seen, and learned.
So here we are, tired, sick, with feet cold and wet from the rain. What better time to start talking comedy.
Comedy in Japan
Japanese comedy has some similar traits to the American comedy that I grew up with and loved. It also has inherently different traits of its own, the biggest being a general emphasis on small teams, opposed to the inherent “aloneness” of the Western stand-up comedian, which I guess makes sense, considering Japan’s inherent emphasis on team building and group harmony (Blatant stereotype alert!). Sure there are solo acts but, for the most part, the comedians you see hosting TV shows, slumming it on stage, or bumming around train stations looking for loose change are doing it in pairs (known in Japan as owarai konbi).
In today’s modern Japanese comedy world, acts can roughly be broken up into three different categories.
The broadest of the three categories, this category of Japanese stage comedy can simply be summed up as doing things on your own, be it traditional Japanese stand-up (or, more accurately, kneel-down) known as rakugo or doing things on stage in character or, and I kid you not this is sorta a thing, dancing around in a man-thong whilst doing poses that make you look naked. Broad comedy, right? I could get into the different kinds and styles of pin comedy but there’s a bit of overlap and by the time I’d finished explaining things, you’d all probably be bored out of your minds so let’s leave the nitty gritty off for another day.
Possibly the form of Japanese comedy most recognizable to people abroad, Japanese conte comedy has much in comedy with the sketch comedy of shows like SNL or half the shows being shown on Comedy Central when it’s not re-airing episodes of Scrubs that nobody watches (Sorry, Zach Braff). In this form, the starring conbi or group in question gets their acting on to deliver a short scene of some comedic merit. The audience, generally finding what they are seeing humorous to some degree, laughs, which is the action of exerting air through your windpipes in a manner that produces noise.
Really anyone who’s seen a episode of Saturday Night Live knows what a sketch is and if you don’t, well shame on you.
Two dudes (or three… or dudettes) and a mic. Since I’ve come to be a part of the Japanese entertainment world, many a person has tried their damned hardest to convince me this is a style of comedy unique to Japan. But as I see it, it’s unfortunately not.
Having much in common with vaudeville acts of old, manzai as it is commonly performed is a conversation between the boke (idiot) and the tsukkomi (straight man). As a system of delivering jokes, it’s really fool proof and timeless and acts like Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy have shown us.
There is a certain slapstick element to the thing that can be a little hard for Westerners to swallow at first (along with the usual “cultural differences” problem that can make humor a little hard to go over for the foreign eye) but manzai can also be incredibly funny and is, more importantly, perhaps the most popular form of comedy in Japan, with countless theaters across Japan holding several manzai shows a day.
It is on this form of Japanese comedy that I will first focus.
On a bit of an end-of-the-year life break and decided to watch some of CBS’s new Supergirl series when this particular interaction via the internet between Kara Zor-El and her more famous cousin caught my eye and made me laugh more than it probably should have.
Between his use of instant messaging and use of cool “hip” emojis, this truly isn’t your grandpa’s Superman. Am I wrong in really wanting this version of Superman to have a really, really bad official Twitter account?
Speaking of Twitter accounts, follow Stephen @STEPHEN_TETSU for more fun!
Think, for a split second, back to when you were a child, lost in the heat of the summer, alive and dancing, dancing and alive, all living on the edge of a moment that you never knew was coming, like a ballerina balanced on the edge of the stage, looming just over a faceless sea of spectators who knew what came next. Think about how they never told you. Think of all the moments you had to experience for yourself, all the pains and aches that came with them, the aching calling of something that both was and wasn’t there waiting for you. Think about those times. Think about how imprecise your memories are of them, like glass seen through the smoke of a fire that just won’t stop moving. Think, if you can. Try to place yourself back in those moments and remember just how much is missing from your memory.
Think about just how much is gone. Think about how you will never have that back. Think and remember that memories are like a pond someone forgot to skim, that no matter how hard you try, you can never quite see the bottom. Continue reading
So unless you’ve been living under a rock with no connection to the outside world aside from this blog for the past two years (in which case, thank you and get a life), you may well know that this week saw the release of perhaps the most anticipated film of perhaps the last decade, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Part 4.
Since this is Japan, most new Western film releases generally show up in theaters after a several year delay (only a slight exaggeration), meaning that the new addition to the apparently lucrative Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise will show up in your nearest Tokyo theater around the time that I am married with several children. So rather than watching everyone’s third favorite bunch of talking tree rodents, I had to settle for some movie called Star Wars instead.
Apparently, though I’m not quite sure, this movie was a sequel of some sort and just another cog in the Disney hype machine if I may say so myself. Talking robots, spaceships, and laser swords, this movie will probably never catch on. A box office bomb, I’m certain.
Anyways, even though I’ve been living in Japan for the past two years plus now, I broke my solemn vow of curmudgeonism and ventured for the first time ever to a movie theater in the hustling and bustling heart of Tokyo.
Now, if you’re ever planning on going to the movies, there are probably a couple of things you should know…
It is December 14th and I am sitting in a so-called “family restaurant” by myself typing this on my increasingly finicky laptop while lamenting the fact that I tore off a chunk of skin on my ass in the name of Japanese late-night television.
Pretty glamorous right?
My transition from faceless Japanese teacher to “entertainment talent” under the umbrella of the largest, most powerful entertainment agency in Japan has had its bumps and derailments but has certainly been, well, “something”.