I’ve Been Busy: Big in Japan, King of Conte, and All the English Classes in Between

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Like a nesting doll, only bald and lifeless.

I know, I know.  Long time no see.

In my defense, I’ve been busy with stuff.  My career as a comedian hasn’t exactly been amazing or anything but I’ve gotten increased work behind the scenes with English logistical stuff (surprisingly, or perhaps not, almost no one at one of the biggest entertainment companies in Japan speaks English) and teaching English lessons to company employees, spouses, et cetera.

It’s sho race (comedy contest) season in Japan and this year, my comedy duo somehow made it to the quarterfinals of King of Conte, a yearly contest to find Japan’s best sketch comedians.  Thanks to a variety of inter-agency political issues, we wound up having to go on first but it was an educational experience nonetheless and there was much rejoicing (and my comedy partner apparently dropping 100,000 yen, a thousand bucks, on celebratory bottles of champagne with his friends).

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Meanwhile, I (and Nick and Ann) have been busy building up Big in Japan, launching a Patreon, expanding our podcast content, and, perhaps biggest of all, working on the launch of our new online variety show with the alternative idol group NECRONOMIDOLStarting mid-September, the Witching Hour will be broadcast live every Monday (Japanese time) at 12 PM, with highlights of the show being edited and posted on Necronomidol’s official Youtube page.  Thanks to agency restrictions, I will not be appearing on the show (at least regularly) but I will be directing and producing it in addition to putting together most of the script.  This has, obviously, been a very time consuming process.

 

While I haven’t had and probably won’t have going forward much time to update the blog, I have been attempting to post more on instagram and always talk about my comings and goings on the Big in Japan podcast.

 

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Stephen Starts a Diary: May 14th COMPLY

5/14 Monday

I don’t know about you but I just love signing a binding contract every single year.  Today was our annual “compliance” seminar, designed to both bore you to tears and indoctrinate you in the ways of Yoshimoto.  It is exactly as exciting as it sounds. Continue reading

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 11th

5/11 Friday

Some lives are better than others.  That’s just a matter of fact in this world of punchlines and acts.  The show we performed at today in Ikebukuro may have been the worst I can remember.

It’s not like we bombed or anything (we didn’t) but the overall atmosphere of the night when combined with the zombie-like audience and harried MC made what should have been a relatively relaxed night to try out new material into a night ripped straight out of a horror story.

I should backtrack and explain a bit.  As far as a young Yoshimoto comedian is concerned, there are two kinds of lives:  jimusho official lives and those that are not.  Today’s live, despite the incredibly demanding people who put it on, was one of the later.  

The theater where we performed, located a few minutes from Ikebukuro Station in north central Tokyo, isn’t exactly brand new and, it being cramped and dark, with room for maybe 40 people at the most, no one can really blame the over 60 people who came for not exactly being in a laughing mood.  That said, the last time I performed in front of an audience as listless and unresponsive as the one we encountered tonight was probably back in comedy school when the instructor told everyone not to laugh before class even began.  Continue reading

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 7th

5/7 Monday

Walking home in the rain is probably never a good idea.  And yet, there I was, struggling against the wind and rain as I tried to hammer out the hour-long walk to my apartment in Shinagawa from the wakate young comedian theater in Shibuya, trying desperately to not lose another umbrella to the wind whipping sheets of rain into my eyes. Continue reading

Big in Japan, a show

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So now that WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! PART 2 is finally out (though seemingly not in the US) and that part of my life is now completely done with, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the one place where you can hear me discuss Japanese showbiz on my own terms without a Yoshimoto staffer constantly whispering in my ear about not offending my sempai or making sure that I don’t say something about sponsor X, Y, or Z. 

In case you were unsure about it or just went with the narrative of WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! that I am apparently the only non-Japanese person who ever thought about getting in Japanese comedy, there are others out there, and, starting a few months ago, a couple of us decided to get together and talk about our experiences as geinin in Japan because, quite frankly, you need an outlet for these sorts of things.

Those conversations kinda turned into regular thing that we decided to start recording and put out as the Big in Japan podcast, an uncensored, unfiltered, completely unendorsed by our agencies look at the Japanese entertainment world.  I’d like to emphasis the uncensored part of this description because some of the stories shared on the show have been pretty darn raunchy (mostly because, as members of the Japanese entertainment industry, we haven’t had the chance to work blue in years). Continue reading

WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! PART 2

Well hello there.  Long time no see.

This is Stephen just checking in here to let you all know that I am in fact still alive and that WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! (and it’s new sequel WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! PART 2) is, as of 12 AM on April 27th, back on Netflix.

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When we shot WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! back in my manzai school days in those carefree innocent days of Spring 2016, the agency was so enamored with producing random English content that it immediately decided to go back for seconds before Part One had even begun post production.

While I’ve gone in-depth on my reservations regarding WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! before, I feel fairly confident in saying that PART TWO is a much better and more entertaining piece overall (low bar, I know) than its predecessor.  Part one, for all its faults and jumps and fits, was hastily produced with nothing but a Japanese script that I had to translate on the fly.  Part two, on the other hand, came with a team of bilingual people who worked together to translate the original Japanese script into something easier to digest for both me and hopefully the audience.

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Iruka Punch

We shot part two almost exactly two years ago right after I formed my current combi and it shows in the material we put out on the screen as a young manzai act.  (I’d also be remiss in not noting that since then Iruka Punch has largely shifted its focus from manzai to the Japanese form of sketch comedy known as conte, the audio of which you can hear here).  

In the two years since we finished filming, I’ve learned a lot and, believe me, there’s a lot about my performance in these two “documentaries” that makes me cringe.  But that’s all part of the learning process I guess.

I will just say that with WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! PART 2, I left it all out on the floor and I’m glad you all finally have the opportunity to see it.

I’ll try to post more blogs here when my schedule permits but no promises.

A Note on “What’s Manzai?!!!”

So I was talking to a kohai after a gig last week and was, to my surprise, informed that What’s Manzai?!!!, the “documentary” about my life as a manzai comedian in Japan was no longer showing up on Netflix.  Being the petty, insecure bastard that I am, I immediately headed home and checked, only to find that, sure enough, the show had been pulled off of Netflix sometime over the last week.

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Hey hey, it’s summer.

So after apologizing for not posting many updates of late, I promptly fell off the wagon again and neglected the whole blog thing for another week plus.  In my defense though, this time I’m busy!

In just a few days, I’ll be showing up in a play in Shinjuku in a bit part, the practices and rehearsals for which have taken up a huge amount of my time over the past month.  Spoiler alert, I’m only showing up in one scene.  It’s a fun change-of-pace role but it’s only like five lines and a couple minutes of standing around in the background as things happen with the main characters.

This being Japan, me being in one scene requires me to be present at every single practice, meeting, and rehearsal, even the ones where the scene in question isn’t even brought up.  Being on the lowest tier of the Yoshimoto media conglomerate hierarchy, my primary duty in this place can best be described as a crazy mishmash of stagehand, personal assistant to the executive producer (lots and lots of sprinting to the convenience store to buy random shit), and general punching bag.  You want to be a comedian in Japan?  That’s what you’re gonna have to do.

Once all three performances of the play are done, I have a bunch of other live shows and appearances coming up in the month of July.  Most of them are in Shibuya during the work week.  All of them are in Japanese.

I’ll hopefully also have more exciting information to share with y’all in the coming weeks regarding the release of a certain part two of a certain manzai-centric Netflix show.

 

Stay tuned and stay in touch.  You can find my live schedule below (along with the poster of my play)! Continue reading