You’re a Minor Netflix Celebrity, So Now What? Part II – “Aren’t you that guy from that thing?”

In case you haven’t been keeping track (you haven’t), What’s Manzai?!!! has been out on Netflix for over a half year now and, much to my welcome surprise, people are still stopping me on the street to talk about it.

So, yes, I am that dude from that one thing you might have watched on Netflix and, yes, I am an actual struggling comedian with actual struggling comedian problems, problems that a Netflix film debut and the subsequent slight surge of recognition that came with it did nothing to really alleviate.

I’m writing this blog post in a Starbucks bathroom.  Why?  Because I’m an internet freeloader but also don’t want to pay three hundred yen for coffee.  Also, I’m broke, which I’m pretty sure is simply a rite of passage for anyone going down the career path that I am.  Also, Japanese toilet seats are super comfy so I could literally spend hours here without feeling too much rectal distress.

Continue reading

A (Half-Assed) History of Manzai: Entatsu and Achako

So as you all probably know by now, way back in June, I was in a “documentary” called What’s Manzai?!!!, a project by Yoshimoto Creative Agency that was released worldwide on Netflix mainly so everyone could marvel at my bad on-the-spot Japanese-script-to-English-line translation and comment on how I don’t look my age (in the bad way).  Of course, somewhere between the flubbed lines, gross mischaracterizations, and abuse of my unwitting in-show partner (yes, I know I was pretty much a huge Ron Jeremy-sized dick throughout the thing), we made an attempt to provide an introduction to the Japanese comedy form known as manzai.

In case you haven’t seen the thing yet (believe me when I say I wouldn’t be too upset if you didn’t), manzai is the prevalent form of “standup comedy” in Japan, a pseudo-continuation of the early twentieth century comedy style of vaudeville in the west.  Generally performed by two people, manzai can often be roughly summarized as a “conversation” between a fool (the boke) and the straight man (the tsukkomi).  Almost every single television program on Japanese television is dominated by comedians who broke into the industry through manzai, so I guess you can say it’s sorta a big deal.

So where did manzai come from?  And how did it get so big?

Since What’s Manzai?!!! has sorta ruined my employability with almost every-single English language-focused company in Japan, I guess I’ll use some of my free time to half-assedly (is that word?) take you all through the history of this “unique” comedy form…

It all really started around a hundred years ago…

entatsu_achako_scan10036

Yokoyama Entatsu and Hanabashi Achako

While comedy has existed in Japan for hundreds, if not thousands of years (things weren’t always about head-lopping and self-disembowlment back in the day), the modern iteration of manzai as we can commonly see it today really got going in the late 1920s and 1930s, thanks mainly to, of all things, radio and other technological advancements bringing more and more entertainment to the masses.  Entatsu and Achako, two performers based in Osaka, historically a merchant city of fast-talkers and quicker wits, were two beneficiaries of this leap towards modernity.

Dressing in western-style clothing that veered wildly from the traditional stage garb of Japanese entertainers (garb still worn by rakugo performers to this day), Entatsu and Achako were practically Japanese comedy Elvis, bursting onto the scene with their “unusual clothes” and new crazy style of fast, pitter-patter conversation.  They were trendy, fresh, and new, and, in a post-Meiji Japan looking towards the future, just the entertainers for a new western-influenced Japan.

Among Japanese comedy historians (if there even is such a thing), Entatsu and Achako are known as the originators of the widespread style now called shabekuri manzai, conversation manzai.  Without these two groundbreakers, there would be no manzai as we know it.  Or so I’ve been told.  (As I’m contractually prohibited from posting videos of any company talents or acts, even my own, I’ll just share this link so you can see a bit of the two men in action yourself)

As we see in the clip, taken from a movie made in the 1930s when Entatsu and Achako were at the peak of their popularity, the duo take on a rudimentary form of the roles seen in modern manzai as the entire film around them grinds to a halt, bringing all of our inner film critics to tears.  Looking at it now, with all of our special effects and nifty doodads and such, it’s hard to draw much entertainment value from the thing, but for the common Japanese person of the time film provided an avenue to see the hottest acts of the day (and more!!!) without having to trek out to Osaka in person.

Now, I know you’re all probably thinking, “Aren’t these two dudes just ripping off the style of vaudeville duos like Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy?”  I’ve had these thoughts too.  But no matter who I asked, when I asked, or how hard I tried looking for answers, pretty no one working in the Japanese entertainment industry today will admit to any sort of vaudeville influence or even acknowledge that they knew about vaudeville before I told them about it.  If the two entertainers were in fact ripping off the vaudeville roles of the west, they weren’t exactly doing a great job (at least by our western standards),  here moving very little and talking a lot faster than the film and recording technology of the time could probably handle.

From my perspective, there’s no doubt that vaudeville probably played some role in the development of manzai in Japan.  I mean, one of the most common tsukkomi techniques in modern Japanese comedy (bashing the boke on the head whenever he says something dumb or stupid) is ripped straight from an old Three Stooges routine.  But from Japanese eyes?  Manzai is all Japan.

I’ll let you make your own decisions.

ph_1930

 

After the Show’s Ended: A Post-Solo Show Postmortem

So it’s done!  Over!  I can finally take a step back and breathe!  After a long month plus of preparation, practice, and figuring out how exactly to fill an entire hour of stage time, Iruka Punch’s first solo live show went off with minimal hitches and nary a tear to be seen.

img_7730

Here’s the general order of our show, for those of you who can read Japanese.

The thing you learn the most when doing a solo comedy show in Japan?  Pacing and tempo is everything.  When working as an owarai conbi in Japan, you generally have two different categories of comedy to work with: manzai, Japanese “stand-up” comedy, and conte, a sort of minimalistic take on sketch comedy.  My conbi, Iruka Punch, happens to have a foot in both pools, which makes doing a solo show a bit harder than it would have been if we had just simply have done an hour of manzai. Continue reading

Super Important Announcement: First Solo Live!

So a few days ago, I teased a big announcement and now I can officially tell you what that is (in English)!

いるかパンチ単独ポスター2稿.jpg

A solo show!  That’s right!  Iruka Punch, my owarai combi, is going to finally do a solo show, which is a big get for a first year combi like ours!

Iruka Punch First Solo Live
What’s Iruka Punch!!! (forgive the Japanglish punctuation)
October 8th, 2016
Doors open 7:45 PM
Tickets: Advanced 1200 yen/ Door 1500 yen

The theater is located in Omiya, a city that is pretty much a suburb of Tokyo (and one thirty minute train ride away from major Tokyo hubs like Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro), and the show starts at 8PM on a Saturday, which means that my solo show is both inconveniently located and inconveniently timed.  In other words, hundreds of tickets are still available.

This is a big, big chance.  If we sell enough tickets, god forbid we sell the theater out, we can help prove our viability as comedic talent to our agency.  If absolutely no one shows up?  Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Which is all why I’m asking, nigh, begging any of you reading this in the greater Tokyo area to come to this show.  If money is an issue, I can possibly get you some tickets at a reduced rate.  Please please.  Pretty please.

An Update (August 2016 Edition) or Hot Spring Hell

Sorry for the relative dead air over the past month.  After the surprising amount of free time that came after the release of WHAT’S MANZAI?!!!, my schedule suddenly went back to being meanderingly busy.

As it turns out, summers are a relatively busy time in the Japanese entertainment world, what with summer events, festivals, the usual live schedule, and several projects that I’m not at liberty to reveal yet.

So what have I been up to (that I can tell you)?

Well, over the last half of July, I’ve been up in the mountains in the popular resort town of Hakone, living in staff lodgings and working 13 hour days running a hot spring attraction for a popular television show.  Well, not just me, of course, as my comedic partner has actually been bearing the brunt of the workload (yay, language barrier!).

It’s long, unforgiving work and honestly probably pays horribly (we don’t know how much money we’ll get until it’s actually in our bank accounts) but, when you’re a first year dude, any work offer is a good offer, which means you accept these stints no matter how much you may hate them.

IMG_7552.JPG

And believe me, this work does suck.  You wake up early, work until nine, work seven days a week, and stand in ankle deep people broth all day, resulting in the soles of your feet resembling stale bread crust, making your workday a living hell.  Even though it’s been a week since I’ve returned from Hakone, I still find myself waking up in the dead of night with foot pain.  I know, I know.  It comes with the territory.

IMG_7567.JPG

There’s supposedly a valley behind those clouds.

And since this is workaholic Japan, I’m going back for another shift in two weeks.

 

But hey, at least the view isn’t horrible.