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.

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

Going through the motions.

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

Looking Towards a New Year

So with the first month of 2017 almost over, I thought it’d be prudent to finally talk about what I hope to get done this year (not that any of you probably care anyways).

As I “covered” earlier, 2016 was a year full of change and random things and getting fired from your job waiting tables because you had to leave town a couple of woks for a job out in the boonies.  The first month of 2017 has continued this trend.  Not the getting fired part, mind you.  You need to have a job first before you can get fired.  Thus far, the new year has brought me a half dozen stage appearances, a couple of token television appearances, and a steady
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Which brings me to my resolutions and goals for the new year.  Everyone has them.  Almost everyone makes theirs public.  I’m just doing mine a whole month later than everyone else. Continue reading

You’re a (Very) Minor Japanese Television “Celebrity”, So Now What?

So we’ve beaten the whole Netflix horse for a while now and talked about introducing a manzai to the world (at least that was the idea) but what about my terrestrial career (i.e. the non-English language media)?

The Japanese new years holiday is one of shuttered shops and clogged transportation networks (interestingly enough, everyone is so busy getting out of Tokyo that the capital becomes an absolute breeze to get around for the week).  It is also, most helpfully for me, a time for people to gather around and watch a shitton of TV.  Almost every single popular program on television will put together a several hour long special show to be shown in the week around New Year’s Day as the Japanese public apparently still hasn’t figured out (a) how to use a DVR, (b) that you can watch almost anything you want on a streaming service, (c) the more time spent watching your favorite personality ham it up on screen means less spending quality time with your loved ones.

Yes, in Japan, on New Year’s, television is still king.  And thanks to the national network’s ravenous need to fill airtime with original “special” programming, this means young struggling comedians such as myself find themselves with increased opportunity to see some airtime. Continue reading

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

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.

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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

The Dog Days of Summer?/Early Fall?

It is hot.  It’s rather obvious but it’s still hot out.

Here in Japan, most stores switch into autumn gear almost as soon as the clock hits 12 AM on September First despite the fact the weather often fails to make the same sudden transition to cool nights and fair days.  Really, the only difference here between the “late summer” (August) and the “early autumn” (September) is all the typhoons that conveniently decided to strike the Japanese mainland this month rather than the last.  What the hell’s up with that?  (That’s a rhetorical question, you humorless meteorologist.  I don’t need an actual explanation regarding high and low pressure systems.) Continue reading

You’re a Minor Netflix Celebrity, So Now What?

One minute you’re a broke dude who occasionally performs on stage and does menial tasks for money (aside from the whole having to hide the fact that you filmed an entire “documentary thing), the next minute your sweaty face is being shared all around the world by multiple Japanese news services, Netflix official social media outlets, and, on rare occasion, random people on the internet.  And through it all, you’re still broke.

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What’s Manzai?!!!, a documentary (using the term incredibly liberally here) meant to help introduce the west to the Japanese form of comedy largely resembling the legendary vaudeville acts of old (but don’t tell people here that), came out on Friday morning as part of Yoshimoto Kogyo’s, Japanese largest comedy conglomerate, push to internationalize for the twenty-first century.

For whatever reason, dumb luck, or somewhere in between, I somehow wound up being the star, being thrust into a project for which I was and still am completely unprepared.  Were this an actual documentary, I’d imagine that things would have gone a lot smoother and easier, but, as you can probably pick up in spots in the film, it wasn’t really that.  I’d imagine that actual documentaries don’t have scripts and countless rewrites until after the fact.  I’d imagine if they did, they wouldn’t be written completely by (very talented) Japanese screenwriters with no English skills and then dissected and re-assembled by a crew of dozens of people, none of whom have actually really worked on an English project before.

So yes, there were challenges.  Lots of challenges.  And to be completely honest, I probably could have handled a lot of the situation better.  Being tasked with, in the minds of the people in charge of this project, the introduction and explanation of an entire form of comedy to the English speaking world (and many other countries through the magic of subtitles), there were times where I simply crumbled to the pressure.  There were and still are other times where the things I was being asked to do or say completely clashed with the idea of this program being a documentary and I wound up having to play a version of myself that frankly isn’t me (unless you think that I wander around the streets of Tokyo at maximum velocity shouting about “the Japanese dream”).  This being a Japanese company, there were times where my American creative voice and ideas simply clashed with what the other people had in mind for the program.  There were compromises and, me being the hardheaded bastard I am, I didn’t necessarily take things completely in stride.

But overall, it was a great learning experience, not just in my own development as an on-screen presence but in terms of my understanding of the Japanese entertainment industry, which I’ve come to learn takes the whole getting things done perfectly and as written in the script seriously.

Which brings me to the actual release of the program.  We had actually finished filming (and dubbing) of this project two months ago but I was never actually told when the thing would drop.  Lo and behold, while I was hard at work on another undiscloseable project, the program essential dropped without my knowing with me actually finding out when I came across my own face staring back at me on my Twitter feed, a Japanese media blitz resulting in dozens of articles spewing the same rhetoric about my quest to become a manzai star.

International media?  Not so much.  Makes sense right?  Yoshimoto’s a Japanese company with a strong hold on Japanese media outlets.  America news media?  Probably not.  Any non-Japanese attention I’ve gotten in the few days since the documentary went live has largely been from friends and family and random Japanese people living in the states who apparently have nothing better to do with their lives than watch questionable documentaries about Japan.  It looks like a Tonight Show appearance isn’t in the cards.  Which is cool.  I’m not sure I’m all that ready for international attention.  Not after this.

I just wish I weren’t broke.

Follow Stephen on twitter @STEPHEN_TETSU for updates on showtimes, weird things he sees in Japan, and angry basketball rants for some reason.