Keeping it Corona

I’d rather be alive and broke than dead and still in a functioning economy. In recent days as this whole new reality, this bizarre world of social distancing and quarantines and complete and total lockdowns, this thought has become a light sort of mantra, the general idea being that the economic sacrifice of shutting down restaurants, offices, and retail outlets to quell the spread of this new deadly virus (the result, I always finding myself thinking, of some dude somewhere in China deciding eating undercooked bat meat was a good idea) would be worth it in the sheer number of lives saved. Japan, it turns out, seems to operating under the complete opposite doctrine.

Dumb people DO exist in Japan.

Really I’d compare living in current bizzaro state-of-emergency-in-name-only Japan after watching things unfold (badly, it should be said) around the world to watching Jaws and knowing that there’s a giant rabid shark (can sharks get rabies?) swimming in the water where those teenagers are gonna try to get it on. Since Prime Minister Abe declared a State of “Emergency” earlier this week, it’s become abundantly clear that what he had in mind lies somewhere between an “Emergency” in name only and some oddball reinforcement of the tried-and-true nihonjinron concept of Japan being safe from the worst of the coronavirus outbreak simply by being Japan. Yes, it is the 21st century and, yes, just like the rest of the world, Japan is still being run by morons.

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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

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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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
succession of bad colds and flu-like symptoms.img_7995

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

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Clam Chowder Cup Ramen

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these but while I’ve neglected the whole try-weird-Japanese-food-product-and-talk-about-how-zany-it-is thing, it hasn’t been for a lack of Japanese food companies throwing odd things at the wall to see what sticks (or, probably more accurately, get free publicity from people going “isn’t this weird?” online).

But then, a few weeks back, I started hearing about 7-11’s newest special “LIMITED TIME ONLY” cup noodle creation, a “clam chowder” ramen developed in collaboration with every aging American urban hipster’s favorite chain ramen restaurant, Ippudo.  The clam chowder, they claimed, was a speciality brought over from the New York outpost.

Being a guy desperately trying to find things to write about that won’t bring me the wrath of my corporate overlords, I decided to give it a try.img_8008

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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.

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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