So What the Hell IS Manzai Anyways?

Don’t tell anyone now but this is apparently “real” manzai.

When we last left off, we were talking about the rise of a new batch of Japanese comedy stars, dubbed by the media as the Seventh Generation of Japanese Comedy, a term determined more by savvy marketers than by any actual generational shift in how comedy is crafted in Japan.

I had originally planned on introducing some of the “top” members of this “new” group in a new post but while writing it, I had a long and deep conversation with my podcast co-host and actual Japanese comedy researcher Nick about manzai and its various evolutionary shifts as a comedy form. More specifically, we spoke about the act of performing manzai in the era of remote lives and plastic shields aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. (Side note, it was a great and really deep conversation about the craft of being a manzai comedian that probably only five or six people in the entire world would probably enjoy hearing.)

A long long time ago, Yoshimoto attempted to introduce the world to manzai via a Netflix “documentary” that I still have crazy stress nightmares about being in. In it, we said that manzai was one mic, two people, and the “Japanese Dream” (Note: I really wasn’t lying about those stress nightmares.). But is that really true? In the four years since then and in the last several months, I’ve given this idea a lot of thought.

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The Comedy Landscape in 2020 Japan – The Seventh Owarai Generation and the Great Corona Pause

The “New” Generation of Comedians appearing on Ametalk

As pretty much any returning reader to this blog knows, I am an “owarai geinin” in Japan. Why don’t I just call myself a comedian? Because the more and more time I spend in the Japanese entertainment industry, the more I’ve come to understand that comedians and geinin are two completely different categories of roles/people entirely.

With the novel coronavirus pretty much putting everything on hold everywhere in the world, now is the perfect time to take of stock of how the Japanese entertainment world has changed or shifted over the last couple of years.

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Long time no see…

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and whatever other holiday greeting I forgot about in between.

Sorry guys, I’ve been really busy and I’m sorry to say that this blog has kinda been at the bottom of my list of priorities.  I have been showing up on the Big in Japan podcast a lot of late and have been on Twitter and Instagram if that’s the sort of stuff you’re into.

 

I’ve been busy going back and forth to Osaka helping prep the big show for the grand opening of Cool Japan Park Osaka.  Besides that, I’ve been busy with a bunch of miscellaneous translation jobs and English lessons and that’s just on the non-creative side.

My comedy career has always been a bit of a rocky road but more good than bad of late.  Oh I also happened to form a trio (something that somehow was the top entertainment news story in Japan last night).

 

不思議なタンバリン!! 宣材写真.jpg

 

Fushigi na Tambourine!!.  We’ll see how this goes.

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 20th

May 20th Sunday

So there’s a football “controversy” “rocking” Japan, in so much as a football controversy could ever rock a country that gives approximately no damns about football as a sport or concept.

Apparently, some defensive end for a college team here laid a cheap hit on the other team’s quarterback to start off a game, knocked him out of the game, and it somehow exploded into a huge controversy that all the news shows are covering the hell out of for some reason (probably because it’s a slow news week). Continue reading

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 18th – May 19th

It’s starting to warm up.  The heat hasn’t gotten anywhere near summer levels, mind you, but it’s gotten hot enough to draw a sweat with a brisk walk.

Working, as I do, in a ramen shop, this change is represented by the change in the popularity of certain menu items.  Down go the sales of the thick, hearty ramen.  Up, up, up go the sales of the slightly (and I do mean slightly) lighter tsukemen dipping noodles.

Even working the graveyard shift like I did yesterday/today/tonight, you’re struck by how much people’s food preferences are affected by the weather outside.  

Working consecutive graveyard shifts whilst mostly maintaining a regular daytime lifestyle has a way of making feel like you’ve been “unstuck” in time, like you’ve gone down the rabbithole and when you pop your head back out again, you have no idea whether you’ll be greeted by sunlight or the stars.

In Japan, wages go up a mandatory 25 percent past ten at night so there is incentive to work the night shift.  Everytime I have one of those shifts, I feel like a part of me dies.  The faster I get out of the midnight shift lifestyle, the happier I’ll be.

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 17th

5/17  Thursday

When I first decided to become a comedian and went to my first owarai class, there were over 400 or so people there with me, all taking their first steps down the path of Japanese comedy at the same time as I was.  Time passed, people quit, and that number soon dwindled down: 300, 200, down to the one-hundred-something people that it is now.

Even among those hundred-something people, you have dozens of people who haven’t been active for months and are really just comedians in name only.  Since I’m, as the Japanese people like to say, tongatteru, most of my “friends” among my douki are in this category. 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