In this blog post I’ll be analysing my previous post on my experience with stand-up comedy in Japan, so for those of you reading this post that haven’t read the post I did before, go read it. I chose to look at Japanese stand-up because I have a huge passion for stand up. I was curious as to what I would find in Japan, the country that has already given me so much. Anime, manga, ramen, sushi, so many amazing video games, all stuff that I love and all from Japan. Surely there stand up would be amazing as well.
In my analysis of my experience I will be looking at the epiphanies I had while I was immersing myself in Japanese stand up and the culture around it. Now the definition of epiphanies given in Ellis et al’s reading on Autoethnography ,
“remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life (BOCHNER & ELLIS, 1992; COUSER, 1997; DENZIN, 1989), times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyse lived experience (ZANER, 2004), and events after which life does not seem quite the same.”
May be a bit strong considering I’m talking about watching Japanese stand up on Youtube, but the premise still rings true. I’m looking at the moments that I remember that changed what I thought about stand up in Japan.
The first epiphany I had, and I’m not sure if I even wrote about it in my first blog, is that there didn’t seem to be a lot of comedians, at least not on stage performing a stand-up routine I’m used to. I’ve learnt that the reason I couldn’t find more comedians isn’t because people just aren’t putting the videos on Youtube, or I just wasn’t looking well enough. It’s because in Japan the way for a comedian to make it big isn’t to go into stand up in the way that I’m familiar with, but to go into television. For the prime time shows in Japan it’s a necessity to have comedians on the show, either as a contestant competing in one of the many weird competitions to come out of Japanese television, or as a host. Some people claiming around 80% of the tv personalities in Japan are comedians, so with such high numbers going into TV it’s easy to see why there aren’t many acts performing stand up like I’m used to.
The second and biggest epiphany I had was that there were quite a few different types of acts, and looking into it I found there were more than I thought. There are 5 main styles of comedy that all of the acts in Japan fall roughly under, and some may be a mix of a few.
The first is Kyogen, an old form of comedy dating back to the 14th century. Kyogen is based on slapstick and satire, and performed in an outdated version of Japanese. Gamarjobat were probably the closest thing I saw to this, though they don’t speak for the most part.
The second is Manzai, which features a straight man, known as a Tsukkomi, and a funny man, known as a Boke, that quickly trade jokes. You only have to watch one Abbot and Costello bit, and you’ll understand what Manzai is. This was probably the type of act I saw the most, and its that’s probably because it’s the style that works best on stage.
Third we have Konto, and it’s really just a subgenre of Manzai. In Konto groups perform short bits that revolve around a comical story, weird situation, or strange encounter. A lot of the double acts seemed to perform in this style if it was a longer performance, rather than just a short video.
Forth we have a style that I missed the first time around, rakugo. In rakugo, the performer sits in a kimono with their legs tucked under and tells a funny story. I don’t know how I missed any of these acts the first time I was looking into Japanese stand up, probably because it’s quite unique. I watched a few after I found out about it and it’s not really like anything I’ve seen before. Even with comedians who just tell stories, rakugo is different. There also seems to be a real mix of what looks like more traditional rakugo performances and modern performances that are trying to change things up. The traditional performances were kind of like some of the really long jokes that your grandpa might tell you, where the modern ones, for lack of a better word, where just weird.
The fifth and final style is Owarai, this pretty much encompasses everything else in the modern comedy seen in Japan. Owarai acts tend to be regulars on Japanese variety shows, game shows, food segments, travel features and musical performances. From what I’ve seen this is where the majority of the comedians in Japan are going.
So here we are at the end of my analysis of my exploration of Japanese stand up. I definitely feel like I have grown in my understanding of the topic, but I don’t know if I got what I wanted. I didn’t really go into this with an agenda, I think there was part of me that wanted to find that Japanese stand up was just going to be the same as the stand-up I’m used to but only focusing on this idea I have of life in Japan that I have in my head. I’m glad I didn’t find that in the end, it would have been weird, and the stuff that I found was funny and I genuinely laughed at most of the acts I watched.