Stand Up Comedy in Japan

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I was at a bit of a loss when deciding on a topic for my digital artefact. We were asked to try not to look at anything we were familiar with, and for me that ruled out a lot of the ideas that had come to my mind for my topic. I’m not saying I’m an expert in Asian culture or anything, far from it. I’ve just dipped my toe into more aspects of Asian culture than the average Joe. What was I going to look at then? My first idea was to look at Japanese cooking shows, I like cooking so why not. One night though, while watching a Hannibal Buress stand up special, I had an epiphany. Why don’t I look at Japanese stand-up comedy?

So I did.

 

I guess I’ll start by letting you know that I love stand up. I’ve been watching stand up since before I should have been watching stand up. The first time I can remember watching stand up is when I was about eleven or twelve, and I was watching Billy Connolly on a VHS tape that we had at home. I thought he was hysterical, and from there my love for stand-up has only gotten stronger. Now at twenty one, I probably watch five or six stand up specials a week. It is safe to say that I have watched a lot of different stand up, but never stand up from Japan.

So, it was time to find some Japanese stand up, and not really knowing where to go, I went to my old faithful Youtube. Something I quickly realised when looking through the search results, is that I had a picture of what ‘Japanese stand up’ would look like in my head, and I didn’t see it, nor could I find it. I don’t know where the image I had in my head came from, but what I expected to see was that Japanese stand up was just, the stand-up that I’m used to, but with Japanese comedians performing in Japanese, to a Japanese audience. What I found was a whole different range of stuff, so let’s look at some of it.

One of the things I saw a lot of was Japanese comedians performing stand up in English to either, a majority foreign audience in Japan, or Japanese comedians performing overseas, mostly in America. I was the most familiar with this type of routine. It followed the same formula I was used to, and besides a few little things like the use of a clip board in a routine, it was the same style of comedy that most of us would be familiar with. I didn’t feel like I was seeing ‘actual’ Japanese stand up watching these. They were admittedly funny shows, but it felt like the stand-ups I watched were just copying what they had seen other foreign comedians do.

The other type of act that made up the majority of the videos I watched was the double act. My experience with double acts in stand up is definitely not as extensive as with single performer acts, and I think I’d be right in saying the reason for this is that there just not as popular in our culture. There are certainly some great comedy duo’s in stand up, I mean even in Australia we have the likes of The Umbilical Brothers, Lano and Woodley, Sammy J and Randy, there all amazing acts. I just think there are less double acts than there are singles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Japan, at least from what I’ve seen.

The acts and how I watched them were all different as well. There’s one duo named Gamarjobat which seem to have done both in Japan and internationally. I’m just assuming this because a lot of their videos show them performing on different television shows from around the world. Gamarjobat remind me of The Umbilical Brothers in their routines. They don’t use their voices as much, for speech or noises, but the use of props and their bodies is very similar. The other acts were a little more foreign (please excuse the pun) to me. They did use some techniques I’d seen before like one guy playing the straight man and the other the zany/stupid/different character. Most of the double acts also seemed to use slapstick in their routines. Watching these acts, I felt like I was getting something different to what I was used to, and I think it was because I could see the audience was Japanese, it also helped that some of the acts were in Japanese, which was interesting when some of them didn’t include subtitles.

It was an interesting experience watching and then writing about Japanese stand up, reading over I feel a little slack saying one didn’t feel authentic, who am I to say that? Hopefully doing some research on the topic will help me understand a few things.

3 comments

  1. Your post has an interesting autoethnographic premise, as stand-up quite possibly relies entirely on cultural understanding and the audience’s cultural relatability can make or break a joke. You have noted some striking differences in how your culture perceives stand-up, such as how Japanese ‘double acts’ are more prevalent. Ellis et al. discuss how writing personal stories is an important part of the therapeutic experience, and you have certainly done well to demonstrate this as a juxtaposition between your childhood anecdotes and your wildly different experience with foreign cultural comedy.

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  2. Hey Hayden,

    I think you did a really good job with the narrative style of autoethnography in this post – it feels conversational and it seems to show a flow of thoughts rather than a strict, inflexible ‘text’. The last part of your post definitely shows some self-reflection, and I can relate to questioning or feeling guilty about our reactions to texts. I discussed these conflicted feelings in my most recent post, actually, and how they’ve been addressed by other autoethnographic authors.

    You’ve chosen a really interesting topic and I really enjoyed your conversational writing style. Great work!

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  3. Great article, I feel the notion of expectations vs reality is particularly pressing when it comes to exploring texts from a different country and I fell it may be at the core of Autoethnography. The realization that your conception of stand-up is informed by what you perceive stand up as being through a western lens is a profound one and It isn’t surprising that Japanese stand-up didn’t quite match that expectation.

    really interesting topic and I hope that you follow up on it, I think looking at how Japanese humor differs from other cultures might also be a point to look into. All in all a great read 🙂

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