Media Mix, July 17, 2011

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about a comment made by comedian Sanma Akashiya that he may stop appearing on TV after he turns 60. My feelings about Sanma as a comic are mixed. I can appreciate his quick wit, but often I think that appreciation is relative. Much of this ambivalence, I know, is cultural. I’m not a big fan of puns, and the ijirigei (making fun of the weak) style, as I mention, is limited. In the past two decades, most Japanese humor, at least the kind that makes its way to TV, is fundamentally derived from shtick: a specific comic hits on a pose or phrase that strikes a chord with the public, but as proven by the increasingly high turnover rate for TV comedians, this sort of humor is even more limited than ijirigei. Nevertheless, while I will concede I’m not the ideal audience for this kind of humor, I wonder if the majority of Japanese are. Most of my Japanese acquaintances say they don’t really think most comedians are very funny and agree that sketch humor is really lacking. When I point out the cultural significance and influence of the old Drifters comedy revue show, Hachijidayo, Zeninshogo, forty years after it was first aired, what people usually say is that the show’s popularity is mostly nostalgic. The boomers who still buy the DVDs of that show were children at the time, and the humor’s slightly risque tenor (at the time it was on, PTAs throughout Japan complained bitterly about it) was seen as stimulating. But most people seem to agree that it wasn’t that funny. The same goes for Oretachi Hyokinzoku and the other ijirigei shows it spawned: People were drawn more by what the comedians were getting away with than with the actual jokes and routines. So when I read the interview that Edan Corkill did with comedian Koji Imada in the Japan Times a few weeks ago about the new Saturday Night Live Japan and Imada remarked that the show would mostly avoid topical humor because it’s obvious and “easy,” I wondered what he meant. For sure, a lot of the topical humor on SNL in the U.S. is pretty obvious and, at least since the mid-80s, has lost much of its bite because everyone in the media, including non-comedians, are into topical humor. But easy? In the sketches I watched on the second installment of SNL-Japan, laughs were derived not from the sketches themselves or from the lines, but from the way the players stepped out of character. This sort of thing brings the audience in on the joke, makes them feel like a part of the routine. That’s pretty much the hallmark of all Japanese sketch comedy, and, I would think, a lot easier to pull off than coming up with routines that are themselves truly funny.

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2 Responses to Media Mix, July 17, 2011

  1. Well said. Yeah, Japanese comedy on TV is seriously lacking… Just watching that opening for the Japanese version of Saturday Night Live made me want to turn off my computer! There have been some very funny comedians in Japan but you won’t see them on TV. Torihada Minoru, I thought, was hilarious. He would do some wild comedy act and then suddenly pull out a Casio keyboard and do his rendition of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” He got kicked off of TV for being too wild. His making fun of the right wing is a scream!

  2. justin says:

    i liked the Sui-10 line up of One Night and Miracle Type from about 4 years ago. it wasn’t always funny, but it was much better than watching tired old manzai tropes or flash-in-the-pan solo acts like the guitar samurai. and most of the accomplished duos (London Hearts, 99, kokoriko) just retreat to variety/reality tv where they stuff a couple Idols in a box and laugh as they try and struggle out. You really can’t even call guys like Sanma a comedian these days; they’ve followed the Robin Williams path of serious drama and random cameos. And don’t get me started on TKO. i’d rather garrote myself than sit through their gig.

    i dont know. perhaps it’s all down to rakugo: each joke takes about 10 minutes to set up and then the pay-off is only a wry, knowing chuckle.

    But Torihada is good. scary. and scary good. a proto-stephen colbert, but with without the wink and nod.

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