We’re in the middle of a huge O-Warai (大笑い i.e. “Big Laugh”, meaning comedy usually in stand-up/skit form) boom which has continued basically since sometime in 2007 when the likes of Kojima Oshio (Oppapi) and Harisenbon. It seems that what Japanese people like to do the most is to laugh; because there seems to be no end to this boom. At the end of last summer at least I thought that the quality of comedy in Japan was stalling; there were no great new acts coming on to the scene, and the people who had broken onto the comedy scene earlier that year seemed to go nowhere… I felt that the boom was over; but then something happened and we saw some extremely great acts shoot up onto the scene: Audrey (see picture above), Naname 45 (Tsugi wa Kanda desu!), Wagaya (Iwaseneeyo!), Hibiki (Senpaaaaai!), Mono-ii (Chigauka?), King of Comedy (Daifanmitaina!), Joyman (Here we go, here we go!) etc. etc.
Basically there is one TV show that feeds the comedy scene with good acts, and that is Bakusho Red Carpet which currently shows here on Wednesday evenings. The concept is simple, bring on fresh comedy acts to do short stand-up/skit comedy. Basically each act has about 1-3 minutes to perform their act, so it needs to be explosively funny. Then they are ranked by a jury of celebrities on a scale from “Small Laugh”, “Medium Laugh”, “Big Laugh” and “Perfect Score Big Laugh”. Each night, one jury member chooses the top performer who gets a small award. Somehow, this TV show gets all the good new acts, and as the popularity of the show has skyrocketed, comedy veterans now also often feature on the show intermingled with the recurring fresh young acts.
Red Carpet is about 1000 times better than the closest rival show in the same genre, Enta no Kamisama which has a simple concept, comedy acts perform in front of a studio audience. Somehow they manage to only find the most boring and ridiculous acts, although on some shows, sprinkled in between the losers are some of the great acts that got their break on Red Carpet.
There is one more hugely brilliant comedy show, and that is “The Iromonea” which is a competion-style comedy show, where comedians fight their way through five levels, each featuring a different style of comedy they must perform, and if they get the audience to laugh (3 out of 5 randomly selected audience members must laugh on level 1-4, and all 5 must laugh on the last level) they move on to the next level, can can ultimately win 1 million Yen if they clear the fifth stage. This show used to be a sort of boy’s club for the already comedic elite, with seasoned veterans only participating, but with the success of new comedy acts recently, they have introduced a sort of qualification round part of the show, where new comedy acts go through similar trials and have to get a jury of celebrities to laugh on three consecutive tries to be able to qualify for the “real” part of the show and compete for the money. This show is also pure brilliance! It’s awesome to see people squirm during the last few seconds of their performance when they are desperately trying to get that sorry son of a bitch in the audience to laugh who seems to think nothing they pull out of their comedic repertoire is funny!
Anyway, to sum up, I used to think Japanese comedy was pretty lame. I guess it had something to do with not understanding fast-talking Manzai-acts (I still don’t catch all the puns), but there was also too many un-interesting comedy acts which had ridiculous shtick like Ed Harumi (I can’t stand her), Daita Hikaru, Moody Katsuyama, DJ Tiger Lee etc. whose acts basically consists of bad rhymes, boring jokes and some kind of funny sound or saying that they repeat until it just gets nauseating.
However, since last year, I’ve become a huge fan and it seems like this boom will continue for yet some time. I guess nothing gets you through an economic recession like a good laugh!