His palms were sweaty as he looked up from the textbook. It was just before class. He was beyond nervous. One teacher, with a plastic smile on top of unsuccessfully veiled nervousness, starts a strained conversation. He starts to feel his uneasiness growing. It’s too the point where he has to stand up and break away. Not understanding half of what this teacher is saying is making things worse; He stands without any idea of how to get out of the situation and decides to quickly make it for the bathroom without a word. The teacher with a big daft grin shouts out, “Are you a ninja?” The smile remains but the others in the room look puzzled and unsure about any kind of response. Continue reading
Category Archives: comedy
Need a little background? Check out my previous post.
It’s been a really long time since I talked about manzai…. I mean a really long time. I’ve been busy focusing on my pedagogical theories and honing my teaching style in Japan. I have forgotten to sit back and really study the comedic form. It might sound stupid or pointless but I find comedy to be the best thing after a long day at work or a stressful time. Laughing is the best remedy for what ails you.
As everyone well knows comedy is made by the people who watch it. What I mean is that the audience says what works and what doesn’t. Society’s make-up makes up the clown’s face. Sure you probably knew that and I sound like I am rattling on and on…
What is very interesting is the fine line between funny and awkward. Comedy relies on timing and if it is off, a very funny bit turns awkward.
Here is a common troupe in Japan
Say pizza ten times fast.
Pizza, pizza pizza, pizza pizza, pizza pizza, pizza pizza, pizza!
(points to his elbow) What’s this??
ひざ！knee in English but should be elbow or hiji.
ちゃうわ！ひじでしょう？ (the tsukkomi immediately strikes the boke for his terrible mistake…)
Now if the tsukkomi has enough bravado and quick timing it could be super funny but to be honest this one joke needs more….. There has to be layers to this very simple joke. Let’s put it into context. If you make this into a コント this could be hilarious.
Let’s say I am in the skit and I am a student in a Japanese class. Today’s lesson is going to be on vocabulary in everyday life. Ok… Ready? Yeah I’ll be really excited and trilled that I am learning more words. We will then front load the scene, meaning set up the stage for all the gags to come. The teacher will be giving all these vocabulary. This will be the boring part.. Hiji, hiza, tama, etc…. Now the teacher might tell me, “Ok let’s do a practice to remember these words easily.” Then he’ll do the simple joke I layed out. Probably it will get a few laughs because in fact what the teacher is doing is confusing me more. Then we have to go even further. It has to get crazier and crazier into a snowball of jokes that play on each other. I won’t go any further in to it but that is the basic mechanics that drive this very funny form. I have the whole routine swirling around in my head waiting to come out. To write it down here just seems narcissistic and unproductive, so do me a favor, go watch some comedy you really enjoy and laugh till your heart’s content. Have a good night.
I ran into a previous teacher I had had for a comic spirit class. After we said our greetings and small talk, he asked me if I had a chance to visit Japan, remembering I had asked about the Japanese comedy form called, manzai. I mentioned that I was moving there soon, in a year or so, and still hope that I will one day figure out manzai. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. He had received many term papers on manzai after I had taken the class. He said I was a “trend setter.” Well, I don’t know about that, but this chance reunion got me thinking about manzai again.
What is manzai? It was born in the Kansai region of Japan and contains a straight man, tsukkomi (literally to dig into, or retort), and an idiot, or boke (meaning stupidity.) The form was developed as a stand-up routine consisting of slap stick physicality, double talk, pun, and misunderstanding. The comedic form is analogous to the comedy of Laurel and Hardy. The only difference is manzai is much more frantic and faster paced.
Well I could explain the funniness out of a joke, but I would rather show you a typical manzai routine in a movie I had recently watched. The movie is titled Maiko Haaaan! Abe Sadawo as Onizuka, the man holding the ramen toppings in the background, is pitching a new instant ramen marketing strategy that will make a lot of money. I think who the tsukkomi and boke are is quite clear in this clip. Enjoy!
I still have a lot to learn about manzai. I don’t fully understand all of the jokes I come across in the comedic form, but all I need to do is just keep watching and learning. Until next time… Manzai!!! I mean… Banzai!