The funny man from Japan

Sarcasm doesn’t work in Japan, notes stand-up comic Zenjiro. Part of a small, yet active crop of talents trying to up the stand-up comedy scene in Japan, Zenjiro has become somewhat of an international artiste, having performed at gigs in Seattle and Melbourne. He’s also headlined for an international comedy festival in Bangkok and featured in Just For Laughs.

In Chennai recently, at an event organised by Chennai Comedy, he entertained a curious mix of youngsters from the city and Japanese businessmen, and the effort required to balance the two sets of humour perceptions was evident. Taking it in his stride, he took a small break from the English language gig to switch to Japanese, and had the suit-and-tie half of the audience laughing out loud within a minute.

Having then regaled the entire audience for the rest of his short performance, the comedian settles down to understand and discuss the differences in humour in these two — and other — sets of audiences.

“The Japanese like straightforward humour,” he says, adding that his audience in India responds to a different kind of humour, as do the people in yet another country, such as the US. The stand-up comedy scene in each of these countries is in different levels of evolution, so is the taste of the audience.

This isn’t Zenjiro’s first time in India, and he has been keeping an eye on the comedy situation in the country. “Ten years ago, there was hardly any original comedy,” he notes, “Just a form of mimicry, with people laughing at different cultures. No jokes thought and scripted by the comic.” He commends the boom in comic talent he has noticed in India recently, and dates it to five years ago at the earliest, adding that in his home country, things are younger still.

Stand-up comedy, as the one-person performance popular today, is just beginning to pick up in Japan, he says. “Two-person jokes are what works — two persons or groups — we call it manzai... it involves a conversation between two people,” he explains, adding, “One-person acts are called rakugo, and are still considered old-fashioned. It involves storytelling.”

Having performed at festivals in different parts of the world, Zenjiro finds that each cultural mix, as an audience, comes with its own set of challenges when it comes to humour. In Japan, for example, he points at the hierarchy of age. “If people see a young person making an observation or a joke about someone older, people get upset. It’s a problem,” he says.

Humour is a good way of gleaning from such hierarchies, he feels. Zenjiro finds the US audience most receptive to observations and social commentary, “but it’s too much! It’s all about politics and back comments. A bit of that is good, but there should be a little more about everyday life, relationships, society as well.”

In India, on the other hand, he finds no political takes at all. “There’s nothing!” he laughs, “It is a democratic society, why not discuss it a little bit?”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 2:01:31 AM |

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