Owarai Japanese TV comedy

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
おわらい お笑い


The Japanese are very fond of their comedians, and the most famous in modern times are called owarai (literally “honorable laughs”), which is a pair, usually of men, one of whom is the tsukkomi (i.e. the “straight” one) and the other the boke (bokeh) (i.e. the “fool”). Owarai began with the birth of television in Japan, but this typical pairing is based on the much older comic art form of manzai, based in the Kansai region (i.e., in the west of Honshu, primarily Osaka).

Owarai is typically very fast-paced and based on a number of devices. These include dajare, or punning, which Japanese, being full of synonyms, readily lends itself to. Or konto (from the French conte) which is a short story-type encounter acted out by a pair of comedians. Dokkiri is a practical hidden camera joke such as falling over an unexpected obstacle or being hit by a falling object. A shimoneta is a dirty, lewd joke. A gyagu (i.e. gag) is simply a “corny joke.” There is also the device of kire (kee-reh), literally meaning “snapping,” i.e. “losing it,” expressed by suddenly hollering at the other person.

Perhaps the three most popular owarai in Japan are Beat Takeshi, Sanma, and Tamori.

Beat Takeshi, real name Takeshi Kitano, was born in Tokyo in 1947, and has been a big name not only in Japanese comedy since the 1970s, but in Japanese cinema, too, since the 1980s. He is also a prolific author. These days his serious side seems to have almost eclipsed his funny side.

Akashiya Sanma - usually just Sanma (literally “Pacific saury”) was born Takafumi Sugimoto in Wakayama prefecture in 1955. Sanma, famous for his large protruding teeth, is the ultimate motor-mouth comedian, always revving at full speed, laughing uproariously, and an excellent mimic.

Tamori, born Kazuyoshi Morita in Fukuoka (on the southern island of Kyushu) in 1945 is best known as the host of the legendary TV program Waratte Ii Tomo (It’s OK to Laugh) which has aired every day since 1982 from the famous Studio Alta in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Since the late 1970s Tamori has been known for his trademark dark glasses that Tamori is almost never seen without.

For a taste of the blend of the sublime and the ridiculous - and the raw physicality - that owarai comedy involves, check out the following YouTube video featuring Sanma and Tokoro George. (Tokoro George is another famous owarai and partners with Beat Takeshi on the Takeshi/Tokoro no Futari Terebi (“Takeshi/Tokoro Two’s a Pair TV”) show.)

© JapanVisitor.com

Like this blog? Sign up for the JapanVisitor newsletter

Books on Tokyo Japan