So funny it hurts: The anatomy of Japanese comedy

Beatriz Estrel Domingo - The Philippine Star

Japan as a country has always been fascinating for its distinctive culture and traditions, not to mention the unique food dishes that have sent throngs of tourists clamoring for authentic Japanese cuisine. But Japanese entertainment is also in a league of its own, with countless animé series and movies creating cult followings all over the world as well as Japanese dramas and comedy shows getting viewers hooked once they tune in.

Interestingly, Japanese comedy has made its mark for its inimitable approach in making audiences laugh even across different cultures, languages and ages. It’s true that some jokes from Japanese comedy shows can only find humor among those who understand the language and relate to the jokes’ cultural or personal references, but there is just something about Japanese humor that cuts across borders and makes the comedy programs so funny that viewers hurt from laughing too much.

There are basically five types of Japanese comedy: The konto or scripted skits about utterly bizarre situations and strange encounters, the manzai or the stand-up comedy style with gags delivered in lightning-fast speed and often with slaps to one of the actors’ head, the more traditional rakugo where a kimono-clad storyteller sitting cross-legged delivers a story with a punchline that appeals to older audiences, the suberi where a bad joke given with the proper timing makes people laugh at how bad the joke is, and then there’s the owarai which refers to comedy shows on television featuring various comedy acts.

Japanese comedy has gained popularity around the world for its quirky antics and a kind of slapstick humor that is so uniquely Japanese. In fact, there is a number of Japanese comedic acts that have done well on talent shows such as America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent. What is so remarkable about Japanese humor is that it can be universally consumed even without any familiarity with the country’s language and culture. For instance, the Japanese comedic duo Yumbo Dump made it to the semi-finals of Asia’s Got Talent 2017. With crafted actions, they managed to tickle the audiences and made the judges laugh so hard they wiped tears from their eyes.

In the Philippines, Japanese comedy made waves with iconic TV shows such as Takeshi’s Castle. Who didn’t find themselves rolling in laughter at the crazy antics of those Japanese contestants who risked life and limb to complete their tasks? The thing with Japanese humor is that it has a kind of hypnotic attraction to viewers. Once you start watching, you just want to see the whole act through bellyaching laughter and reactionary slaps and pushes to your viewing companion’s body notwithstanding.

To date, the best Japanese comedy shows are being aired in the Philippines via GEM, an all-Japanese TV channel from Sony Pictures Television’s joint venture with Japan’s Nippon TV. Some of the popular Japanese comedies currently seen on GEM include The Quest, Monday Late Night Show, Must Be ARASHI! and even GOCHI: Dinner in on YOU Tonight. The latter features a star-studded cast of comedians and artists visiting a restaurant to order food within a given budget. Since the prices are not listed, the loser who orders way beyond the allocated budget ends up paying for everyone’s meals. What makes the show so remarkably funny is the quirky interaction among the celebrities who react to the dishes and make exaggerated expressions.

GEM has a whole line-up of comedy shows catering to Filipino audiences who want to indulge themselves with hilarious Japanese humor. For light yet action-driven fun, Beat the Rooms and EXIT are sure to keep viewers entertained with the adventures of Japanese personalities taking on challenges and solving puzzles to get themselves out of do-or-die situations. For those who are into Japanese pop groups, shows such as Must Be ARASHI! (starring the popular five-member ARASHI from Johnny & Associates) and AKBINGO! (featuring the stars of AKB48) are a must-watch for the merry mix of talk, games and variety shows with the signature dose of Japanese comedy.

According to Sony Pictures Television programming director for asian content Shi Ming Wee, the Japanese people are quintessentially creative and they are known for their fresh ideas that are not only new and unique but also trendsetting. “The high quality of Japanese humor and innovative ideas have been one of the sources of inspiration and go-to/reference models for some international shows of similar formats which are then adapted and recreated in the localized context,” Wee added.

Indeed, judging from how Japanese comedy is breaking bounds across cultures, Japan’s unique humor can be credited to its people’s creativity and boldness to try out new things. They go all-out with their comedy, and it is this commitment to entertain in a fearlessly no-holds-barred and often death-defying fashion that makes Japanese humor unparalleled and sought after in various parts of the world.

Luckily for us, Filipinos, we get our own dose of Japanese hilarity with what GEM brings to our screens.

GEM is available via SKYcable Channel 116 in Metro Manila; SKYcable Channel 222 in Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo and Baguio; GSAT Channel 57; and various provincial cable operators nationwide.




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