Japanese comedy has a long and illustrious history which I find to be a fascinating subject to explore. And, as you may expect, the country has spawned many different “categories” of comedy over the past several centuries. In America, where I now live, there are parallels to this. We have many different varieties of comedy as well, some of which are based on regions, such as hillbilly, or redneck humor. Japan’s “humor” categories are also regionally based, the prime example being Manzai. http://www.japnudes.com/
For this article, I’m going to focus on Manzai, since it is my favorite flavor of Japanese comedy.
Manzai is a traditional style of stand-up comedy in Japanese culture, which usually involves two performers-a straight man (tsukkomi) and a funny man (boke)-trading jokes at great speed. Most of the jokes revolve around mutual misunderstandings, double-talk, puns and other verbal gags. Americans may liken Manzai to those fabulous Abbot and Costello routines of the 1930’s and 40’s. If the names of Abbott and Costello don’t ring a bell to those of the younger generation, perhaps you’ve heard their famous routine: “Who’s on First?”. Manzai humor is very similar to Who’s on First” in many regards.
Manzai can trace it roots back to the region of Osaka, where the comedians would carry out their witty and funny lines speaking in the Kansai dialect. Yoshimoto Kogyo, a large entertainment conglomerate based in Osaka was the driving force behind manzai, and was instrumental in introducing it to Tokyo audiences way back in 1933. According to some sources, it has now become the most common flavor of Japanese comedy in the Land Of The Rising Sun.
To discover the origins of manzai, we need to delve into Japanese history. The roots of this comedy variation can be attributed to an ancient New Year festival held during the Heian period. The pattern of the straight man and funny man is carried out by the performers supposedly delivering messages from the gods. Opposition is the name of the game as one performer spoils the party of the other.
Eventually the Edo period cam into existence as the Heian period faded into history. At this point the style shifted with more emphasis on the humorous facet of stand-up. In addition there newer variances and more varied styles.
Now we fast forward to the 20th century. The Taisho period was coming to an end, and the Foundation of Yoshimoto Kogyo was about to happen. It was 1912 to be exact, when these events paved the way for a fresher, more modern version of manzai.
The change proved to be a good one as the new style began to spread further into Japan which included Tokyo. The popularity of Manzai was boosted with the advent of communications technologies such as radio, and eventually television. Yes indeed, manzai has survived the passing of the centuries, and is flourishing even today in our high technology world.