One can only visit so many temples and shrines when traveling through Asia. If you find yourself in Osaka and you’re craving some post-Zen comic relief, do what the locals do: check out a comedy show. Rachel Belle Krampfner investigates the heart of Japan’s comedy scene.
Osaka has been branded Japan’s comedy capital and the laughs aren’t limited to the stage.
Put a group of Japanese people in a room and it won’t take long to identify the Osakans; they defy stereotypes with their gregarious, outgoing and fun loving personalities.
One of the most popular and traditional styles of Osaka comedy is Manzai, a rapid fire, slapsticky, stand-up show performed by two comedians. One plays the funny man, the other the straight man and they earn their laughs via puns, silly misunderstandings and a healthy dose of Laurel and Hardy-style “nyuck nyuck nyuck.”
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The only problem is you will have absolutely no idea what they’re going on about if you don’t speak Japanese.
“The foreign population is growing year by year, so it only makes sense that there’s a comedic outlet for speakers other than Japanese, or for those who aren’t 100 percent into the traditional and scripted Manzai,” says Captain Bill Reilly, and American expatriate who leads the comedy troupe by night and spends his days as a high school English teacher.
The Pirates of the Dotombori are a motley crew, made up of improvisers from around the world.
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“We’ve had people from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Chile, China, Korea and Japan,” says Reilly. “We’ve got English teachers, orchestral members, video game developers, radio DJs, businessmen, pole dancers and pyramid scheme apprentices.”
The Pirates perform short-form improv, a style similar to Whose Line Is It Anyway? and two teams go head-to-head, light-heartedly competing against each other through a variety of improvisational games. There is no script and no two shows can possibly be the same.
Playing to both Japanese and foreign audiences members, Reilly says they must appeal to the humor of both cultures.
“It`s tough at first to get your head around the fact that not everyone grew up with Ghostbusters and Lucky Charms,” says Reilly. “So if you make a Slimer or a leprechaun joke, and only two other people laugh, it leaves your soul feeling oddly vacant. We have to focus our humor on where we are right now, Japan, and who we are playing to, everyone from everywhere. I consider it a huge success to be able to translate comedy from one culture to another.”
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Entertainment aside, the shows provide the perfect atmosphere to meet other comedy-loving ex-pats and travelers out for a laugh and a beer. Oh, and sometimes the shows are absolutely free.
The Pirates are preparing for a big five-year anniversary show this June, and you can find out about all shows, classes and events on their Facebook page or get more information on their website www.piratesofthedotombori.com.
By Rachel Belle Krampfner for PeterGreenberg.com.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Finding Free & Cheap Travel Activities in Expensive Japan
- Cheapskate Confessions: Japan on a Budget
- Japan Travel section
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan