Understandable Japanese Comedy

May 18th, 2012By Category: Arts & Entertainment, Culture

Unjash (アンジャッシュ)

Japanese comedians UNJASH (アンジャッシュ)

“I’ve heard thousands of foreigners complain about how they want to speak Japanese, but the only conversations they have in Japanese are about how long they’ve lived here and whether or not they know what sushi is.”

Well, conversations go two ways and if the two people having the conversation don’t have the same interests, it can fall flat. So the question is “What are people interested in?”

That’s a pretty difficult question to answer generally. Some Japanese people like foreign movies and music. But those people can usually speak a little bit of English. Even if you find a common interest from foreign pop culture, the conversation may turn into an English one at some point or another. The other 80% of the Japanese people (I’m just throwing a random number out there) have very little interest in things abroad and have very little interest in talking about them. So what do they like?

How about comedy? Everyone likes laughing. Almost every Japanese person I know has a favorite comedian. So ask them who they like. I have had hour long conversations in English with my friends that consisted solely of reciting lines from Seinfeld. So why can’t I have these conversations in Japanese too? Must I be forced to go through this Japanese conversation for eternity:

Japanese person: Where are you from?
Me: Chicago
Japanese person: etto………..Michael Jordan
Me: yes

Imagine this conversation in Japanese instead:

Me: Did you see ____ last night on TV?
Japanese person: Yeah. They were hilarious.
Me: I know. I like the part when they ______.
Japanese person: Hahaha! I remember that.
Me: (Does impression of said comedian but with a foreign touch)
Japanese person: Hahaha! You’re the most interesting person I know! And I know Spiderman!

Okay, maybe your conversation won’t go that great. But Japanese comedy is something that can’t be talked about in English anyways. It just wouldn’t be funny. Try translating an English joke into Japanese. I’ve seen people do it with painful results. In a conversation about Japanese comedy, the Japanese person is basically forced to speak Japanese.

I realize that some foreigners may not be interested in Japanese comedy. Some say it is fart and poop humor. Personally, I’ve been in Japan for 8 years and I still laugh when I hear the word unko. Other people just can’t comprehend the subtleties of the language well enough to get the jokes. This is where I’d like to be of some service. I have compiled a few clips of Japanese comedians who are funny AND deal with themes that are easily understood by people from other countries. One thing I’d like to point out is that this is not a ranking of the top comedians in Japan. The only reason these guys have been selected is because I feel their comedy isn’t limited to just Japanese people. They are also categorized to suit one’s individual Japanese level.

Beginner level Japanese: Tomonori Jinnai (陣内智則)

This guy uses a lot of visual aids and technology. It’s very easy to understand his jokes without understanding Japanese. I have actually seen clips of this guy doing his bits in Korean and they are just as funny. And I can’t even say kimchee in Korean.

This clip, along with many others of his actually has English subtitles which can attest to the fact that some English speakers know and like this guy. The English subtitles can be useful, but the translation takes a lot away from the humor. Also, the translation in the clip is not very good so it’s best to ignore it and pay attention to the visuals.

Beginner-Intermediate level Japanese: UNJASH (アンジャッシュ)

Their skits are relatively big in Japan, but they’ve never made it to the top of the industry. However they are gaining popularity in China giving proof that their comedy too can transcend borders. One of their skits was even stolen (allegedly) by a Chinese comedy duo.

With their use of props, sound effects, and universal themes, it doesn’t take a lot of Japanese skill to have fun watching them. The clip below is the taping of the climax from a Samurai movie while trying out different effects to make it more interesting. The Japanese can be difficult to understand, but the comedy isn’t. The first minute is setting the scene so skip over it…..or use it for your studies.

Intermediate level Japanese: COWCOW

This clip is quite big right now. However, these guys have been around for awhile doing these same kinds of gags for ages. I call them rhythm gags. They create a rhythm and repeat it over and over with different punch lines until it gets old in about 6 months.

The Japanese in this clip can be easy to understand and the Japanese subtitles are written on the screen. However, I don’t know how much of the humor will be understood which is why I put this at an intermediate level. You should be good if you truly grasp the meaning of the word ‘atarimae’.

Advanced level Japanese: Sandwich Man(サンドウィッチマン)

These guys do skits with a lot of props so the setting of the scene is easily understood. However, the real comedy comes from the language.

These guys are comedy veterans who finally got their break a few years back when they won the M-1 Grand Prix in 2007. There are many groups similar to them like Taka and Toshi (タカアンドトシ), Hiking Walking (ハイキングワーキング), and others. The reason I chose these guys over rest is basically because this was one of the best clips I could find. But if you like these guys then check out the others too.

I hoped you enjoyed some of these clips. I wouldn’t use them as study aids because the jokes get stale quick. Rather, I would use them as conversation topics. That is unless you enjoy talking about whether or not you can use chopsticks.

Author of this article

Albert Weiland

I live up in Hokkaido with my wife and 2 kids. Family life can get busy so I don't have much time for hobbies. But, I loved watching TV and listening to music in the states and the same goes for Japan. There is a lot of interesting entertainment out there if you know where to find it.

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  • Toranosuke says:

    Thanks for sharing these! I enjoy Japanese comedy.. though, sometimes, I find that if you try to talk about Japanese TV, comedy groups, or the like, often you find that people either don’t know about, or don’t like, the things you’re talking about. I say “oh, I love Quiz Hexagon,” and people either react that they don’t watch it much, or that it’s cheesy or something to like such a show… I guess that happens in any culture. If a Japanese person was trying to engage me in conversation by saying how much they love SNL, or Jay Leno, I’d think that was just way too mainstream to get so excited about. Or something.

    Anyway, some of these skits were great! Thanks for sharing. I thought the Advanced Japanese one was actually pretty easy to understand – what’s really tough is when there are no props or set pieces, they’re talking really fast, and half the jokes are wordplay. Like on Bakushô Red Carpet. I watch that sometimes, and I think I get maybe half of what’s going on, but, outside of the more physical comedy, the purely spoken ones – especially when there’s a whole narrative leading up to the punchline(s) – can be really hard to ‘get’.

  • clacier2000 says:

    Type in “Netajin” in youtube and a whole bunch of his skits come up with English subtitles.

    Albert Weiland

  • clacier2000 says:

    Thanks April. I’m a huge fan of Arita too. 

    Albert Weiland

  • jasonbroccoli says:

    ohhh I wish there were more English subtitles on these, but I LOVED the Tetris one!

  • April Dunno says:

    Nice article.  These are good picks as well. My fave comedy team is Cream Stew. 🙂


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