Wait what? A live, improv, comedy show… in two languages? But, Japanese and Western humor are so different- how does that work? They get suggestions for skits from the audience? This is MADNESS. As the only bilingual improv group in Tokyo, The Pirates of Tokyo Bay get laughs from everyone in town, and their growing fan base and standing-room-only performances are proof that their recipe for HA HA totally works. Pirates? Comedy? Work on my Japanese? I’m down.
The group started in Tokyo in 2010 after founder Mike Staffa decided move from Osaka, where he started The Pirates of the Dotombori in 2005. Because the audiences were more than willing to participate, the Osaka troupe enjoyed fast success. Staffa found the early days in Tokyo to be a challenge because audiences were a bit more hesitant to speak up. Now, POTB shows are lively and packed with both Japanese and foreigners, all ready to get their laugh on.
Since the birth of the Tokyo troupe, the Pirates have traveled all over Asia to perform at festivals. One of the dangers of improv is the element of non-scripted, go-anywhere storytelling, which doesn’t go over super well in some places. Staffa recalls, “Our first tour was to Beijing in 2011. Before going on, we had to sign a contract with the theater saying that we wouldn’t talk about Tiananmen Square, Tibet, or Chairman Mao. The group got a little nervous because we didn’t know what would happen if we accidently did talk about those taboo topics!”
The element of improv is the key to POTB’s success. Masahito Kawahata, one of the three Japanese members, explains, “Being a country that is used to being guided/scripted from coolbiz to manzai, people find us quite out-of-this-world.”
The Pirates’ success has also won the group invitations to a variety of private events, including the US Embassy and The Tokyo American Club. Their reputation for bilingual comedy has also made their shows a popular date night destination. Says Staffa, “If a foreigner is dating a Japanese, they can come to our show and both can see some comedy in their native language, plus practice their second language by trying to understand the other parts of our show.”
Topical, edgy, boundary-smashing comedy- The Pirates of Tokyo Bay are freaking funny in any language. The group is celebrating their three-year anniversary on November 17th with a blowout bilingual show at What the Dickens in Ebisu. Here’s the info, and some other upcoming show dates:
English-only show: Nov 9th (NishiAzabu)
Japanese-only show: Nov 10th (Shinjuku Gyoen)
Bilingual show: November 17th (Ebisu)
If you want to contact POTB about shows, auditions, events, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out their Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TokyoImprov/
And in the Twitterverse: @piratestokyo