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Back in June of 2000, a long time subscriber to some of HumorMall.com's ezines, Amy Chavez, wrote about her first attempt at doing comedy in Japan. It was posted in "HumorWriting", another eGroups humor discussion list that I belong to.
Her post lead to some posts from citizens of other countries on their comedy practices, so I asked each poster for permission to reprint them since our subscribers include subscribers in Australia, Canada, China (Mainland China - not Taiwan), Faroe Islands, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, The Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom.
So we start off the new millennium with a look at comedy around the world.
I can't believe it--I auditioned to do stand-up in Japan! And I actually made the first cut. Now what do I do?!
I don't know if comedy here is anything like comedy in the US but I'll fill you in on the basics here. There are no "stand-up" comedians as we know them: One person shooting away jokes into a mike.
Here it's always a 2-person affair and it's called "manzai." The two people stand up in front of the audience and reel off mock conversations at lightening speed. They actually speak over each other a lot so you have to be able to listen to two conversations at the same time (in Japanese!).
It's pretty funny though and lends itself to situational comedy routines which are good because they're visual. For my audition I did a "skit" by myself using the information from one of my humor columns. I demonstrated the differences between Japanese and American washing machines. I was the washing machine, so it made for some interesting movements. I did speak too and use props. The judges were laughing the whole time (I saw later when they aired part of it on TV). So, I made the first cut.
The next cut doesn't come for another couple months as those who made the first cut now start going to the comedy club every Saturday to practice their routines during the club's closed hours.
This is not a typical American style comedy club however. It's called the Yoshimoto Theater. It's a real theater that seats several hundred people. When we go to practice, we can use all the equipment and we're supposed to coach each other. Our first session is this weekend. We have to give a different performance each weekend. This one is supposed to be within 3 minutes (the audition was within 2 minutes).
It's not really clear to me if Yoshimoto theater is looking to employ some people permanently or if they are merely providing a venue for agents. I went to one of the performances last weekend and most of the manzai teams came from out of town but the first act was a team culled from a different audition last month.
I have no idea if this is similar to how stand-up comics start out in the US but I wouldn't mind hearing about the system there. I'll keep you posted on the scene here. Now, I wonder what I'm going to perform this weekend...Ahhhh!
I'd like to explain a little more about the Yoshimoto theater before and how it differs from comedy clubs in the US. (I don't know about the clubs in other countries, sorry). The crowd is mostly old people, about 60 years old and up. The theater is very much like a movie theater--same chairs, same set up. Snacks are sold in the lobby. The only alcohol you can get is beer. But the tradition is to eat lunch before the show (if it's a matinee) in the theater.
A postscript from Chavez: after the above was submitted:
By the way, I stopped doing my stand-up routines at the Yoshimoto theater here because it really took up an incredible amount of time!! I enjoyed it while I did it though and it was a great experience. It made me realize how one comedy piece can be expressed in so many different ways (with a lot of tweeking)! Cheers
About the author:
Amy Chavez lives in Japan and writes "Japan Lite" a weekly humor column in "The Japan Times." In Japan Lite Chavez dispels the myths and uncovers the real Japan in her informative, candid essays on Japan. One of "The Japan Times"' most popular columnists, Chavez explains all things Japanese, from Shingon Buddhism to why praying mantises ride the bullet train to Tokyo.
Read her book: Japan, Funny Side Up
The stand-up scene here in Australia I think is very similar to the US. You hang-out at the comedy clubs, you try your stuff at the open microphone nights and keep plugging away. Most of the stand-up comedy clubs are in Melbourne, which doesn't help me because I'm not.
Stand up is generally not considered a "real job" compared to say, whale hunting or lumber jacking. I heard a stand-up comic here interviewed about his upbringing on a farm. He said that his father went to see his show in the city for the first time just recently, and all his father could say was "I can't believe you get paid to do that".
Finding markets seems like a slow process. I've been submitting jokes to a newspaper. I've had jokes published in an Australian newspaper because I stumbled across the fact that they requested submissions, so I was lucky. Scouring other newspapers I have not found any obvious place for jokes.
Also, the standup comedians I've met generally look too poor to pay a writer. Fortunately for me, the other day I was introduced to a Sydney-based comic and he said he's happy to receive jokes from me, "and I'll pay you for any that I use." Whoa! I wasn't expecting him to initiate paying me any money, particularly since he just told me that he plays his saxophone on street corners to earn extra income.
In Australia we get a lot of acts coming from North America and the UK, plus recently one of those "gross-out" acts from Japan. From my POV, generally the UK acts have more of an absurdist bent compared to the US acts, which are more observational.
This is a huge generalization, and is probably skewed by who travels here to perform. The Australians are mixed bag. Probably because I've seen quite a few, I think they're not as good as the North Americans or UK acts, but then like television, we only get to see the best exports. There is a trend here for "new Australians" (Vietnamese, Chinese, etc.) to do stand-up and they are excellent at making cross-cultural observations.
There's a large comedy festival held here about May every year called "The Melbourne Comedy Festival". It seems to be up there with the Montreal and Edinburgh comedy festivals. It's strange that the US doesn't have one, (but then again maybe they do and it's called "Congress")
Then Chavez queried:
Marcus, you seem to know more about it than I do! I really don't know about the apprentice thing but it sounds Japanese. Comedy is definitely legit here but I never realized it wasn't considered so in other places. I've always thought of it as just another part of the entertainment world.
Could you explain the "gross-out" acts? I don't believe I'm familiar with this. Maybe it's strictly an import?
Off the top of my head I can't remember the name of the group. They were four young men who wore bizarre clothes & wigs and yelled a lot in Japanese and English. They would do strange things with their bodies and other objects, e.g. blow cigarette smoke out of their ears, put a ferret down their pants, etc.
And Chavez commented:
Yes, that's definitely Japanese! Wigs and costumes are par for the course. Big bow ties are especially in. Japanese manzai teams always hit each other too. It's a slap on the side of the head, done with the flat palm of the hand so as not to hurt the person. It's not a sideways slap, but one that is angled up, again, so as not to hurt the other person.
It's seen as a kind of "affectionate" form of touching (since the Japanese don't really touch each other otherwise) and I often see teachers do it to high school students. I still can't get used to it though.
About the author:
Marcus Amann is an Australian freelance writer and comedy writer. To query him for writing assignments, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
I imagine, though our Australian friends can advise, that like Australia, getting onto a stage in Canada is not easy. Especially if you're outside of the three largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) where open mike nights largely don't exist.
Being a standup in Canada is very grueling work due to the size of the country and with it's population spread far and wide. Lots of travel, lots of less than optimum standup locations. I'm personally hoping to come at the comedy thing from the writing side as opposed to standup here in Canada.
Japan sounds interesting with its apprenticeship system. Sounds like it's more helpful to aspiring comics than "western" nations, not as focused on "survival of the fittest."
About the author:
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Most of the above correspondence was first published in "HumorWriting", an eGroups list.
To subscribe, send any email (no message or subject line needed since it is all handled by computer and no human reads it) to: HumorWritingemail@example.com
The list is moderated by Chandra K. Clarke, author of the course Humor Writing: The Art of Being Funny. She is also the author of the weekly column, In My Humble Opinion at http://www.chandrakclarke.com/
I then published this request in a few issues of ComedyClubDiaries: In the US, comics usually start in the biz by going to open mikes. This is stage time offered by club owners without regard to any qualifying talent level. (Basically a way to get an evening's worth of 'entertainment' without having to pay for talent). The comics progress to showcases and then to paid bookings
I want to print an essay on breaking into comedy from the perspective of other countries with a paragraph or two about the break-in procedure of each foreign country that I have info on. I would appreciate it if someone would send me a paragraph or two off-list about the typical break-in procedures - from first time on stage to first paying gig - for UK and/or Scotland, Ireland or any other country you may be familiar with.
Mike Loder, a New Zealand comedian responded with the piece below.
Auckland has now had a full time comedy club for a few years. Others come and go. Most serious acts make their way to Auckland. It is now the comedy capital.
The 'open mike' night, isn't. It has pros trying the new stuff and top level rookies doing their very best stuff to be noticed. Spots are much in demand. They have introduced a 'raw' night for the truly fresh acts. They go from there to open to pro night. Then move up the ranks.
Our comedyfest is huge and many new acts will band together for a show to get more stage time and experience. There are a few jam nights around town where a comic can perform with poets, musicians, etc.
These are useful, but not the ideal environment for growing a set and the talent to deliver it. As any comic will tell you the only way to get good, stay good and grow is stage time. Artists will often produce their own nights or one off events out of frustration at the lack of work.
Unfortunately kiwi artists really need to head overseas to meet their potential. I'm doing 20 fests in 6 countries this year. I'm popular back home, but would be lucky to get three shows a week. I need to travel to get the time I need.
Hope that helped. Cheers,
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And our last words on performing are from Marcus Amann again
Michael Booth in Vancouver sent me an article about stand-up comedy on the West Coast of Canada. Here's a few quotes from it that I liked. This is from "Make Me Laugh" article in "The Georgia Straight" - Vancouver's News and Entertainment Weekly. Volume 34 - Number 1700. Paul Palmer -
"When I started, all I ever wanted to be was a writer. Unfortunately, anyone who really needs a writer can generally not afford one..." David Bruce, about performing standup -
"That first time was the beginning of a very long journey beating fear. That's what it's all about. Basically, you're training your brain to think in that accelerated environment. Some people can do it naturally; some can't. I do it sort of naturally, but it's taken me a long time to learn how, and I still stumble now and then.
Jay Leno once said that standup is a 15-year program. Everyone wants to jump that, but you can't. You have to put that much time in."
Some of the above essays mention comedy festivals and coincidentally enough, one of our Australian subscribers, Christina Critch, is the Comedy Coordinator for the WA Fringe Festival in Perth Australia.
This year features the Inaugural Perth Comedy Season as Part of the 2001 WA Fringe Festival. For ten days beginning on the 15th of February, we will be showcasing some of Australia's best (Perhaps US subscribers might have heard of Sarah Kendall, Australian comedian performing in Los Angeles).
We will be having the obligatory stand-up competition, late night cabaret slots, and open mic slots, as well as improv shows and a plethora of local talent serving up their best.
For further information, visit website:http://www.theatre.asn.au/node/3150
BILL DARBY, Diversity Development - youth, regional & community, Level 1, 36-38 Pier Street
Perth, WA 6000
Phone: +(08) 9221 0333