Got Japanese Humor?

Monday, 24 Apr, 2017

I like comedy, because I like to laugh, and because there’s already a lot of serious stuff in life. What about in Japan?

Japan has some interesting comedy or “owarai” styles that are good to know for learners of Japanese. It might be really, really esoteric to those who don’t speak any Japanese, but if you’re trying to get from intermediate to advanced any language, listen to comedy in that language.

Japan has some types of humor such as performed styles manzai, rakugo, or konto, and written styles like senryu.

Manzai (漫才) acts are almost always a “double act” pair like Abbott and Costello, and it’s characterized by rapid fire talk, back and forth between a “tsukkomi” straight man, and a “boke” funny man. The M-1 Grand Prix was a great Manzai act competition. Manzai acts I like are Waraimeshi (“double boke” style switching the boke role between them), Tutorial (delusional “wild idea” style) and Slim Club (extra slow delivery).

Rakugo (落語) is traditionally a lone seated comic, performed with a fan as a prop, with an emphasis on a story. After the success of M-1 Grand Prix for manzai acts, single-performer acts got features on the “R-1 Grand Prix”. The R comes from Rakugo, even though these acts are usually pretty far removed from traditional rakugo.

Konto (コント) are skit performances, sometimes quite elaborate and funny. They remind me of the ones Carol Burnett and her troupe used to do on TV.

Senryu (川柳) especially “Salaryman Senryu” are haiku-like poems which riff on daily life.

Well if you’re a learner of Japanese and interested in this, just search online for the above words.

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