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A show that makes you cry is the same as one that makes you laugh because both invite you into unique outlooks on life.

A show that makes you cry is the same as one that makes you laugh because both invite you into unique outlooks on life.

By Focal Point in Parentheses

This year's manzai M-1 Grand Prix winner, the comedy duo Nishikigoi, is a riot. Following manzai tradition, they wear suits, but Takashi Watanabe, the tsukkomi (straight man), wears dark apparel: a black jacket and pants (navy blue at times) with a shirt and tie to go with the venue. Meanwhile, Masanori Hasegawa, the boke (funny man), always dresses almost completely in white.

The bald Hasegawa, clad in a white suit (including his tie and shoes) adds the unexpected element of a black shirt, perhaps a metaphor to express that even when he says nothing, his features are enough to make you laugh. He has an intense type of body language that makes his performance akin to a one-man act. He is by no means physically limited by the fact that the microphone is fixed in one place. His pure white costume stands out, and with his quirky movements and running about, it seems that the whole stage is his playground.

However, the greatest aspect of his work is not his exaggerated style of speech and movement but his adept understanding of when to hold back and keep quiet. Such times are for his partner to make wisecracks, expand on punchlines, and pat his head (which is also an art in itself in terms of timing and degree of force); these pauses also give the audience a chance to laugh and slow down to thoroughly take in each joke.

These two are the oldest winners of the competition. Their brilliance lies in how they play off each other's speech while going ridiculously far at times, maintaining their facial expressions and tones of voice despite the drop of a punchline, and keeping control of the show's overall tempo and how the audience feels.

Manzai, which has evolved from tradition, might be the simplest form of the double act. Two people in suits speak into a microphone without the need for a special background or props: pure speech.

The back and forth is not just about making the audience laugh: The tempo of the speech and placement of punchlines is critical—too many punchlines can actually take away from the whole. A major challenge is the fact that the duo has to get the audience laughing and communicate their message on the world within a very short period of time.

Manzai is actually just like a serious drama or any other kind of performing art in that it tells a story that draws the audience in, though its main purpose is to make the audience laugh.

Everyone loves a good story, but since the world is full of stories, how do you get audiences to listen to yours? Since time immemorial, people around the world have come up with many ways to tell stories precisely for this reason. George Lucas once said there are really only 25 stories in the world and that all the people who tell stories have simply redone, transformed, or elaborated on these 25 to get the new generation to listen to them.

One of the purposes of these 25 stories is to get people to laugh, hence the comedy genre, which can be divided into a diversity of subtypes. Japan might have some of the world's most incisive comedy.

The diversity of comedic art forms in Japan, including manzai (for which the annual M-1 Grand Prix offers prize money of 10 million yen), rakugo (a one-person storytelling act), and conte (sketches which can be as big as stage performances; this form too has a 10-million-yen competition, called King of Conte), are all strongly rooted into the nation's culture.

However, the values transmitted by the stories related in these acts change over the ages. Something that may have been loved by the previous generation is not necessarily something the new generation can relate to. The stories need to connect to the current audience's lives. Relating details from everyday life stories is a way to get an emotional reaction (usually laughter). Though the stories change with the times, the good ones are able to touch one to the core, which is something that does not change with time.

For example, let's look at rakugo, which is similar in spirit to comic dialogue except that there is only one performer.

The storyteller (rakugoka) respectfully sits in the seiza position (formal kneeling) while holding a fan (or handkerchief) and begins to tell the story. This art form, which began in the Edo period (1603 – 1867), has a number of established works, and the storyteller can modify the scope of the story as desired. challenge is to narrate a story that has been told for centuries in a vivid way that will bring the audience to see the world from the perspective expressed in the story.

For instance, in the famous story Disgusting Steamed Buns, the protagonist takes the initiative to tell everyone, "The thing I hate most is steamed buns!" Someone brings along a large quantity of the buns to see how repelled he will be, but instead, he happily stuffs himself. It turns out he had purposely spoken with irony— he in fact loves steamed buns! This outcome, completely different from the audience's expectation, is what makes them laugh.

Of course, steamed buns are no longer the staple they used to be (by the way, steamed buns were first made during the Muromachi period, which was from 1336 to 1573), but the irony in the storyteller's speech makes it funny, and with the worldview shared, we get the humor and subtlety even though certain aspects are no longer part of our modern daily lives.

In 2005, Kankurō Kudō wrote the TV drama Tiger and Dragon based on rakugo, adapting allegorical classics to scenarios of modern Japanese society. Neither the structure nor meaning changed, but in writing his scripts, he extracted the essence of these centuries-old stories, bringing new life to them.

In one episode, a man has offended a gang leader, so the gang leader sends one of his goons to the man's wedding to cause trouble. When the gangster hears that the bride hates comedians who tell off-color jokes, he smiles sinisterly and invites such a comedian to the wedding. The comedian takes the stage at the wedding and says that just by looking at the bride, he can tell she likes vulgar jokes. It ends in a way that leaves both the groom and the gang leader happy.

The skill here is not only the new rendering of an old story but the placement of the original content into another mode of storytelling. Such transformation is more enjoyable and understandable for a modern audience.

When talking about comedy that reflects the present day, we can also look at Shigei Kaneko's Life's Punchline, a 2021 TV show that incorporates conte.

In the plot of the show, after ten years of hard work, a three-person comedy team decides to go their separate ways. Having experienced so much together during that decade that seemed like a long happy summer vacation, they realized that the sketches they had co-created were vehicles of their own joys, sorrows, pain, and memories.

Through the medium of comedy, Kaneko had his four popular 28-year-old actors (Masaki Suda, Kasumi Arimura, Taiga Nakano, and Ryūnosuke Kamiki) present the struggle of the younger generation to succeed and avoid failure and how they deal with self-identity and hard work. Each show relates how they are getting along in their pursuits.

This type of comedy, which has been a huge hit in Japan, will be available to Taiwanese audiences at Weiwuying's Showtime series in the latter half of 2022.

Weiwuying's LaughTime has invited comedy acts in three formats: the manzai group Dacon.come, Our Theatre's Hoklo-language adaptations of Guy de Maupassant's of Aux Champs and La Revanche, and stand-up and sketches by Live Comedy Club Taipei.

Dacon.come, who have garnered a small following in Taiwan, have chosen three classic sketches for their Weiwuying show Cool Off the Summer Heat with Laughter. Our Theatre, a Hoklo-language performance group strongly established in Chiayi, and the band 7PM will incorporate local folk culture into Maupassant's classics. Live Comedy Club Taipei, who have developed the American-style talk show culture in Taiwan, will provide an unlimited amount of good fun with stand-up comedy, comic takes on current affairs, and sketches.

Whether done as dialogue, group performances, or sketches, and whether in the format of manzai, reinterpretations of old works, or skits on current affairs, these three performance groups invite Weiwuying's viewers to look laughingly at the world from different viewpoints.


Learn More:

2022 Weiwuying Showtime

【Weiwuying Showtime】Dacon.come Live Comedy - Cool Off the Summer Heat with Laughter


#1. M-1 Grand Prix: An annual manzai competition with several thousand contestants held by the Japanese entertainment conglomerate Yoshimoto Kogyo. Besides being awarded ten million yen, the winners also gain massive exposure in the entertainment sector and invitations to perform on numerous programs. It is Japan's largest-scale comedy contest.

#2. Manzai: A traditional form of Japanese comedy usually consisting of two people, a tsukkomi (straight man) and a boke (funny man). The former poke's fun at the latter's stupidity, the comedy arising from their verbal interaction.

#3. Rakugo: A traditional form of Japanese comedy which began in the Edo period (1603 – 1867). The storyteller (rakugoka) respectfully sits in the seiza position (formal kneeling) and tells the story in a vivid way with a reserved repertoire of gestures and simple props.

#4. Kankurō Kudō: Japanese screenwriter, film director, actor, and guitarist. In 1999, he began writing scripts for a TV series. In 2010, he won a great honor in Japanese screenwriting, the Kuniko Mukōda Award, for the TV show Conceited Detective. His most well-known screenwriting work includes Ikebukuro West Gate Park, Tiger and Dragon, Ama Chan, and Saving My Stupid Youth.

#5. Shigei Kaneko: Japanese screenwriter. He began in the industry after winning the grand prize for the Fuji Screenwriting Competition in 2004. His most well-known work includes Operation Love, Summer Nude, and The Most Difficult Romance. In 2019, he won a great honor in Japanese screenwriting, the Kuniko Mukōda Award, for the TV show My Story Is Long.



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