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Owarai (お笑い) is a broad word used to describe Japanese comedy as seen on television. The word owarai is the honorific form of the word warai, meaning "a laugh" or "a smile". Owarai is most common on Japanese variety shows and the comedians are referred to as owarai geinin or owarai tarento . Presently[ when? ] Japan is considered to be in an "owarai boom", and many minor talents have been finding sudden fame after a gag or skit became popular.
Manzai (漫才), a traditional form of Japanese comedy that became the basis of many modern acts today, is characterized by a pair of usually older male comedians acting certain roles in a constant comedic battle against themselves. This tradition is continued in the acts of many modern talents. While there are many women talents, they are largely outnumbered by the men, and they tend to take more minor roles.
Whereas manzai performers traditionally wore kimono (traditional Japanese dress), these days a western suit is the outfit of choice for many owarai kombi (コンビ, combination; referring to a pair of comedians in a unit) and many talents who begin their careers performing in a style very similar to stand-up comedy, usually including aspects of manzai and conte.
Some minor characteristics include frequently used sound effects (cheap, old-fashioned sound effects are used intentionally for comic effect), dajare (ダジャレ, a Japanese-style pun), and dokkiri (ドッキリ, a hidden-camera prank like those seen in the popular American show Candid Camera ).
On television, most owarai geinin are introduced using their kombi name (e.g. Yoiko Hamaguchi) and some geinin even retain the name of their former groups after they have parted ways.
A few popular kombi include:
Many owarai units have names based on English words or phrases. Kombi are usually included as guests for shows, though some (namely Downtown, Cream Stew, and Ninety-nine) often act as hosts as well.
Some popular talents that usually don't perform in units are:
Of these, Sanma, Tamori, and Beat Takeshi are sometimes referred to collectively as the "big three" because of their massive popularity. Talents such as these often act as hosts for shows, or perform together in small or large groups, something almost unimaginable for most western comedians.
Japanese variety shows are the main outlet for most owarai geinin and along with drama and anime they are some of the most popular shows on Japanese television.
As a general term in Japan, "variety show" can refer to "straight" variety shows with an appropriate myriad of topics, segments, and games. It is also used for comedy oriented shows that focus more on stand-up and skits, and quiz/trivia type shows featuring comic elements. It is not to be expected that a variety show will always follow the same format, and guests from Japanese music and talent pools are frequent.
The variety style shows generally divided into segments of games, features, and "corners", some very short and some shows focusing (for a special episode) solely on one game or feature. Trivia, quiz, or game shows in Japan are often considered owarai as the contestants of such shows are often a mix of owarai geinin and other Japanese talents of various descriptions. Game shows without any famous characters playing the role of contestants are rare.
Of these sections and games, many can be seen recurring on a variety of shows all across Japan. It may even be possible to classify Japanese variety shows (or at least the individual sections of the shows) according to the following formats:
Some concepts of variety shows are consistent over most of Japanese television, though they may be considered quite different from those seen in the western world. Many shows are made up of what are called VTRs, or video segments, and are usually introduced with a hand gesture and the word dōzo (the implied meaning is "let's have a look"), though this procedure is usually made into a joke with strange gestures instead of the usual wave.
A few popular variety/comedy shows of varying contents are:
Manzai (漫才) is a traditional style in Japanese culture similar to double act comedy or stand-up comedy.
Sanma Akashiya is a Japanese comedian, TV presenter, radio personality and actor most commonly known as Sanma-san. His real name is Takafumi Sugimoto. His talent agency is Yoshimoto Kogyo and his shishô (master) back when he studied rakugo is Shōfukutei Matsunosuke.
Downtown is a Japanese comedy duo from Amagasaki, Hyōgo consisting of Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada. Formed in 1982, they are one of the most influential and prolific comedy duos in Japan today. They are best known for their stand-up acts, hosting numerous Japanese variety shows and their sarcastic, short-tempered stage personas.
Othello, is a female Japanese comedy duo (kombi) active from 1993 to 2013 who were also popular television talents and appeared frequently on Japanese variety shows.
Jichō Kachō (次長課長) is a Japanese comedy unit (kombi) consisting of two comedians, Jun'ichi Kōmoto (河本準一) and Satoshi Inoue (井上聡). Sometimes also known as Jikachō (次課長), they are one of the most popular owaraikombi coming from Yoshimoto Kōgyō in Tokyo. Their name literally means "Vice manager, Section manager", and is a reference to the titles of two visitors at the bar in which they were working part-time before they were discovered by Yoshimoto. They were originally a three-man group with the name Jichō Kachō Shachō (次長課長社長), or "Vice Manager, Section Manager, President", but after the third member of the group left, the name was reduced to its current version.
Summers (さまぁ〜ず) are a Japanese comedy duo under Horipro Inc., a large talent management company in Tokyo. Frequent guests on many Japanese variety and quiz shows, they are probably most famous as guests on the former late night conte show Uchimura Produce (Uchi-P) and for their regular appearances on Lincoln. Along with Teruyoshi Uchimura and the rest of the show's former guests, they were two members of the musical comedy group NO PLAN, which was disbanded in 2006.
NO PLAN is a Japanese konto style comedy group, and is also occasionally known for their music. The group is best known for appearing regularly on the late night owarai show, Uchimura Produce (内村プロデュース) until late 2005, when the show was cancelled. The group consists of 6 male members; Kazuki Ōtake and Masakazu Mimura of Summers, Red Yoshida and Golgo Matsumoto of TIM, Ryō Fukawa, and the leader of the group, the eminent Japanese comedian Teruyoshi Uchimura.
Teruyoshi Uchimura, half of the Japanese comedy duo Utchan Nanchan, is one of the most famous and influential comedians in the owarai community. His nickname is Utchan ("Wutchan"), and his partner, Kiyotaka Nanbara, is known as Nanchan. He was born on July 22, 1964 in Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto. Though he has worked for years as a comedian, he has also shown talent as an actor and dramatic performer. He is well known as the leader of the owarai band NO PLAN.
The following glossary of words and terms are related to owarai. Many of these terms may be used in areas of Japanese culture beyond comedy, including television and radio, music. Some have been incorporated into normal Japanese speech.
Ninety-nine, or Nainai (ナイナイ) is a Japanese comic duo from Osaka working for the entertainment conglomerate Yoshimoto Kogyo. The duo (kombi), consisting of Takashi Okamura as boke (stooge) and Hiroyuki Yabe as tsukkomi (straightman), formed in 1990.
Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!, often abbreviated Gaki no Tsukai (ガキの使い) or just Gaki Tsuka (ガキ使), is a Japanese variety show hosted by popular Japanese owarai duo, Downtown, with comedian Hōsei Tsukitei and owarai duo Cocorico co-hosting. The program has been broadcast on Nippon TV since its pilot episode on October 3, 1989 and continues to this day, celebrating its 1000th episode on April 18, 2010. The program currently broadcasts on Nippon TV and its regional affiliates from 23:25 until 23:55 JST.
Rozan (ロザン) is a Japanese comedy (manzai) duo (kombi) from Osaka consisting of Hirofumi Suga as boke and Fuminori Ujihara as tsukkomi under the entertainment agency, Yoshimoto Kogyo. Formed in 1996, they are best known for their stand-up acts and TV tarento activities in variety and quiz shows. Ujihara is known as one of the most competitive quiz show contestants.
Taka and Toshi is a Japanese manzai (stand-up) comedy duo (kombi) from Sapporo consisting of Takahiro Suzuki a.k.a. "Taka" as boke and Toshikazu Miura a.k.a. "Toshi" as tsukkomi. They are under contract to the entertainment agency, Yoshimoto Kogyo. Formed in 1994, they are best known for their stand-up acts and as TV tarentos in variety shows.
Cream Stew (くりぃむしちゅー) is the name of a Japanese comedy kombi consisting of two comedians, Shinya Ueda (上田晋也) and Teppei Arita (有田哲平). Originally from Kumamoto city, the pair first met in high school when Arita and Ueda found a common interest in pro wrestling. Both of them attended Waseda and Rikkyo Universities, but dropped out to pursue comedy.
Hōsei Tsukitei, formerly known as Hōsei Yamasaki is a Japanese solo comedian and rakugo performer, signed with Yoshimoto Kogyo. He is best known for being one of the five members of Downtown Gaki no Tsukai's regular cast. His role on the show is usually divided up between the suberi-kyara and the ijime-kyara.
Hironari "Zakiyama" Yamazaki is a Japanese comedian. He belongs to the talent agency Production Jinrikisha.
Riho Kotani, better known by her stage name Riho Miaki is a member of the Japanese idol group Yoshimotozaka46 and a former member of the idol girl group NMB48. She is a former member of NMB48's Team N, and a former member of AKB48.
Chidori is a Japanese comedy duo (kombi) consisting of Daigo (だいご) and Nobu (ノブ). They are employed by Yoshimoto Kogyo, a comedian and talent agency based in Tokyo. Both were graduates of the 21st generation from the Yoshimoto NSC Osaka Comedy School.
Nakagawake is a Japanese comedy duo (kombi) consisting of Reiji (礼二) and Tsuyoshi (剛). Reiji and Tsuyoshi are actual brothers and their last name is Nakagawa, hence their unit name Nakagawake. They are employed by Yoshimoto Kogyo, and are mainly active in Tokyo. They have appeared in many television shows and are the winners of the 1st M-1 Grand Prix in 2001
Shimofuri Myojo is a Japanese comedy duo (kombi) consisting of Seiya (せいや) and Soshina (粗品). They are employed by Yoshimoto Kogyo, and are mainly active in Tokyo and Osaka. Although they did not attend Yoshimoto NSC, their debut coincides with the 33rd generation class from Osaka. They are the winners of the 14th M-1 Grand Prix in 2018.