Sunday, January 11, 2009

Laughs & Rock At Hardcore Chocolate

For the past few years Japan has been going through a comedy boom that has given birth to a slew of comedians as TV personalities, some of them deservedly becoming famous, others not so much so. What the Japanese call 'owarai'—comic entertainment—is pretty different, though, from its Western counterpart. You don't see a lot of one-person standup comedy, and politics usually isn't a major theme. Instead, the dominant owarai style is two-person acts called manzai. These duos deal with myriad subjects in their acts, but the most common seems to be funny or twisted takes on everyday things. One guy acts as the fool, the boke, saying outrageous things, while the partner, the tsukkomi, tries to bring the discussion back down to earth, by correcting what the boke says, expressing disbelief, etc. (a lot of head-slapping is typically involved).

For example, in this video below, there's only one comedian—Jinnai Tomonori, whose biggest claim to fame is he married the ex-Miss Japan celebrity Fujiwara Norika—but it could be said that the zombies play the role of boke, while Jinnai is the tsukkomi:

Sometimes, Japanese comedy can be truly off the wall. Razzy Queen, would certainly be one example.

I saw the transvestite comic trio Razzy Queen, pictured at the top, at the Shinjuku Loft as part of an event called Hardcore Chocolate that mixed rock shows and comedy routines. It's not easy to describe Razzy Queen's act, but here's an attempt: the big, black-faced Razzy Queen, apparently called 'Cherry', takes the stage. Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' comes on. At the moment that Freddie Mercury sings 'mama~', Cherry whips out a package of cheap Mama spaghetti. He takes out the dry noodles, and takes off his frilly green skirt. He sticks the spaghetti between his butt and bikini. Then, at key song moments, Cherry jumps up, and with the force of his butt muscles, breaks the bunch of noodles into two.

In another part of Razzy Queen's act, Cherry strings a long rubber band through his nose holes, and gets a volunteer in the audience to pull and then, after a dramatic count-down, release the cord.


I was expecting Hardcore Chocolate to be a punk event, so was surprised to find that the audience was for the most part conservatively dressed, and there were lots of girls too. Owarai seems to be popular with Japanese women.

Probably the most 'normal' act of the night was a hard rock group amusingly named Who the Bitch, comprising two girls on guitar and bass, and a guy drummer. They were a fun, tight band.

The final act was my beloved Asakusa Jinta, whose retro Japanese/punk/horns&explosive ska bass performance was all-out as always. The crowd wasn't as big as usual, though, maybe because Shinjuku isn't their home turf, and the advanced tickets at Y3,000 was a little pricier than usual. (Vocalist/bassist Osho semi-joked that Asakusa, on the east end of Tokyo, is pretty different from Shinjuku, on the west side, that average incomes are lower in his part of town.) Although I don't dive into mosh pits much these days, I found myself missing all the action, like it wasn't a true Asakusa Jinta gig unless the youth all get overexcited at the end and hop and bump into each other. But then, lo and behold, during the final songs a few kids started slam-dancing, restoring normalcy. It's a strange thing that can be annoying when it happens, but you sorta miss it when it doesn't...

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