Working Adults Take Up Comedy as Hobby, Develop Skills Useful in Workplace

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Amateur manzai teams gather at a competition in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 2.

It’s championship night at the Za-Koenji Public Theatre in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, and the 12 duos are prepared to make ’em laugh. But these performers of manzai — the traditional two-person comedy acts featuring fast-paced dialogue — are not doing this for a living.

They work at advertisement companies, on assembly lines or in various other jobs. These wannabe Beat Takeshis represent a growing trend of working adults who are trying their hand at stand-up comedy as a new form of leisure-time pursuit.

In Tokyo, more comedy venues are holding manzai contests for these performers, some of whom have joined a community club where they can get advice from professional comedians. Some see the experience as helping to hone skills useful in their current jobs, while others participate just for the fun of it. The weekend becomes the time to sharpen their acts.

At the “Shakaijin Manzai-Oh” (king of working adult manzai) competition at the Za-Koenji Public Theatre on Dec. 2, the 12 finalist teams repeatedly sent the audience of about 250 into fits of laughter.

Taking the top prize was the the comedy duo Botsukikaku, who had first hooked up as members of Owarai Dojo O-keis, a student club for comedy at Keio University.

The “tsukkomi,” or straight man in the act, uses the stage name Kodama. Now 31, his involvement in comedy ended when he started working in 2015.

After hearing about the competition through social media, he thought, “So there’s a place where a person who is working can perform manzai.” He entered for the first time in 2022.

“After I joined the workforce, I never thought I would have the chance to receive so much laughter and applause,” Kodama said regarding his victory.

Skills useful in business

One annual competition has seen the number of participants swell from 70 teams at its inception in 2019 to 164 in 2023.

Gakuto Nakamura, 33, who heads an IT company in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, reached the semifinals on his second attempt at the event organized by the Shakaijin Owarai Kyokai (working adult comedy association), a general incorporated association based in the ward.

Nakamura finds it interesting to analyze what works and what doesn’t in his comedy routines. “There are things that can work in marketing,” he said. “What I learn as a comic can be applied to business.”

Yoshihiro Okuyama, 29, representative director of the Shakaijin Owarai Kyokai, said, “Performing comedy is attracting a lot of attention as a hobby among working people.”

Okuyama himself was a member of student comedy club at university. After graduating, he worked in sales at a major electronics manufacturer.

“If you have the courage to try your bits in front of more than 100 people, it won’t be so tough to deliver a sales pitch,” Okuyama said. “The ability to come up with comedy bits transfers into project planning prowess. Comedy and business skills have much in common.”

Each at their own pace

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A member of the Kusa Owarai Community club performs in front of other members in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 17.

In a Tokyo church on Dec. 17 last year, members of the Kusa Owarai Community were busy working on their schticks.

The group, which meets in Senju-Asahicho district of Adachi Ward, has about 30 members from various walks of life — company employees, teachers, nursing care workers. The “kusa” is the same word used to denote sandlot baseball, and the group’s aim is to produce the same laid-back atmosphere.

On this day, about 10 members of both sexes ranging from their 20s to 60s try out their bits on each other. It is not limited to manzai. There are also vaudevillan-like turns of phrase in the format known as “ogiri,” in which the participants are judged on witty comments on a presented subject.

The club is led by Nobuo Yajima, 36, of the comedy duo Oshieruzu, which conducts comedy workshops primarily at schools and companies. He started the club in 2019 after a friend expressed a wish to “study comedy to learn the art of entertaining others.”

During the pandemic, the club’s activities were limited to being on line, but resumed in person in July 2022. They meet once a month to share their acts and gain advice from the Oshieruzu.

Each member participates at their own pace. Some use the club as a launchpad for a serious shot at the comedy world, such as making it to the M-1 Grand Prix, the Super Bowl of manzai that includes professionals. Others forego competition and just enjoy comedy as a hobby.

Yukari Okubo, a 29-year-old pharmacist, prefers the ogiri style. “I like thinking up funny things, but it’s tough to come up with bits and perform them in front of an audience,” Okubo said. “It’s better to be involved in a laid-back format.”

Said Yajima, “I don’t think as a hobby it has become mainstream yet, but I’d like to lower the hurdle for performing comedy and help establish it as something that anyone can enjoy.”