Comedy Education for the Gifted! Behind the Scenes of the Controversial Battle Show “Waratama
A comedy show for children with an OA time of “10 minutes”…
Waratama Dokka-ne” is a children’s comedy program that has been broadcast on E-television since 2017. Although it is a short 10-minute program, it features a wide range of comedians, from young comedians like Yonchitoushin to veterans like Tetsu & Tomo. The program also features unique matchup selections such as Yoshio Kojima vs. Identity. We asked the show’s producer about the impetus for the program’s creation and the selection of its performers.
The impetus came from a former producer of “Tensai Terebi-Kun” who wanted to “let children play ball tossing.
–What was the impetus behind the start of “Waratama Dokkahn”?
Megumi Goto (hereafter, Goto): “There are many so-called adult circumstances involved in the creation of the program, so I don’t have a particularly deep reason… (chuckles).
About six years ago, the producer of “Tensai Terebikun” asked me if I would be interested in doing a children’s ball-entry show. I was asked by the producer of “Tensai Terebikku” at the time. He had seen a scene in a New Year’s show where the performers were happily playing tama-nage, and he thought it would be fun to have children do the same thing.
The theme of the program was not to just watch and enjoy the story, but to have the children participate by thinking about which was funnier and playing tama-nage by themselves. And finally, we ended up with the style we have now, which is more pop-like than Yose.
–Was the broadcast time of 9 minutes (at that time) decided at that point?
Yuri Murata (Murata): “Let’s Tensai Terebikun,” which was being broadcast at the time, had a 10-minute two-part slot, and until then they had been showing animation and other programs.
Goto: “So there was no room to choose the air time, and it was decided from the beginning. However, if you think of it as a general storytelling program, it may not be long enough, but short stories were popular at the time, and I thought that about 3 minutes for one story was just right, not too short and not too long.
And during busy mealtime hours, parents would feel more comfortable showing their children a program that they can watch in a flash.
–Goto: “I’m often told this, but I’m not sure if it’s a reflection of the “Bakusho On Air Battle” or not.
Goto: “I am often told this, but I am not conscious of it at all. I was the only one in the “Waratama” production team who was involved in “Bakusho On Air Battle,” but the idea for “Waratama” came from the producer of “Tensai Terebikun,” which had nothing to do with “On Air Battle,” and the structure and flow of the program are completely different. It is true that the voting is the same for the “balls,” but… (chuckles)”
Murata: “Momino-san, a former member of Child Machine who used to appear on Ombato as a comedian, has now joined us as a broadcaster for this program, and a while after the program started, we had a section where the children would tell us what was wrong. This part of the program may have had a little element of “On Bato.
Goto: “Also, sometimes people say that the studio set resembles that of “IPPON Grand Prix” (Fuji TV), but I wasn’t conscious of this at all…. We were discussing how we didn’t want the set to look too childish, and then someone said, “The movie Kill Bill is cool, so why not make it look like that? We decided on a set with black and yellow as the base color.
The reason for the unique matchup cards is “almost 100% adult (laughs).”
–Goto: “I’m sorry, but there really is no deep reason for this one either.
Goto: “Here, too, I am sorry, but there really is no particularly deep reason…. The recording sessions are generally held on Saturdays and Sundays in order to have children participate, but since most of the comedians’ business is on Saturdays and Sundays, it is difficult to get popular comedians to appear on the program. In some cases, we have to ask them about three months in advance to get them to appear.
So it is not easy to say, “We would like to ask these two groups to appear in the program on which day it will be broadcast. Occasionally, we have a showdown between the M-1 champions, but this is really just a coincidence.
Murata: “Also, even though it’s a serious competition, we try to slightly shift the lineups and genres so that it doesn’t turn into a manzai vs. manzai or a stiff competition in the same lineup. Also, we have a young dancers’ showdown session about once every three weeks, and sometimes we think about the content of the showdown a little more. But in the end, my schedule comes first.
–What are you aware of in terms of differences from comedy shows for adults?
Goto: “Personally, I think that NG is the strictest program on NHK. It is broadcast at mealtime, and the basic concept of the program is that parents and children can watch it together in peace, so of course, there are no vulgar jokes, no hard slapping, no foul language, and no teasing that might lead to bullying.
Murata: “We don’t allow nudity or anything that makes poor use of food. So I think we are really inconveniencing the comedians…. However, they have been very creative in creating new characters and stories for “Waratama,” so they have really helped us out. But whether that will be popular with the children or not is another matter…”
— that’s a little sad….
Goto: “There are people who take a certain story and rework it for children, but this is quite difficult…. If you make it too close to children, they might see right through it.
Murata: “In the “no-no” corner I mentioned earlier, I had a child in the lower grades of elementary school say, ‘I could tell you were trying to make the children laugh,’ and there was another child who said, ‘This setting is not realistic.
On the contrary, some said, ‘Will the children understand?’ On the other hand, there are times when we get a good laugh with material that is not at all child-friendly, as if we were worried, “Will the children understand? We don’t know what is going to be popular either.
A special program was born out of the “Dame-dashi” corner, in which the children’s harsh opinions were shared!
Goto: “The children’s “Dame-dashi” corner was so popular that a special program called “Clinic for Children’s Stories! The children’s “Noeses” corner was so popular that a special program called “Children’s Story Clinic” was born.
In this program, children pretend to be doctors and give advice on how to make a comedian’s material more popular with children.
We would love to have courageous comedians appear on this show as well (laughs).
(Laughs) — What kind of program do you want for children in the future?
Goto: “This is going to sound serious, but… it’s really nice to see children laughing. Since Corona, we have not been able to record in the regions, but this year we were able to record shows in Yamagata and Fukushima prefectures.
When the comedian said to the audience during a story, “Let’s all do it together! and more than 500 people, regardless of whether they were children or adults, did the same moves and gags together. They seemed to really enjoy it. I realized that despite the many restrictions imposed by Corona, this is what the children had been waiting for, and it was at this time that I realized once again that NHK must create programs that bring laughter to children all over Japan.
Murata: “Last year, I also recorded “Waratama” during NHK’s SDGs event, and for the first time in a long time, I voted in a ball game. I asked the children to throw the balls in the bucket without moving from their seats, and their eyes were shining and they seemed to really enjoy it. After the recording, I received a lot of comments like, “The ball-throwing was so much fun! After the recording, I got a lot of comments like, “The ball tossing was so much fun! I hope the day when we can record in the studio will come soon.
Goto: “I was once told by a veteran comedian (who used to be active on “On Bato”) who appears on “Waratama” that the children don’t remember his name these days, and that he is called “the guy from Waratama.
Children grow up faster than expected, and it is as if a generation changes after two or three years. Even veteran comedians who once created a huge boom are probably new comedians to today’s children. And for their parents, it is a program that they can watch with nostalgia. I hope to support the young comedians who will be active in the future, of course, but I also hope that many stars will be born, including those who make a comeback.”
Interview and text by： Motoko Abekawa
Motoko Abegawa works as a freelance writer mainly for the web. She is also involved in the production of books and corporate PR magazines. She does not specialize in any particular field, but covers a wide range of topics that intrigue her, including history, comedy, health, beauty, travel, gourmet food, and nursing care.
Photography： Shiori Bansho