“The Rise of “Hybrid Comedians” Who “Inspired Me
Kazuji Takasa and Takafumi Ozeki of The Geese have participated in the “King of Comedies,” a competition to determine the best comedian in Japan, since its inception and have made it to the finals four times. Although they are both talented performers, they are still specialists who continue to pursue the possibilities of comedy, such as holding their first live manzai performance this year and OZEKI’s challenge to perform a pin-neta live.
These two stoic performers must know more than anyone else about the changes in the King of Comedy competition and the changes in comedy itself. We asked them to tell us all about why this year’s competition was so exciting, the relationship between the material and the judging system, and the differences in comedy creation between East and West, and between different generations.
Why was this year’s King of Contrast so exciting?
–The Geese Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the finals of this year’s King of Contrast. However, some people said that you were “the most popular” in the second block of the semifinals.
Ozeki: To be honest, I had that feeling, but …….
Takasa: No, no, no, it’s already out there (laughs). (laughs) There are two days for the semi-finals, and the response on the first day was better than I expected. The first day was better than I thought it would be. I used my body a lot, and maybe I’ll do it again in the future.
Ozeki: It’s like, “If you hit it, it might be big. It was like striking out or hitting a home run.
Takasa: That’s when I hit it. The ball flew pretty far, so I thought, “Oops! But the second day was not so good.
Ozeki: It was really frustrating, but I’ll take it as a result. However, I’m very happy to hear people say, “It looks like you were popular in the semifinals.
The tournament itself was very exciting this year. What do you think was different from previous years?
Takasa: Of course, the previous years were great, but first of all, there was a lot of excitement with the new judges. Also, there were a lot of comedians from the younger generation in the finals, and there were a lot of theatrical comedies, so it was good that the competition flowed in a way that appreciated that. The audience was also great, and their laughter made it more exciting. I think all of these factors came together to make it a really good tournament.
Ozeki: Last year, when we competed, the world was in a really dark mood because of Covid-19. This year, we were able to see the light, and we were able to make a breakthrough. Also, there are more and more comedians with strong characters and proper structure. It’s like the best of all worlds, or a “hybrid comedian” type has emerged.
In the future, comedians who are mainly composed and don’t have much of a character, like us, will have a hard time. That’s why we have to work hard. I was inspired in a positive way.
“From “comedians judging comedians” to “judges judging comedians
The two of you made it to the finals of the first King of Comedy competition. At that time, it was a league competition, and the 100 comedians who were eliminated in the semifinals were judged. How does it feel to be judged by the comedians you fought with?
Takasa: It was a little scary. At the time, we were still in our fifth year of performing, and of course there were more senior comedians. Moreover, there was the rule that “comedians judge comedians”, which is not the case in the M-1 Grand Prix, so it wasn’t as if they were cheering us on out of hand.
Ozeki: All the seniors were looking at me like this (as if they were staring ahead). I still remember it. They were looking at me with scary eyes, and I was thinking, “Wow, he’s not smiling at all.
From the 2nd to the 6th show, the judges kept the same method of judging the comedians, and the total score of the two stories was used. The two of you made it to the final again in the 8th contest.
Ozeki: The year before that, Sisonne won the competition. Until that time, the judging was done by comedians, and there was a proper expert’s perspective. In other words, the evaluation was directly related to who was popular in the live performances and semi-finals. When it became a jury competition, the judges would judge based on the laughter of the audience, and I think that the view of the general audience would come out in the evaluation.
In the semi-finals, the reaction of the audience was very good. However, it was for the core audience who watch a lot of comedy, and that was quickly turned inside out. So the jury selection was a headwind for us in 2015. Of course, I was very happy to have my material seen by Matsumoto (Hitoshi) and others. That’s why I felt sad.
Takasa: Moreover, after the semifinals were over, the judging method was changed, so there was nothing we could do about it. The people who were popular in the semifinals all suffered badly in the finals. After that, the audience’s response was relatively good in 2018. However, Hanako, Chocolate Planet, and Saraba Seishun no Hikari were all very interesting. I still didn’t get much praise.
Ozeki: I guess we don’t have enough “people. Manpower, I mean. Of course, the composition is one thing, but they also see how interesting the people are. If you use video or play the harp, they might say, “You’re using tools.
Takasa: In terms of ranking, last year’s harp story was the best. Especially, Matsumoto-san unexpectedly appreciated it. This year, too, he bought the spirit of challenge of that guy, and the president of Nippon, who Matsumoto-san seems to like, didn’t grow unexpectedly. So maybe something is changing in Mr. Matsumoto.
Ozeki: I think he’s thinking more than before, and his judging is more holistic. In the past, I think they only evaluated the really funny comedies, but I think they are now including different elements. I don’t know, but it may be that the trend of the younger generation and the competition itself have changed as well.
Differences in Contrast Production between Osaka and Tokyo
You’ve made it to the finals four times between 2008 and 2020. Did you change some aspects of how you made your comedy to win the competition?
Takasa: Of course, we made some minor adjustments, such as shortening the time to five minutes, or widening the range of our comedy when it only resonated with a niche audience. But we don’t take any measures for the competition. We do our own live performances and choose the material that we think will work.
Ozeki: There are often comedians who do live performances to prepare for the competition, but in the end, it’s all about whether or not you can do an interesting story. It doesn’t matter if it’s the King of Comedy or not.
Takasa: From what I’ve heard, Kamaitachi analyzed the King of Konto and took on the challenge. That gives them an athletic feel, which is great. I think they’re ready for it.
Ozeki: There are a lot of places where they can play their stories. I think that’s typical of Yoshimoto, or maybe it’s in line with the M-1 Grand Prix.
Looking at the competition as a whole, from the 2nd edition of Tokyo03 to the 7th edition of Sisonne, Tokyo-based performers have won. Since then, there have been a number of notable wins by Tokyo-based comedians. What do you think is the reason for this?
Takasa: I think it’s because the semi-finals are held in Tokyo. That’s why people in Osaka feel like they’re away from home, and the Tokyo contenders have a simple advantage in terms of the number of panels.
Ozeki: Maybe there were more comedians in Tokyo than in Osaka. I have the impression that most of the comedians over there do about half manzai and half comedy, but there are more comedians here.
Takasa: I think that’s how Kaerutei and GAG made it to Tokyo. The same goes for the male trapeze artists. They have a culture of manzai, and I’ve heard that they don’t have a lot of audience for it.
Ozeki: Contrast was banned once. There was a story that only manzai was allowed to be performed at the Yoshimoto Manzai Theater.
— “Ametalk! (TV Asahi) “Yoshimoto Manzai Gekijo Geinin” also introduced that episode. What do you think are the differences in the way comedy is made in Osaka and Tokyo?
Ozeki: In the west, I think there is a strong culture of manzai. It’s more like a culture of doing things without any pretense. I think a lot of manzai actors say that they are embarrassed to play a different person when they enter a comedy act. I think that sense is stronger in the other side. Maybe the way of making and acting is different there.
Takasa: It’s true that there are a lot of possessive people in Tokyo. Like Robert Akiyama (Ryuji) and Jiro from Sisonne. I also think that theatrical comedy is something that people in Tokyo grew up with.
Ozeki: I wonder if that’s why Kansai comedians don’t do it. A long time ago, there were people who said, “I don’t like Tokyo culture,” and they might still be a little embarrassed to lean toward it.
Sound, lighting…the younger generation is becoming more theatrical
In this year’s King of Comedy, the finalists have become much younger. Do you feel that there is a difference in the way the two of you and the younger generation of comedians create comedy?
Takasa: There is a little bit. When we first entered the competition, Penalty and Instant Johnson were in the semi-finals, and there were many character comedies. We were a little bit stylish, so we felt like we were in the same class but in a different group.
Ozeki: At that time, theatrical comedy was frowned upon, or even seen as hostile. I think that was one of the reasons why there weren’t many people doing it, especially at Yoshimoto.
Takasa: It was like, “You’re so scary. I’ve heard that people like Shizuru and Rice have changed dramatically since their 9th year at Tokyo NSC, but at the time there were very few Yoshimoto members. At that time, there weren’t many Yoshimoto artists. But now, they have transcended the barriers and have become one. I have the impression that the quality of the comedy has become very high.
Ozeki: Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching the Internet, but the structure of the show is very well done. That’s why I feel that there are many people who rely on music and sound, although I wouldn’t call that a weakness. In the semifinals, there were a lot of people who used music. I think they tend to use music because they know how to easily get people excited. I think the last part of the air stairs was good because it was necessary, but I also felt that there were a lot of young people using it too much.
Takasa: Maybe it’s becoming more theatrical.
Ozeki: And if you ask, Yoshimoto-san will make it for you. I hope it’s really effective, but I think we tend to use it as one of many techniques.
Takasa: The idea of doing things without using too many tools has led to the use of more and more theatrical devices such as sound and lighting. Does that mean that more and more people started to show the possibilities of various types of comedy?
Ozeki：Yes, there are more and more ways to do it. Well, we’re doing much more extreme things like using video (laughs). (laughs) I feel that we tend to do things where there is no need to.
It’s true that there were a lot of skits that used stage sets in the finals. If we were judging a few years ago, I feel like acts like Gerardon and Magical Lovely would have been among the top contenders.
Takasa: I understand. Gerardon and the like were really funny, and if the judging had been done before then, they would have had a chance of being at the top. This year there were a lot of judges who were doing theater, so I guess they appreciated that.
Ozeki: Yes, it would be from an expert’s point of view. There were also many people who looked closely at the composition. In that sense, the percentage of judging that includes the composition may have become a little stronger.
Why do you continue to participate in King of Contrast?
–You’ve participated in all of the King of Kong competitions so far. Have you ever thought about missing any of them?
Takasa: No, not at all. It’s almost like I’m determined to keep competing. I think King of Contrast is a competition that attracts the newest contrasts. It’s getting narrower and narrower every year, and there’s a sense of being away from home, but I feel like we’re trying to compete with the younger performers.
Ozeki: Ninety-five percent of the time, people with the same level of artistic experience say, “I think I’m done. But that’s what makes it so exciting. We try to do as much as we can. Other than us, it’s the same with Rubber Girl. “It’s not that we have no other choice, but I think we have a strong desire to do our best in the King of Contrast.
What do you think the two of you are getting out of King of Contrast?
Takasa: I don’t know. …… It’s not cool, but we’re a duo over 40 and in the midst of our youth (laughs). (laughs) It’s like a team of alumni playing in Koshien. But now, the people who invite us to perform are younger than us. So we have the advantage of being able to interact with them, and in doing so, we can attract younger audiences.
Ozeki: I don’t think it’s the same as youth (laughs). (laughs) But both of us don’t have any strange pride, so the door is probably wide open. That’s why we were able to meet some interesting young people from the west last year because of the King of Comedy.
Takasa: When the finals are decided, we gather at TBS once. OZEKI was the first to get involved with the president of Nippon, Longcoat Daddy, and Takine. I was surprised to see that they had become good friends by the time I came back from the restroom.
Ozeki: The three groups in particular have good and interesting personalities, so they seem like they could sell well. When we talk with them, we become more interesting. So I feel like the King of Comedy is part of the process of making something interesting.
I saw Masanori Hasegawa of Nishikigoi perform at an indie live show about three years ago, and he seemed to enjoy being teased by young people who were more than 20 years older than him. That kind of feeling may be important.
Takasa: Recently, I’ve also been teased as an “old man” at young people’s concerts (laughs). (laughs) Ozeki is big, his movements are weird, and he has a mean streak, so people tease him about that and make fun of him. I’ve never had that kind of experience, so I’m glad that the film of teasing is thinning, and I’m grateful that I finally have an uncle character.
Ozeki: The rest will be complete when I go bald. I’ve already reached the last chapter (laughs). (laughs) I’m going to expose myself, totally. If it’s possible, I’d like to get involved in the comedy as well. I’m doing this because I think that life expands through the combination of various elements, and that all of this will come out in the comedy.
Interview and text by： Asahi Suzuki
Freelance editor/writer. Former band member and broadcast writer. Likes all kinds of entertainment. His book "Shimura Ken Theory" (Asahi Shimbun Publications) was released on April 20. His personal website, "Immortal Writing Blues," is currently being updated. http://s-akira.jp/