This year’s “King of Contrast” has come to an end.
Zoffy Kohei Ueda is a two-time finalist in the King of Comedies and a well-known performer who controls the ventriloquist doll “Fuku-chan. In 2019, he will start a comedy unit called “Comte-mura” that transcends the boundaries of his office.
What did he think of this year’s King of Contrast? We talked to Ueda about a wide range of topics, including the changes in the competition since his first participation in 2014, the reasons why so many young comedy units have emerged at the same time, and his current grand vision for the competition.
As for KUKI KAIDAN, after watching their first performance, I thought, “They’re going to win!
–Unfortunately, they were eliminated in the quarterfinals of this year’s King of Contrast. Can you tell us your honest feelings?
Ueda: We had miraculously made it all the way to the semifinals, so I was depressed the whole time. My partner became a close contact, and since it was a video screening, I didn’t even go to the live event. I didn’t feel like “I could have made it” or “I didn’t make it,” I just realized it was over.
In the past, the results would come out after the semi-finals and the finals would be held in a few weeks. This time, I felt depressed for so long that I couldn’t really describe it. But when I saw the finals on TV, it was really interesting, and I thought, “Oh, interesting is better than frustrating. After that, I felt positive that I wanted to be there and that I would continue to make comedy.
–In the finals, Male Trapeze, The Mummy, and KUKI KAIDAN were the finalists. Did you feel anything about the fact that these three groups made it?
Ueda: I felt that Air Stairway was the winner after watching their first story. However, everyone was so funny that I wouldn’t have been surprised if anyone won. I think the timing is half the point. It was obvious that everyone was interesting, and the winner would be decided by the atmosphere of the venue, the order of the entries, the condition of the judges, and various other factors.
The only thing I can say is that I think the first performance of the competition is very important. That’s when people get the impression that “this guy is interesting”, and then there’s an atmosphere of “I’m going to let him win, so let’s have a second run”. I was reminded of the fact that this is a tournament where you can’t save your energy because everyone is coming in full swing.
I’m friends with the runner-up, The Mummy, and we’ve done two-man shows together, but even when we were a trio called Ugetsu, Sakai’s destructive power was unbelievable. I was hooked on him from the very first time I saw him. That’s why I always thought that if the script was interesting, he would be very strong.
This time, all the distinguished judges, including Matsumoto (Hitoshi), thought Sakai was funny and gave him a score, didn’t they? Of course, it was because of the script written by Yohei Hayashida, but I was really impressed by that. I was very close to him, so I was a little nervous that he was going to win. (laughs).
I wonder what kind of atmosphere the two of us can create together.
–One of the biggest changes is that the judges for the competition have been completely changed. The judges were the past champions, but did you feel any difference from the judges of Wanderers and Bananaman?
Ueda: This year’s judges are close to us in terms of age and artistic history. It may seem a little rude, but I feel that the judges were looking at us more closely than last year’s judges. I felt that there must be a difference between being judged by experienced people who have been through live performances and TV shows, and being judged by people who are currently fighting or have just been fighting.
I think that amazing people are more sensible and don’t really think in terms of logic. Of course they do, but I think the younger generation is more logic-oriented. I think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon that after the King of Comedy is over, each comedian gives their analysis, opinions, and impressions on the radio or YouTube. Moreover, people who watched the show also listened to them. I think that’s why I was able to watch this year’s show with more of an “I get it” attitude.
–The average age of the finalists has also become much younger. Is that part of the reason for the excitement this time?
Ueda: My impression is that the last group that was considered interesting until now came out with a bang. It’s the same with “That guy,” “Male Trapeze,” “Gerardine,” and “Frog Pavilion. Usually, there are only one or two groups who are always disappointed that they didn’t make it to the finals, but I felt that five or six groups made it to the finals at once. So I think this year’s competition was more intense.
–Ueda: I think there was a change in the way the skits were presented compared to last year.
Ueda: I feel like there were a lot of people who wanted to “create a more solid world. Not so long ago, I think it was a system where you would show a system that you had developed something new, and if it won, you would get a big kick out of it. The most obvious example is NyanKo Star. When such a system was introduced, it got high scores and attracted a lot of attention. Of course, Kamaitachi won the competition, which was amazing.
But recently, it’s become more about the world view, or what kind of atmosphere the two of them can create together. I felt that this was the kind of comedy that only they could do. Especially Gerardon, even if he was asked to do it with that script, he would never be able to do it (laughs). (laughs) It’s because of those three that they could last for five minutes, so I watched them with amazement.
The competition is a pie fight… “This year, Frogman took all the pies.
–Are there any differences in the trends of comedy between the mid-2010s and now?
Ueda: When I went to the semifinals for the first time, I was able to see the whole show from the backstage of Akasaka BLITZ (the name was changed to “Mynavi BLITZ Akasaka” in 2017; it will be closed as a live music venue in September 2020). What I found was that there was an atmosphere of “how edgy can we make our material? When I saw Kamomen-taru’s material, I was so excited, “What a disgusting way to look at things! I’m sure the audience was the same way.
The premise was that the stories were funny, and then there was the tendency to think, “Let’s do something hard with one shot. For example, a maestro making an old man out of newspaper by putting pachinko balls in it, or a student being manipulated by Mr. Onigashima (laughs). (laughs) It had a “Great Monster War” feel to it.
But it gradually moved in a heartwarming direction, didn’t it? Maybe it’s partly because the younger generation has become gentler, but I really feel like it’s the return of edgy comedians. In order to do something new, it was necessary to go in that direction. After the popularity of the “goofy” style, the “spicy” style became popular. It’s a process of repetition, and now I think I’ve become more widely enjoyable.
–Hanako won in 2018, but do you feel that the trend of the competition has changed since then?
Ueda: I thought for a moment only that year. Hanako won the King of Contrast and Akeboshi Shimotsukuri won the M-1 Grand Prix, and the atmosphere was like, “Wow, it’s the era of the young generation rising to the top. Just as that was happening, Doburoku and Milk Boy won the next year (laughs). (laughs) So I guess it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter what era you’re in, if it’s funny, it’s appreciated.
Comedy is basically about betrayal, and people laugh when something happens that they didn’t expect. I think this is the same for the whole competition. An uncle won the competition on the pretense that young people were coming out, and now it’s time to pretend that the “uncle generation” has finally arrived. And now the younger guys are winning on the pretense that the “uncle generation” has finally arrived.
I think that the competition itself is a “pie fight”. For example, if the first performer uses a lot of music and the next performer is the same, the impression will be weak. This year, Kaerutei took all of those pies. The visuals are interesting and flashy, the sound is used, and the structure is interesting. It was like a movie that started with “First of all, we took all the pies once. It was such a shock to me.
–I had the impression that the tournament had been in full swing since the Frog Pavilion. Is there anything else that you feel has changed in this year’s competition?
Ueda: I feel that the differentiation from Manzai has become more clear. I’ve already seen New York and Magical Lovely’s manzai, which is really funny, so I tend to think of them in the same way. I think that’s why people say, “It doesn’t have to be comedy. I felt that the interestingness as a comedian became a bottleneck.
When I think about what makes something interesting as a comedy, I think it’s that it’s hard to say that it’s a person with common sense, and that even people who seem to be pointing out things are a little off in the end. I think the best part of a comedy is the way it highlights this. However, there are some stories that are easier to watch if only one person is a tsukomi, so it’s a difficult task. I thought this year’s finalists did a good job of not making me wonder which side of the story I should be looking at.
Until about 2019, people said, “You’ll never be able to do a comedy show.”
–In 2019, there was a “seventh generation” boom, and Ueda-san formed the “Contrivance Village” and in Kansai, the “Kansai Contrivance Security Association” contrivance unit. What do you think are the factors behind the emergence of these movements among the younger generation?
Ueda: Until about 2019, I was told that I would never be able to do a comedy show. Even when I consulted with my seniors, they said, “We can’t even build a set because of the recession and lack of money,” or “It’s impossible to do new material every week. But I kept saying that I wanted to do it, and then I started working on the special comedy show “Help! Kontotto” and “Tokyo Baby Boys 9” (both on TV Asahi).
That led me to say, “You can do it! It’s just a matter of how you do it!” I think that made the staff and comedians think. After that, the number of comedy shows increased tremendously. But if you don’t tell people that, they won’t understand. For example, the director of “Tokyo Baby Boys 9” and the director of “Shikujiri Sensei: Ore ni Narenai! (the same as before) told me, “Ueda-kun, let’s do a comedy show.
I was surprised because I didn’t have an image of the person who made that show as a comedian, so I asked him, “Oh, you want to do a comedy show? I asked him back. He replied, “Of course I want to make variety shows, but I also want to make a comedy show. If he hadn’t said that, I would never have known (laughs). (laughs) I think that’s how things started to flow, like “it’s better to tell people about it so that it becomes a reality” or “I’ll do it because I want to.
–Is it a coincidence that all the other comedy units besides “Kontomura” started up at the same time?
Ueda: I don’t think it was a coincidence. It’s just that when we started doing “Kontomura,” Katamari (Mizukawa) of Air Stairway and Tai (Tai) of The Gentle Ones came to us and asked if they could be included in “Kontomura. I said, “I’m not going to join Yoshimoto either. Then I said, “I’m sure there are many people in Yoshimoto who like comedy. I said, “I’m sure there are many people in Yoshimoto who like comedy, so if we can get them together and have a good time, I think it would be more fun and we wouldn’t lose anything.
I’m totally open to it, and I think everyone else is, too. I’m totally open to it, and I think everyone else is too. But I felt that if there were more and more groups in the Contrast Village, everyone would lose out in the end. I didn’t want it to look like “people who aren’t in this group aren’t accepted” or “they’re all crowded and saying weird things.
Then the two of us started a unit called “Contraband Dogs”. We won the KUKI KAIDAN competition (laughs). (laughs) As I thought, people who love to perform and work hard leave results. Members of the Kansai Contrast Security Association have also made it to the finals, and I think it would be interesting to do something together later on.
I think it would be interesting if we could do something together later on.
–There are many young people, including Ueda-san, who still support the City Boys. Do you think that comedy has evolved over time?
Ueda: I don’t know if it has evolved or not, but nowadays you can watch all kinds of things. There is Netflix, and I think that comedy can be performed more widely.
Right now, I’m taking English lessons online. There are teachers from all over the world, so even though I can’t speak English, I can ask them questions like, “What is the comedy situation like in your country? I asked them something like, “What is the comedy situation in your country? The Kenyan guy said, “In Africa, the economically developed areas have comedies, while the areas that are not so developed do not have comedy shows.
That’s the same as the structure of Tokyo and the countryside, isn’t it? I started to think that if I could understand the language properly, I could completely break through the borders. The image that Japanese people have of being able to make people laugh around the world is visual interest, movement, and mimicry. However, when I talk to people from all over the world, they seem to think that “Japan is just plain old Japan. I guess they think that “laughter for overseas audiences” is “Japanese laughter” as it is.
One of the lecturers introduced me to a comedy video, and I thought, “He’s doing something like ‘Saraba Seishun no Hikari’! That’s what I thought. The setting is really good, and surprisingly there are no character comedies. I thought, “If that’s the case, why don’t I just translate the comedy into English and make it interesting and useable as a language? I would say, “How about this setting? And then I’d say, “Interesting! How about this? I think I’d be really excited if someone from Chile told me that.
–I was surprised by the grand vision, but I really hope it comes true!
Ueda: A Colombian girl around the same age as me said something like, “I’m already of the Dragon Ball generation. There’s a channel that shows anime, and he’s been watching Dragon Ball for years. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance that we share the same interests.
So, first of all, I would like to recruit people to work with me. I’ve been talking about it in various media, and I’m voluntarily studying English, so I’m just waiting for a very rich person to say, “Well, why don’t you do a concert in Los Angeles? (laughs).
(laughs) There have been movements like that in Asia, but there are no successful models across the Pacific. I don’t have many opportunities to meet them, but I’d like to talk to Yulianne Retriever and Naomi Watanabe about that. If you read this, I’d love to hear from you!
Interview and text by： Asahi Suzuki
Freelance editor/writer. Former band member and broadcast writer. Likes all kinds of entertainment. He especially respects comedians. Updating his personal website "Immortal Writing Blues". http://s-akira.jp/