On November 26, comedian Masahiro Ehara published “Eharaunchi: A Big Family of Seven Comedians: Databata Tousouki” (Shueisha). This is a manga work about his daily life with his family, living with his wife and five children.
In addition to his manga, Ehara also actively shares his daily life with his family on YouTube. How does he distinguish between being a talented comedian and being a “big family celebrity”?
The similarities between manga and pin-up stories
–When you were planning this comic, you didn’t intend to draw pictures yourself, did you?
Ehara: I’m not good at drawing, so I thought it would be better to leave it to someone who is good at it. But the editor said, “No, I want you to draw it yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re not good at it,” and so I did.
–So you don’t think of yourself as being good at drawing, do you?
Ehara: Not at all. As you can see (laughs). That’s why I had a hard time. I knew I had to cross a certain line when I thought of it as a professional job.
–Was it a good experience for you to draw a manga for the first time?
Ehara: Yes, it was. It was something I hadn’t done before, so I was able to gradually see my progress. It’s hard, though. My legs are heavy because I have to do something I’m not good at. I was always on the verge of the deadline, which annoyed the editors a lot. There were times when I hadn’t finished my work by noon on the day of the deadline. I managed to do it for two years without missing a single deadline, but it was tough.
–Ehara: I know you make up stories on a regular basis, but is drawing a manga different from that?
Ehara: That’s part of the fun, but the way to make people laugh is different from that of a story. My manga was serialized on the web, so there were eight panels at the beginning, and then another eight panels on the next page. So by the time you get to the first eight panels, you have to make the reader want to look at the next page. It was fun to divide the panels while thinking about that.
If you only think about dropping the story in the 16th panel (or making the punchline), the 8th panel is still in the middle of the story. But if the story doesn’t make any waves by that point, people won’t read on. It’s just like a gong show for a comedian’s story.
–If it’s not interesting, it’s cut off in the middle, isn’t it?
Ehara: Yes, that’s right. But in a gong show, if it’s not funny, you’re out, so in order to create that structure, you have to put in some small jokes at the beginning.
–Wasn’t it hard for you to think that far ahead?
Ehara: It was difficult. I wanted to make a good story for the final punchline, but if I put in a small joke in the middle, it would kill the pretense.
–It’s like you’re really listening to me talk about making a story.
Ehara: It was close to that. Ehara: It was close to that, but the way I dropped it was a little different. On the other hand, there were times when I thought it would be more interesting to take a pause here, or when I thought it would be more interesting to let the audience think and then say something, even though the tempo would be better if I said the words one frame at a time. So I think I used my head like a comedian.
Why did you start YouTube?
–Ehara: It seems that you had a hard time with the composition of how to draw, but did you have any trouble with the idea of what to draw?
Ehara: Yes, I did. I talk to my wife every day about what happened today. That’s how I come up with interesting things. I wrote down things for the talk rather than for the manga, and when I reflected them in the manga, they became interesting in a different way from talking in the talk.
–You also have a YouTube channel called the “Ehara Family Channel,” where you broadcast videos of your family, right? Did that come first before the manga?
Ehara: No, it was around the same time. It wasn’t because one of them was more popular than the other, we just happened to start at the same time.
–What made you start YouTube?
Ehara: I’ve always liked new things, so I’ve been watching YouTube for a long time, and I was thinking of doing it about 10 years ago. But at that time, almost no comedians were doing it, and there was an atmosphere that comedians shouldn’t do it. At that time, I thought it would affect my work, so I didn’t do it right away.
After that, people’s perceptions and ways of thinking gradually changed, and there was a time when I thought I should start, but I felt that in this world, you can’t win with an easy heart. There were many people who started early but didn’t grow at all.
The reason I started was directly due to the success of Kazeezak. I thought that if I could create such a beautiful success story, I might be able to make it, and now was my chance.
At first, I thought I would start my own channel and do something with my family on a sub-channel. But when I did some research, I found out that there was a family channel that was really like a home video channel with millions of followers. When I saw that, I thought it would be interesting and it would be recorded.
So I decided to start a family channel first, because I wanted it to grow. That worked out well, so I don’t have my own personal channel yet.
–Do you want to have a personal channel at some point?
Ehara: I don’t really want to do that right now. I don’t want to do it right now, because YouTube is becoming more and more like TV, and there are stricter regulations. So I can’t do it freely. If I’m going to send out my own content, I think I’d rather use Netflix or Amazon Prime.
–Do you mean that some of the material you want to do is subject to restrictions?
Ehara: Most of my stories are nasty. Ten years ago, I was beaten to death, and even comedians hated me. But now that I have a family, I think it would be better for my children if they weren’t bullied. I don’t want them to feel sorry for themselves, so I try to keep a good balance.
–Do you have any conflicts with the fact that it’s harder to do sharp jokes now that your family-centered character has become popular?
Ehara: If I were a person who only pursued what was intensely funny, I would probably be doing that kind of material. But I have other interests, and they’re not my top priority, so if there’s a downside, I think it’s okay to leave it behind for now. What I’m doing now is something that I enjoy and that has few negative effects. Nowadays, the negative aspects are more prominent.
–Ehara: When you think about it, it’s not so much about the negative things.
Ehara: When I think about it, I think it’s okay to put out something with negative elements once in a while. I don’t think it’s necessary to keep doing something risky and outrageous there.
Rather than wanting more popularity or money, I want to be a person who is more excited about what I’m going to do tomorrow. I’ve been doing a lot of musicals lately, but if I were a really sharp comedian, I probably wouldn’t have been invited to those shows.
I think the reason why I am able to appear in those shows is because I am not that interesting as a comedian. If I was doing gory comedy and had a mosaic of my vagina on TV, I probably wouldn’t be invited to those places. The elderly people would be disgusted with me.
I came into this world because I wanted to do comedy so badly, but as I entered the world and did various things, I began to see things that were more fun. I’m trying to find a balance between the two and choose what I enjoy as much as possible, so I feel like I’m living my life with gory comedy on the side.
–Ehara: Sometimes you have a little poison.
Ehara: Sometimes when I do something a little poisonous, I get DMs (direct messages) like, “I didn’t think you were the kind of person who would do something like that.
–Since your family does YouTube, people who came from there would think that, wouldn’t they?
Ehara: Yes, because I’m like a “kind father”. So people who have heard of me in the last five years probably don’t think I’m a comedian, and they probably don’t know that I do stories or that I participated in the “R-1 Grand Prix” (at that time it was called “R-1 Grand Prix”).
–So now it seems like you are completely divided into “Omote Ehara” and “Ura Ehara”.
Ehara: When I appeared on the Nakagawa family’s radio show, they told me, “When you see us doing BTS impersonations on TV, you don’t think we look like Ehara. I replied, “But that’s my main thing now. There are two sides to it, and I think I can keep that side for those who like maniacal stories.
There are more and more people who agree with my way of life now, and some of them are like, “I’ll follow everything you do. When I sang the “Tenga Song,” which is a very vulgar song, they would say, “It’s wonderful! (laughs). No, that’s not right,” I said. No, that’s not right.
–He’s a rare type of comedian, isn’t he?
Ehara: I guess so. I do almost everything that a normal comedian would say, “What’s wrong with that guy? That’s why it was hard for me to live when I was young. I was basically denied by everyone.
–In the past, there were more people who didn’t understand such things.
Ehara: The only person who understood me was King Kong’s Akihiro Nishino, and the person I was close to was Oriraj’s Acchan (Atsuhiko Nakata). Both of them left Yoshimoto. That’s why I’m often asked by Yoshimoto comedians, “Is Ehara still at Yoshimoto? (laughs). (laughs) Maybe I am in a strange position as a comedian. But I think that’s my charm. Now I think it’s because of my “strange position” that I was able to challenge myself in various ways.
Interviewed and written by： Larry Toda