Show Me The Funny: Comedy in Tokyo and The Shitamachi International Comedy Film Festival

August 24, 2017

Japan is a country that takes its comedy seriously. Turn on any TV channel in the evening and you will be bombarded with wild television variety shows all aimed at making you laugh. Comedians, or ‘Owarai Geinin’, are hugely popular, and in many cases – such as Beat Takeshi – are even bigger than pop singers and movie stars. With that in mind, it is no surprise that one of Tokyo’s most exciting summer events is the Shitamachi International Comedy Festival.

About Shitamachi International Comedy Festival

Back in 2008, Taito City in central Tokyo celebrated the first ‘Down Town Taito International Comedy Film Festival, Japan’s first ever film festival created with the sole intention of tickling ribs and getting people laughing. Its concept was to combine the ideas of film, comedy and downtown (‘shitamachi’) in order to bring filmmakers, comedians, local residents and comedy-film fans together under the banner of laughter.

Now in its 10th incarnation the festival will be taking over the streets and cinemas of Ueno, one of Tokyo’s best known cultural arts centers, and the heartland of Japanese comedy, Asakusa. Comedy fans can enjoy a wide range of comedy movies, predominantly from Japan, but also from around the world.

International offerings are particularly eclectic, including slapstick cop fare in Central Intelligence starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart (tagline ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’), classic Christmas favorite It’s a Wonderful Life and, somewhat unusually, an intense horror movie in the form of critically acclaimed Get Out, presumably included on the basis that it is the directorial debut by American comedian Jordan Peele. The full program (in Japanese) can be found here.

Shitamachi International Comedy Festival Details

  • Where: Asakusa Public Hall, 1-38-6 Asakusa, Taito-ku (map)
  • When: September 15-18, 2017
  • Websiteshitacome.jp

English Language Comedy in Tokyo

If the film festival has tickled your funny bone and you want to get more laughs, you should check out Tokyo’s thriving comedy scene, with a wide range of comedians performing around the city in English. Below are a few comedy clubs and troupes that you can find in the city.

Tokyo Comedy Store

Tokyo Comedy store is mainly about standup and improv comedy – the kinds of comedy that will be most recognizable to people from the US, UK, and other English speaking nations – although other styles, such as sketch or musical, are also represented. They also host improv lessons and offer shows, seminars, and workshops for companies, private groups, and charities.

  • Where:  Held at various venues around the city. See website for details
  • Websitetokyocomedy.com

Good Heavens Comedy Club

Good Heavens Comedy Club is Stand-up Tokyo’s flagship comedy show in the hip neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. Held in the Good Heavens British Bar, it is Tokyo’s only weekly comedy show (every Wednesday). Featuring a line-up of Tokyo’s best stand-up comedians, some newer comics trying out the mic for the first few times, as well as established acts such as Stuart Goldsmith, Phil Wang and Hannibal Buress, it is just 1,500 JPY to enter, which includes a drink.

The Pirates of Tokyo Bay Improv Comedy Show

Having been going for some seven years now, The Pirates of Tokyo Bay are one of the longest running – if not the longest running – bilingual improv comedy groups. Great for mixed-heritage couples (where one is Japanese and the other is an English speaker), the group performs short skits, or games, in the ‘Whose Line is it Anyway’ mold that are just two or three minutes long, which means if one game doesn’t make you laugh, then another one will be coming along soon! Shows are held monthly. See their schedule for details.

  • Where: What The Dickens, 4f Roob 6 Bldg, 1-13-3 Ebisu Nishi, Shibuya (map)
  • Website: piratesoftokyobay.com

Craft Beer and Comedy Sumo Slam

Combining two of life’s greatest pleasures – beer and laughter – the Craft Beer and Comedy night at Two Dogs Taproom in Roppongi is a twice monthly event where six comedians are split into two teams battling to for points and the audience’s laughter with improvised stand-up and topical jokes. It falls under the Stand-up Tokyo umbrella, so quality is – as much as it can be – assured.

Rakugo in English

Rakugo, literally “fallen words”, is a form of Japanese stand up (though sat down) comedy where a lone storyteller sits on stage and using only a paper fan and a small cloth as props depicts a long and complicated comical story. You may have seen this classic comedy style that goes back to the Edo era on TV or perhaps if you have been to Kabuki. These free (as in no charge) English language events do not come around often, so when they do you really should check it out.

For up to the minute details of what shows are playing where, keep an eye on the Stand-up Tokyo Facebook page, or Tokyo Comedy Meetup.

By Mark Guthrie

Image via http://www.shitacome.jp/2017/#program-index  – screengrab (modified)

Image by Joe Lodge (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

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