Manzai: A Uniquely Japanese Style of Comedy

By Staff Writer
October 13, 2023
“Manzai” is a part of Japanese comedy culture, and an art form in which a pair of performers makes the audience laugh by engaging in comical conversations.
While overseas stand-up comedies are popular for their radical take on social issues and ideologies, in Japan, the standard comedy style is for two extremists to laugh at boke’s (funny man) faults.
Generally, foreign comedians stand alone on the stage and talk to the audience by themselves, while Japanese comedy emphasizes teamwork. Therefore, there are many TV programs in Japan where a team of comedians work together to make a guest's story interesting and entertaining.
Comedians performing Manzai at a theater

Japanese Manzai Style

Manzai is a traditional art form in which a duo makes the audience laugh by engaging in comical conversations.
The two roles are shared by the "boke," who intentionally says or does something funny, and the "tsukkomi," who points out the boke.
Comedians usually perform their manzai in a suit, which allows the audience to focus on the content of the story.
The subjects of manzai are wide-ranging but often related to everyday life.
Manzai is often a prearranged performance. Sometimes the performer asks questions to the audience, and sometimes they add lines of their own, based on the audience's reactions. Thus, the characteristic of manzai is not only to do what they want to do but also to make the audience's reaction part of the performance.

Roles of Manzai

The following is a detailed explanation of the roles of "boke" and " tsukkomi," which are necessary for manzai.
Boke: "Boke" is to make the audience laugh by making blatant mistakes, telling jokes, or other comical behaviors. It is necessary for manzai to work, because without it, there would be nothing to laugh at.
Tsukkomi: "Tsukkomi" is to point out the funny parts or mistakes of the "boke". The tsukkomi serves to clarify the point of the joke and make it easier to convey the fun to the audience. Some people tap their "boke" partner on the shoulder or head when doing a "tsukkomi".

A typical comedy duo performing Manzai

Manzai’s Histrory

Modern "manzai" originates from the traditional Japanese art of New Year's celebration. This art form began more than a thousand years ago. It was not primarily about making people laugh, but was performed by pairs of two people who shared the same roles as the modern "boke" and "tsukkomi". Manzai as a traditional art form was originally performed at the Imperial Palace, but it eventually spread to the common people and transformed into a popular entertainment. It is said that manzai started about 1922 as a form of entertainment to make people laugh. In the early 1980s, the art of Manzai comedy experienced a surge in popularity, with a multitude of renowned Manzai comedians taking center stage.

A picture of a theater where comedians perform

Where Can We See Manzai?

Manzai can be seen at a theater called “yose”. Yose is located throughout Japan, with the most famous ones in Osaka and Tokyo. In addition, "manzai" can be seen on comedy programs broadcast nationwide.
In Japan, manzai programs are broadcast during long vacations and at the end of the year. Once a year, a competition is held to determine the best manzai performer in Japan. Usually, the winner is awarded with prize money and awards and becomes known throughout the country as a top manzai performer. Many young manzai comedians work hard to win this heated competition.
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