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Comedians Are Going Into Debt to Participate in This Japanese Game Show | Koji's Odds & Ends

After years of watching Japanese comedy shows, it’s become clear to me that a lot of Japanese comedy is quite mean spirited. I don’t mean that as necessarily a bad thing. Dark and biting humor is integral to the human experience, and the extent to which Japanese comedy embraces this can create some truly unique and daring programming.

There are a few moments from popular variety show “Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!” That come to mind when pondering this topic. One notorious example is the “Pie Hell” batsu (punishment) game, in which cast member Matsumoto Hitoshi was forced to act out a daily routine while the other members threw pies at him.

A lot of great gifs were spawned

Other times, things can get downright sadistic and cross a line for most people. One notorious example is a prank that the cast of Gaki no Tsukai played on comedian Housei Tsukitei (at the time known as Housei Yamasaki) where they tricked him into believing that he had exposed his genitals on national television and pretended to fire him.

The entirety of this is still available online, if you have a strong enough stomach for that sort of thing:

Gotta love 360p

Having spent several decades in this world of extreme Japanese comedy, Matsumoto Hitoshi, the same one from “Gaki no Tsukai,” decided to create a show that would top all of the rest. His idea: Documental.

The premise is fairly simple: 10 Japanese comedians each put down ¥1,000,000 (roughly equivalent to $9,500). They enter a room together and, for the next six hours, attempt to make each other laugh. The comedians who laugh are eliminated from the competition (losing their money), and the last one remaining wins the grand prize of ¥10,000,000, along with getting their money back.

A Fistful of Yen

Normally, such a competition would be incredibly light-hearted. In this case, however, the stakes have been raised considerably. Many of the comedians who compete aren’t wealthy at all, meaning  they have to either dip into their life’s savings or take out loans in order to compete.

Sadly enough (or hilariously enough, depending on your sense of humor), one of the competitors, Jimmy Onishi, admits to having squandered all of his savings on prostitutes and had to take out a loan, despite being one of the most famous competitors on the show. Others borrow from friends, family, and even their wives, just for a chance at competing in Matsumoto’s twisted game.

Jimmy in one of his costumes

Matsumoto describes the show as feeling "underground," which I feel is accurate. The show has a certain edgy "anything goes" style that you don't see from professional comedy very often, especially in America.

Everything is fair game once the timer is set, from props, to pre-prepared gags, to the contestants’ own bodies (one contestant in Season 3, Kasuga Toshiaki, uses his freakishly long foreskin, which  proves devastatingly effective). The competitors go through extreme lengths to elicit laughter, injuring themselves, getting naked, and generally embarrassing themselves in front of the entire world.

Press F

A few notable examples include Miyagawa Daisuke’s “analympics,” a game he created where people attempt to “show their butthole the fastest,” as well as Anthony, from comedic duo Matenrou, showing off old family photos. Being a large black man raised in Japan, Anthony stands out a lot, and photos of him amongst his smaller, fairer-complexioned classmates and family members end up eliciting a great deal of laughter.

While seven seasons have already been released in Japan, they’ve been subtitled on Amazon Prime up to Season 3, which adds a new element to the game: letting eliminated comedians return and attempt once again to make the remaining competitors laugh.

Photo of Anthony's father, "Victor"

If you have a twisted sense of humor, like I do, then I definitely recommend checking this show out. You don’t have to be familiar with the world of Japanese comedy to appreciate Documental (it does a decent job at describing the contestants when they’re introduced), but you may develop a newfound appreciation for it once you’ve finished a season or two. If that’s the case, I highly recommend also looking into shows like “Gaki no Tsukai” and “Suiyoubi no Downtown.”

Matsumoto doing what he loves most

Thanks a lot for reading!

If you like my work here, you can also find me on Twitter (@Kojikojou). You can also find my novels on Amazon. I’ll be writing more about Japanese comedy in the future, so stay tuned!


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