The Bravery of the Comedy of Nippon Erekiteru Rengo
(Originally this entry was written on a separate blog of mine just after New Year's Day. I've decided to share it here as it involves Japanese comedy.)
This past week I was able to catch the filming of a New Year’s comedy special at the Asakusa Engei Hall, a site I visit often for my research (I’m a PhD student). It was a great show that was broadcast later that day on TV Tokyo. It featured many comedians that rarely perform in Asakusa and it was well worth getting up and leaving early to be part of the standing room only audience. One of the featured comedic duos in the show, Nippon Erekiteru Rengo, could be called the hottest new duo of the year. The phrase from this female duo’s famous skit, “Dame yo. Dame! Dame!” won the award for phrase of the year in the media. Their success is really quite puzzling and their brand of comedy is hard to describe. I guess I’ll let their comedy speak for itself. Below is a clip of the skit and characters that flung them into the spotlight.
As you can see their comedy is certainly unique, at times bordering on bizarre and unsettling. Still, for some reason I liked the Akemi character and their popularity shows that I’m not alone. Why do I think their comedy is brave? Back to comedy show I attended yesterday, the duo performed a skit as different characters on television with a national audience and in front of a live audience that is used to more orthodox comedy. Instead of playing it safe and perhaps performing as Akemi and the old man once again they chose to perform one of the more strange, non-sensical skits I have ever seen with a bizarre story involving a Filipino lover, her politician boyfriend (played by a poor excuse of a dummy) and his wife. The reception of the skit was mixed and some of the audience and the hosts of the show were shocked a bit by the accidental murder of the dummy part way through. Still, the duo stayed true to their bizzare nature and refused to compromise their style despite the national attention.
Recently, after being forced to appear on countless shows as Akemi and the old man, performing a variation on the same skit, Nippon Erekiteru Rengo have finally been able to test out other characters and skits on television. The reception to the skits I would say have been mixed but in a way that doesn’t really matter. The concensious is that Nippon Erekiteru Rengo is another in a long line of comedians that hit it big out of the blue with a unique character and phrase, only to disappear quickly when the public tires of them (one industry source estimated this period as 8 months).
If this is true the duo has a small window of national attention to show audiences what they are about. Nippon Erekiteru Rengo’s brand of comedy, I feel, is too strange to sustain mainstream popularity. This isn’t to say it’s not funny or lacks comedic value. It’s just too unusual and at times unsettling for most audiences. The success of the Akemi-chan character and the “Dame yo. Dame! Dame!” phrase was like capturing lightning in a bottle. Perhaps no one is more aware of this fact than the duo themselves. That is why I think it is so brave that they are staying true to their brand of comedy and let their true colors fly while they still have a chance on television. In the long term, this duo will likely disappear from television and return to their life of performing live in comedy theaters making this their biggest chance to build their fan base and attract them to their live shows with the future in mind. So here’s to Nippon Erekiteru Rengo! Enjoy your time in the sun and let your freak flag fly!