Reuniting with Laughter: The Manzai Kyokai's Manzai Taikai
Last night I was able to make a trip from my home in Chiba to Asakusa to see the 49th annual Manzai Taikai. The Manzai Taikai is an annual comedy show which features the majority of the members of the Manzai Kyokai, an organization located in Asakusa which functions as a collection of manzai performers. I have a special connection with this organization as I was able to go backstage and interview several of their comedians while working on a Masters degree on gender and manzai from 2011 to 2013. Unfortunately, since moving to Chiba because of my job I haven’t been able to keep in touch with many of those performers in Asakusa that I formed a connection with. Therefore, even more than opportunity to see some comedy, it was a welcome chance to catch up and say hello.
Truth be told, although there certainly are a lot of talented comedians in the Manzai Kyokai, many of them wouldn’t be classified as my favorite performers. In general, the Manzai Kyokai audience tends to be on the older side. This is true on the stage as well with many of their most famous performers in their 60s, 70s, and older. In fact, last night celebrated the 80th year as an entertainer for Utsumi Keiko. Despite being 96 years old, Utsumi Keiko is a regular fixture at the Manzai Kyokai’s home theater in Asakusa, the Toyokan. Perhaps the funniest moment of the night was when Keiko and other senior performers took to the stage to talk to her about her career. The combination of her hard hearing and strong personality coupled with the manzai duo Knights trying (and often failing) to control the event was hilarious.
Still, despite my differences in comedic taste there is just something special about the Manzai Kyokai to me. The warmth the performers have shown to myself and other fans as well as their professional attitude really stays with me. Perhaps partly because of their lack of widespread fame (beyond the Tokyo area or yose) many seem down to earth. And the fact that many of them seemed genuinely interested in my efforts to study their world, providing help however they could will never be forgotten by me. Hopefully, if my schedule allows, I would like to write more about this organization, its history, and the various personalities that make it unique in the future.