What's With All the Comedy Tournaments? Sorting Out Japan's Comedy Taikai Battlegrounds

What's With All the Comedy Tournaments? Sorting Out Japan's Comedy Taikai Battlegrounds

Boy, when it rains, it pours. After a while with not that much going on in the world of Japanese comedy on television December has suddenly seen an explosion of programs featuring manzai and comedic skits with most of them being a kind of comedy tournament. Today, I’ll try and fill you in on these different contests as well as brief you on some of the controversy surrounding them.

This year’s M-1 Grand Prix winners, the duo Shimofuri Myoujou, photo via  link

This year’s M-1 Grand Prix winners, the duo Shimofuri Myoujou, photo via link

Let’s start with the M-1 Grand Prix. This Yoshimoto-run contest to determine the top manzai duo has been held from 2001 to 2010 and then from 2015. It’s held annually in December. The name M-1 is supposed to conger up images of F-1 and other such races with the “M” being taken from the word “manzai”, the style of comedy of the duos that participate. In 2011, after Yoshimoto Kogyo and Asahi TV decided to end the M-1 Grand Prix tournament in its 10th year many young comedians suffered with the lack of a clear national contest to motivate them and give them a chance for widespread exposure. This led to the beginning of THE MANZAI, a similar contest program that was broadcast on Fuji TV from 2011 to 2014. That show has continued as non-tournament program called “THE MANZAI Masters”.

The M-1 Grand Prix features manzai duos competing in a tournament style bracket with a panel of judges scoring the performers (100 being the max given from each judge). The televised finals features the handful of duos that beat out over 4,600 others in preliminary rounds. One final duo is selected from a loser-bracket that is held earlier in the day. Until this year, I believe most of the judges were made up of past winners and veteran manzai performers. This year a rakugo performer name Tatekawa Shiraku and current manzai performer Hanawa Nobuyuki of Knights joined the panel (This was unusual as Hanawa had competed before in the contest without winning). The judging has not been without controversy, especially this year as Kubota Kazunobu of the duo Toro Salmon (the 2017 champions) went on a program of fellow manzai duo Super Maradona and bad-mouthed the panel and especially singled out veteran performer Kaminuma Emiko. The backlash against Kubota’s comments have been in the news and on the net for over a week and somewhat overshadowed the upset win of the young duo Shimokiri Myoujou (who had to come back from the loser bracket to take the title).

Only time will tell if Shimokiri Myoujou will find long-term success from this win, they were virtually unknown on TV until the win, but many of the past M-1 champions are now established stars of the manzai world and are regularly seen on television.

Coming up is THE W, a tournament strictly for female comedians. Stay tuned!

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