Tokyo Comedy Fans Mourn the Passing of Niiyama Hideya
The comedy community of Tokyo was saddened to hear of the passing of Niiyama Hideya of the comedy duo Niiyama Hideya Yasuko on August 23rd of cancer. The married duo had been performing manzai together since 1994. Until 1993 Hideya performed as half of Niiyama Hideya Etsuya until his partner Etsuya suffered a stroke and was unable to continue. Amazingly, Hideya then teamed up with his wife who up until that time had no experience as a comedian. As part of my graduate research I often ran into Hideya and Yasuko at the Engei Hall and Toyokan in Asakusa and Hideya never failed to be positive and professional. Yasuko, herself successfully returned from a stroke just a couple years earlier.
My earliest memory of the duo was from my first visit to Suehirotei, a yose (traditional theater) in Shinjuku. I had just started to go to yose to familiarize myself with rakugo. Surprisingly, the most memorable act of the evening was this older married couple. Their rapid-fire back and fourth routine intermixed with their trademark phrase of “Saikou! Saikou!” (The greatest! The happiest!), always performed with their arms crossed across their chests in unison, really tickled my funny bone and was the easier to understand for me that evening.
In recent years Hideya gained fame on television due to the popular duo Knight’s Hanawa sharing humorous stories of his secret toupee. Both comedians were members of the Manzai Kyoukai, a union of comedians in Tokyo that performs mainly in Asakusa. He took this opportunity and ran with it, “coming out” about his toupee with a comedic flair. Due to the welcome teasing from Hanawa (the younger but more well-known comedian on television) Hideya was able to reach a far wider audience than would have been possible performing at the theaters in Tokyo.
Hideya and his wife Yasuko seemed to be especially close to Asakusa legendary 97-year old comedian Utsumi Keiko and her manager husband. I once had the pleasure of having lunch with all four at Keiko’s favorite restaurant Yoshikami.
He will be missed by all that he knew and the countless people he made laugh.