ONCE IN HAITI, I listened to an English-speaking man tell a joke through an interpreter to a group of locals who only spoke Creole. He said, “God must be a fan of coffee, because ‘He-brews'”. The interpreter looked a little puzzled, but did his best. No one in the crowd laughed or even chuckled at the joke. But there were groans from the Americans in the group.
Imagine trying that kind of wordplay in any language. Japanese humor is no different, with some types of comedy more appreciated than others. One thing is certain – direct translations of jokes seldom work. A Japanese audience might technically understand an English language joke translated into Japanese, but without the knowledge behind it, there would simply be a nod and “naruhodo” (ah, I get it) rather than a laugh.
Despite Tokyo being one of the world’s largest cities, the English-speaking comedy scene is small. Musicians work in huge venues with sell-out crowds when they visit because music can be appreciated without language skills, but comedy? Visiting comedians, even relatively big names, find themselves in dimly lit bars designed for an audience in the tens. Here are three solid spots for catching some English-language comedy in Tokyo.
Standup Tokyo is one of the bigger organizations controlling comedy events in the greater Tokyo area. At this time, they host a variety of events including performances at Good Heavens Comedy Club on Wednesdays (featured in the clip above), open mic night near Ikebukuro on Mondays, and monthly improv and standup in Roppongi on Saturdays. Performers come from many countries including Great Britain, the US, Canada, Singapore, and Japan.
Tokyo Comedy Store
Unlike Standup Tokyo, this organization focuses on improv classes and performances, though open mic nights and comedy shows are part of their regular schedule. Every 1st and 3rd Friday, they host a special comedy night at Gamuso, and there are usually opportunities for newbies to sign up to go on the mic at events 2-4 times a month — as long as they remember to get on TCS’ email list.
The Pirates of Tokyo Bay
There are few truly bilingual comedy groups in Japan, but The Pirates of Tokyo Bay qualify. Like Standup Tokyo and the Tokyo Comedy Store, the pirates only hold one show monthly at What The Dickens in Shibuya. Come for improv and jokes — you can appreciate more knowing a little Japanese.