The Japanese TV jungle is dominated by the variety shows. Many feature established stars as their hosts or panels made up of up-and-coming actors, singers or the generically named "talento". But there will always be at least one comedian. Though they usually travel in pairs or packs of three, comedians can be seen in isolation in just about any TV environment. So, who are the big names in Japanese comedy? The really big names will often go it alone and can build a solid solo career. These include:
The biggest name in comedy duos has to be Downtown. Below are profiles of some of the other big names who are still best known as part of a combi.
Kinashi Noritake (Tokyo, 1962- ), Ishibashi Takaaki (Tokyo, 1961- ).
Got their start by winning a Nippon TV comedy talent show in 1980. The duo became hugely popular with the Tunnels no Minasan no Okage Desu show which ran on Fuji TV from 1988-97. The Neruton Benikujiradan show that ran on Kansai TV from 1987-94 started a nationwide boom in matchmaking parties that were simply known as "neruton" (the characters for tunnel backwards). On the Hammer Price series, they auctioned a wide variety of star memorabilia and raised a lot of money for the Hanshin earthquake relief fund. Both stars have appeared in numerous TV dramas and Ishibashi, who played high school baseball made his Hollywood debut in the movie Major League II. The pair have also had a successful singing career and led the group Yaen, which played concert tours and had several hit albums. The group was made up of members of their TV crew, mostly technicians.
Uchimura Teruyoshi (Kumamoto Prefecture, 1964- ), Nanbara Kiyotaka (Kagawa Prefecture, 1965- ).
Uchan is the tsukkomi (straight man) of the duo while the expressive Nanchan is a "man of a thousand faces". In the late 1990s, they formed the inexplicably successful music groups Black Biscuits (Nanbara) and Pocket Biscuits (Uchimura) and the rivals groups competed for the right to release singles. Their popular UriNari show ran from 1995-2002 and over the years it featured the duo and other regulars becoming quite proficient at, among other things, ballroom dancing. These days, they are as likely to be seen solo, as emcee's on the variety show circuit. Uchimura was considered quite the playboy until he finally settled down in 2005. Then again, when his romance with TV Asahi announcer Tokunaga Yumi began two years earlier, she was already married!
Terakado Jimon (Hyogo Prefecture, 1962- ), Higo Katsuhiro (Okinawa Prefecture, 1963- ), Ueshima Ryuhei (Hyogo Prefecture, 1961- ).
Higo is the leader and most proficient at monomane (impersonation), often appearing in commercials as a virtual doppelganger of actor Morimoto Leo. Ueshima is the short, fat clown with the equally short fuse. His "trademark" is to lose his temper and throw his baseball cap to the floor. Terakado is the good-looking member of the trio but shares the womanizing reputation with Ueshima.
Yabe Hiroyuki (Osaka, 1971- ), Okamura Takashi (Osaka, 1970- ).
Ninety Nine got their break on a TV "comedy battle" show, with manzai acts competing for the chance to stay on the show each week. The diminuitive Okamura is one of the best of the young boke (dimwit), with an unpredictable and wicked sense of humor. He is also willing to try just about anything, from racehorse riding to passing his body through a tennis racket. Yabe is a soccer freak who played the game in high school. Like most of the members of the Yoshimoto stable, they come from Osaka and speak the distinctive dialect. The title of their hugely successful Metcha Metcha Iketeru show is one example of this "naniwa ben".
Harada Taizo (Tokyo, 1970- ), Nagura Jun (Hyogo Prefecture, 1968- ), Horiuchi Ken (Kanagawa Prefecture, 1969- ).
Harada and Horiuchi formed a duo called Florence that later took on fellow Watanabe Productions member Nagura. With a name change and Nagura as leader keeping the other two, volatile comic elements in check, Neptune came up through the manzai circuit. After appearing on the Tamori no Bocabura Tengoku show in 1996, they quickly established themselves with the young audience. Horiuchi, known as HoriKen, has a scatty, other-worldly humor that often makes no sense but his kawaii (cute) nature makes him hugely popular with young girls. Taizo is the most talented of the three and, despite the nervous disposition behind his big facade, has also tried his hand at acting. Neptune's ability to take comedy in new, stupid directions has made them big stars.
Nakajima Tomoko (Kyoto, 1971- ), Matsushima Naomi (Osaka, 1971- ).
One of the few successful female manzai duos, Othello formed in 1993 and got their break on a TV "manzai battle" talent show. Unlike their male counterparts, they have yet to get their own network slot, but feature as regulars on other people's shows. Nakajima is a regular on the Warai Inu... (Laughing Dog...) shows along with Neptune and Uchan Nanchan's Uchimura.
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Tamura Atsushi (Yamaguchi Prefecture, 1973- ), Tamura Ryo (Osaka, 1972- ).
No relation, the two Tamuras met at the Yoshimoto Kogyo agency. Ryo (with dyed blonde hair) and Atsushi (with red hair and big teeth) have established themselves in the sleazy end of the comedy pool. Their shows tend to feature feuding lovers or cheating boyfriends, with the blunt Atsushi in particular dishing out caustic remarks. Ryo is something of a pretty boy but seems good-natured, especially compared with his partner. Both are rock fans and even released a rock single.
Endo Shouzo and Tanaka Naoki (both Osaka, 1971).
Friends since their elementary school days in Osaka, they parted ways in high school but formed a manzai combi in 1992 after coming to Tokyo and joining the Yoshimoto Kogyo agency. Tanaka, who is the boke of the duo, is known for his many characters, in particular his take on gaijin (foreigners) and their bumbling efforts with the Japanese language.
Tanaka Yuji (Tokyo, 1965- ) and Ohta Hikari (Saitama Prefecture, 1965- ).
The tall and rubber-faced Ohta is known for his rambling monologues, with Tanaka repeatedly trying to keep him on track. The duo got a big publicity boost from Tanaka's bout with testicular cancer, with Ohta making the most of the "humor" that could be got from the situation. Ohta is actually something of an intellectual and has published several books. In 2006, the duo became the first stars of the TV variety show circuit to be recognized by the government for their cultural merit.