Is Japanese comedy funny to the non-Japanese?

I just read an article in Wired about batsu games on Japanese TV shows.

I’m not so interested in the popularity of those games to non-Japanese (it seems like they’re not so popular) but I am interested in Japanese comedy in general, specifically the stuff that comes from Yoshimoto Kogyo.

Seems like they take comedy acting and training pretty seriously.

If you understand the language and the cultural references (assuming there are cultural references) is the stuff generally funny to non-Japanese?

It’s when they get serious that I can’t stand them.

I find them hilarious. Maybe it’s because I am Korean and there are some commonalities in popular comedy culture between Korea and Japan, but I think much of the “funny” does transcend boundaries.

I’ve shown a lot of my friends here in the US segments from Gaki No Tsukai’s New Years’ 24 Hour Batsu Games before, for example. All of them, at least the men, thought the shows were incredibly funny. The only weak points during those times were when obviously inside or cultural jokes would be made that involved famous Japanese celebrities that no one here would know about.

The bigger obstacle to enjoyment for a lot of people, I think, is that comedy is difficult to translate and even more difficult to read as a part of a TV-based skit. For people who are not avid readers or who do not watch a lot of subtitled shows, I think the comedy may lie beneath additional layers of opacity that are difficult to overcome.

America’s version of batsu games are usually shows like Jackass. There’s really no equivalent, wholesome example of batsu in the US. You look at shows like “The Moment of Truth,” and you realize that the US games in this vein really have a sinister twist to them.

As for Japanese comedy in general, I find Japanese “situation” comedy to be really excellent. Japanese comedy in TV and movies always pays spectacular attention to the feel of the situation in a scene, and the cameramen and editors do a really good job of predicting how the audience will empathize with particular situations and reactions of the comedians/actors. This is something I think that Western shows fail at a lot of the time.

According to my Japanese-speaking daughter, IF you understand the language and cultural references, some of it is damned funny. However, she also notes that a lot of dialog and jokes are based on puns, and there are such a staggering amount of soundalikes in the Japanese language that you need to be really, really fluent to figure them out and, obviously, many of them don’t translate at all into another language.

I lived briefly in Japan about 10 years ago, and while I did not watch much Japanese television I remember seeing the show mentioned in the article (or a knock-off of that show) that has the crotch-punching machine. The loser of the game had to stand on a platform and a boxing glove on a spring popped out and hit him. Then in the next round, the loser was whipped with pairs of stonewashed jeans by the other contestants. Although my Japanese is pretty weak, I am certain they were stonewashed jeans because the Japanese have borrowed the English term. To me, the show’s announcer sounded like he was saying “Yadda yadda yadda STONE WASH yadda yadda yadda.”

My primary reaction to this show was “WTF is this?”, but you’d have to be made of sterner stuff than I am to not be at least a little amused at the sight of a bunch of comedians having a stonewashed jeans fight.

I’ve seen several animes where they make fun of Osaka style comedy. It seems to be famous for not being funny. Yes, the Japanese are weird.

I found Azumanga Daioh the anime to be hilarious, even in translation.

Everybody laughs when somebody gets punched in the balls. Well, except that one guy.

Yoshimoto Kogyo is a cancer on the fabric of reality itself. The only advantage their rank-and-filers have to the likes of Carlos Mencia is that I find it easier to tune out foreign languages.

When my son refuses to do his schoolwork or is otherwise acting like a little butthead, I threaten him with the prospect of ending up having to work for Yoshimoto if he doesn’t shape up, much as other parents might warn their kids of a future of mopping floors or shoveling pig shit.

I will say that Matsumoto Hitoshi, an older comic who frequently shows up on many of group programs, can be (note I said can) extremely funny. I thought his Hataraku Ossan Gekijo (働くおっさん劇場) series was genius.

I didn’t know they had comedy.