Need a crash course in Japanese humor? Just study some old Ken Shimura videos. It’s important to know this guy if you want to understand what makes the stereotypically stoic Japanese burst out in uncontrollable laughter. Shimura started off as part of a five-man comedy team called the Drifters; later, two Drifters branched off to become Kato-chan and Ken-chan, an iconic comedy duo from the 80s.
Ken Shimura was always the pack leader. Deceptively good looking but outrageously silly and politically incorrect, he mass marketed shimoneta (below-the-belt jokes) and inappropriate slapping with his unique blend of traditional and contemporary Japanese and Western influences. He also spearheaded some of the most famous Japanese TV memes ever, like "Daijobu da" and "Henna ojisan."
Above, an amazing short skit that shows all facets of this genius comedian: it features a handsome womanizer who turns into a creepy old man who performs a delightful, Japanified version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The skit ends with Shimura’s signature “henna ojisan” dance.
Knowing this famous song (above) will instantly up your Japanese joke cred among anyone over the age of 25. It goes
through the days of the week and calls them nonsensical noises. One of the common themes in Shimura’s TV shows was to have comedians
dress up as sumo wrestlers or as little school kids and do dirty skits
or silly dance moves. Back then, female celebrities were more open to
looking ridiculously funny on TV and less inclined to stand on stage just looking glittery.
There’s a very raw, SNL-like feel to Shimura’s performances. Below, Shimura and his mentor, Chosuke Ikariya, also a legend in Japanese comedy.
Shimura is almost 60 now, but he is still wandering around Japan making people laugh. If you’re Japanese-literate, you can read about his daily life on his blog.
Read more about Japanese humor via my quick and dirty Japanese humor tutorial on Boing Boing and my below-the-belt prank tutorial here on TokyoMango.
(originally posted on July 23, 2008)