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Have you ever heard of Manzai comedy? Well, aside from anime, Japan is known for its traditional stand up comedy that has greatly influenced modern comedians worldwide.

Japan is known for its unique cultural traditions, and Manzai comedy is no exception. As a classic form of Japanese humor featuring a duo of performers, Also known as Tsukkomi and Boke Routine. These two jesters play a role where one plays a funny man and the other as a straight man.  Manzai comedy has been entertaining audiences for decades with its witty banter, physical humor, and clever wordplay.

In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating world of Manzai. We will learn the history and characteristics of this beloved form of traditional comedy, and delve into its stage performances, popular skits, and the famous manzai comedians who have made it a cornerstone of Japanese entertainment. Get ready to learn everything you need to know about Japan’s beloved Manzai comedy!

Let’s find out more about this comedic routine that has already survived thousands of years!

What is Manzai Comedy?

Manzai comedy is not just a form of entertainment but an integral part of Japanese culture.  With its emphasis on witty banter, physical humor, and clever wordplay, it has delighted audiences in Japan for generations. 

As a traditional form of comedy featuring comedy duos, it reflects the Japanese value of working together in harmony. It also showcases the importance of language in Japanese culture, as performers use the language in creative and innovative ways to bring joy to their audiences. Manzai comedy is often performed on stage, and popular skits are passed down from generation to generation, becoming a part of Japan’s cultural heritage. 

Tsukkomi Toboke: The Comedic Duo of Japan

Manzai is composed of two famous manzai comedians who are Boke and Tsukkomi. Boke is the funny man, while Tsukkomi is the straight or serious man. It is generally about these two throwing jokes at each other. Boke is a character who is always chaotic, absentminded, and dopey. Tsukkomi, on the other hand, is wise, and he usually corrects Boke’s misinterpretations. 

The name Boke arose from the word Bokeru (呆ける), which originated from the word Tobokeru (恍ける). Tobokeru loosely translates “to play dumb.” During a performance, the host or announcer introduces the manzai duo as “Tsukkomi Toboke” which means Tsukkomi and Boke.

Their conversations are hilarious! Sometimes, Tsukkomi would lose patience and make Boke act out a scene with Tsukkomi. It is so that Boke would understand Tsukkomi’s point. However, Boke would still misinterpret the reenactment and makes silly interpretations. Tsukkomi usually gets frustrated and hits Boke with a paper fan called harisen. Primarily, these two are the exact opposite of one another. However, the blend of these two makes such a great tandem! 

Manzai is very common in Osaka. Tsukkomi usually wears a suit to show that this character is a serious person. Boke usually wears everyday clothes. “Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!” is a variety show in Japan. Their host is one of the most famous manzai duos called Downtown. However, unlike the usual manzai duos, Boke wears the suit, and Tsukkomi wears casual clothes. Boke wears a suit, with the tie inside his pants to show his goofiness. Hitoshi Matsumoto is the actor who plays Boke, and Masatoshi Hamada plays Tsukkomi.

Manzai Comedy Representation in Anime

A known anime in Japan entitled “K-ON!” by Yui Hirasawa also depicts a great representation of manzai, as shown in episode nine of the second season. Two of the lead characters performed a manzai act before performing their song at a neighborhood talent show. Azuza acted as the Tsukkomi and Yui as the Boke

However, this routine isn’t always about two people. Sometimes it comes in two groups, or a group and a person. The Tsukkomi usually plays as the only sane person in a show that corrects the Boke. Sometimes Tsukkomi and Boke play as two groups. And sometimes, there is only one Boke, and the rest of the cast plays as Tsukkomi. Various manzai duos exist, but every show must only portray the Boke and Tsukkomi characteristics. 

There are many other shows, manga, and anime that portray manzai. Some of the anime are GintamaSket Dance, Getbackers, The Prince of Tennis, Bleach, and a lot more! The influence of this comedy routine in different fields of entertainment is evident. Even to this day, this style of comedy can still be seen on many media.

The Birth of Manzai Comedy

Manzai comedy has a rich modest beginning. Its history started during the Middle Ages, which was during the late Heian period. Every New Year, two performers visit the homes in their town and perform auspicious rituals with humorous acts. Although, by the Muromachi period, the history of “strolling art” of folk manzai existed. It is said to be the root of modern-day manzai. A pair of men perform this door-to-door routine. One serious guy called the tayu wears a ceremonial hat called eboshi, a coat imprinted with large seals called haori, and a hand fan called sensu.

The tayu would sing prayers and dance in a noble style in return for a handful of rice or some money. The other guy is called the saizo. The saizo is a funny man wearing the same hat and coat as the tayu, but the saizo plays the hand drum. As the two of them end their performance, the saizo would playfully insert humor into their act. The tayu would verbally reprimand him and strike him on the head with his fan. This performance would bring laughter to the audience. Some people believe that this laughter conveys good luck. 

This manzai has developed into different styles as time goes by. The performances happen now, even if it’s not New Year. During the Edo period, some of the meaningful acts were the Mikawa Manzai, Owari Manzai, and Yamato Manzai. It is where the term “manzai” was derived from. However, the one that became the most significant was the Osaka Manzai. As time went by, this traditional routine has adopted so many changes. Performers started adding more witty gags and riddles to their performances. 

The Survival of the Routine

Manzai risked demise as the end of World War II approached. It was all because of a Japanese conglomerate named Yoshimoto Kogyo that’s why Manzai survived. He attempted to maintain what was left and represented it to others. During the Taisho era, an entertainment enterprise in Osaka saw the potential of Osaka manzai. They presented the traditional comedy act to the Tokyo audiences, and the feedback was very positive. The fresh style of manzai made it very triumphant in the entertainment industry. In 1933, the publicity unit of Yoshimoto Kogyo stamped the word “manzai” and came out as we know it today. 

The known founder of modern manzai is Tamagoya Entatsu. Tamagoya Entatsu was a singer of goshu ondo. He would sing this song accompanied by dancing called bon and play for an hour. It is indeed a long song, and to make the performance engaging, Tamagoya Entatsu would add a Nagoya-manzai to make the audience laugh. Sunugawa Sutemaru also plays a massive role in the development of manzai. Around 1899, Sutemaru was also a singer of goshu ondo at the young age of 10. He played a significant role in “cleaning up” manzai. He also managed to maintain his style of comedy even though Yoshimoto has influenced Osaka manzai in many places in Japan. 

History is not boring! Instead, it is a beautiful part of our being. We should all preserve history as it is a part of who we are today. This history was the reason for the many things that we have now. Most of them just evolved into something even more beautiful. History aged so fine, just like wine. 

Entatsu and Achako: The Shabekuri Manzai Pioneers

By the latter part of 1920, manzai started to struggle even though it was still on the trend. It was because of the skit’s old-fashioned elements such as the clothing, songs, and instruments. Contemporary urban Japanese pursue western influence in their everyday lives. Because of this, this comedy routine also adapted a few changes. The Yoshimoto Corporation, located in Osaka, introduced a new duo. They were Yokoyama Entatsu and Hanabashi Achako

Entatsu and Achako were the reasons for the modern manzai we experience today. They wore western-style clothing during their performances. They performed wearing “unusual clothes” and introduced an absurd style of conversation-which the audience loved. Hayashi Shonosuke was the main reason for the change of clothes of the manzai duo. Shonosuke instructed Entatsu and Achako to wear western clothing and told Entatsu to wear “glasses like Lloyd’s” and “mustache like Chaplin’s.” The conversational style of manzai was a great hit, and radios, stages, and films included this type of routine. 

Entatsu and Achako are the inventors of the style now called shabekuri manzai or conversation manzai. The shabekuri manzai became so popular in Japan. Entatsu and Achako entertained each other in a pleasant, complementary antagonism. The two of them played the role of the tsukkomi and boke. The tsukkomi, as we all know, is the witty one, while the boke is the foolish one. The conversations between the two performers have been around since the beginning of this traditional stand up comedy. However, this has never been the focus of manzai. Today, discussions, and reenactments by the two manzai performers compose the whole skit. Entatsu and Achako influenced this type of performance. 

Shabekuri manzai has dominated the entertainment industry! Even today, shabekuri manzai is still evident in modern-day shows and television skits. Good job on preserving manzai, Entatsu, and Achako

A Preview of Yoshimoto New Star Creation

As if the bloom of shabekuri manzai is enough! Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. opened Yoshimoto New Star Creation (NSC), a comedy school known as Yoshimoto Academy. There are currently two branches in Osaka and Tokyo. The NSC in Osaka, established in 1982, was the first branch, and the one in Tokyo, established in 1995, was the second branch. If you’re a Japanese person who aspires to be a comedian, then this is the right school for you! This school has a systematic process to get you to the entertainment industry. You will be a Yoshimoto Kogyo-affiliated comedian after graduating from NSC.

This school was officially known as Yoshimoto General Comedy Arts Academy. You can be a comedian if you have the talent to make others laugh. However, enrolling in NSC gives you more chances of being a successful entertainer because Yoshimoto Kogyo Corporated, which operates the school, is a major entertainment corporation. 

Must-Know Terms in Manzai

Jokes and gags may not be funny at all if you can’t understand the language used in the punchlines. Only a few people outside Japan can speak the Japanese language or Nihongo. Listed below are some basic Japanese terms and phrases usually used during performances:

  • Boke (ボケ)

This word directly translates to “fool” or “idiot.” It’s also the act of making the audience laugh by doing or telling something hilarious. Making horrible mistakes, making a joke, or making yourself look funny are some parts of the act. Manzai wouldn’t last long if it weren’t for these boke actions! 

  • Tsukkomi (ツッコミ )

It is an act of telling the funny parts or mistakes of the boke. The tsukkomi’s role is to explain the point of laughter, which helps the delivery of the pun more comical to the audience. The tsukkomi sometimes slaps the shoulder or head of the boke because of frustration, which makes the presentation more hilarious.

  • Nori (ノリ)

In manzai, nori doesn’t mean seaweed! Nori means to adapt to the ambiance and the flow of the situation. After all, sushi is not involved in manzai, or what do we know? 

  • Furi (フリ)

It is the underline that leads to boke. It makes the boke easier to comprehend by furi before boke. Furi sometimes highlights the astonishment of boke, which makes the skit more hilarious. 

  • Nandeya nen (なんでやねん)

It means “you are wrong” or “why.” The tsukkomi commonly uses this phrase to pinpoint the puns of the boke. 

  • Mo e wa (もうええわ)

It translates to “I don’t want to listen to any more nonsense.” The tsukkomi commonly uses this phrase during manzai endings

Notable Manzai Performers

From the beginning to modern times, manzai comedy has had many outstanding performances. It started hundreds of years ago, even more than a thousand! It might be old, but this doesn’t mean that it’s out of style. However, it’s great to know the people who are significant manzai performers! Here are some of the notable personalities that made a massive impact in the entertainment industry:

  • Tamagoya Entatsu. He was initially a singer who sings goshu ondo. This song lasts up to an hour and usually accompanies a dance called bon. Entatsu usually adds a manzai in his performances to make the performance lively.
  • Sunagawa Sutemaru and Nakamura Haruyo. Sutemaru started performing manzai at the age of ten in the year 1899. He is well known for preserving his style of manzai. Haruyo and Sutemaru still have some records of their performances up to now. Sutemaru is the boke, and Haruyo is the tsukkomi.
  • Yokoyama Entatsu and Hanabishi Achako. These two started the modern manzai. Yokoyama Entatsu and Hanabishi Achako changed the clothing to formal suits and casual clothes and started the non-stop chatting manzai. Entatsu wears glasses and a mustache, depicting his goofiness as he was the boke,
  • Rigaru Senta and Mankichi. This duo came to be the origin of today’s Tokyo manzai.
  • Utsumi Keiko and Utsumi Yoshie. Keiko first performed on stage in 1938. She and Utsumi were partners in 1958 for the NHK Manzai Concours and won. They were the first comic duo awardees of the Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts in 1982.

Here’s more!

  • Yumeji Itoshi and Kimi Koishi. The brothers performed a “young manzai” as one of them was only twelve years old when they started performing manzai. In 1963, they hosted a popular game show until 1975. They are the first manzai act that received a Medal with Purple Ribbon. This award was given to them by the government for their essential contributions to culture and arts. 
  • Nanto Yuji and Miyako Chocho. These two are real-life partners! They were known for hosting a talk show, “Meoto Zenzai,” using the funny features of the Osaka dialect. 
  • Senta and Mankichi. There was an idea that these two played a dialogue in a high seat, and a director suggested using a manzai skit. In 1934, they became a member of Regal Records and named themselves Regal. Because of the prohibitions of the war, they changed their names to Senta Yanagiya and Mankichi. Their records roared the hits and reached 200! It records as the highest in the Tokyo Manzai worldwide. 
  • Shishi Tenya and Seto Wanya. This comedy duo became popular in Japan after World War II. They wrote a book entitled “Manzai Manzai One Week Improvement Method Rakugo.” 
  • Downtown. Don’t get confused! Downtown is just the stage name of the manzai performers Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada. They were formed in 1981. Instead of the traditional fast-talking manzai, they used a slow, muted tone to conquer the entertainment industry. Instead of facing the audience, these two performed while facing each other as if having a conversation.

Many other duos contributed so much to the entertainment industry. They are the reason why this tradition is still present up until today. We should continue to enrich it as this has been a part of the great history of Japan. 

Where to Experience Manzai Comedy

You can experience watching a manzai in a yoseYose is a theater found in Japan. It’s not a question of why the most famous yose is in Osaka and Tokyo. We all know that the most significant contributions in manzai came from those places. However, you can also watch performances on comedy programs! Japan broadcasts a special program during vacations. 

Every year, Japan holds a contest to determine the best manzai performers. Japan broadcasts this contest nationwide, and the contest’s victor usually receives prize money and other fabulous prizes! The winners also hold the name of leading manzai performers. 

Many online platforms are also available for everyone to watch. Since the pandemic started, many manzai performers have been left jobless. But because of technology, online platforms helped them start over again! Many performers started making their YouTube channels! They did this to continue sharing good vibes and happy energy amidst the pandemic. However, most of them are in Nihongo. Well, they say that if you really want something, go for it! Japanese is not that easy, but it is definitely manageable! Wouldn’t it be cool to watch manzai and many other Japanese shows without reading the subtitle? Once you start, you can never get enough with these! 


Culture, history, and stories should be kept and nurtured for future generations. No one can bring this back once it’s gone. Manzai comedy is a fun part of the Japanese culture and history, bringing so many stories together. It brings so much joy not just to elders but also to the youngsters. Everyone must protect these cultures that generations after generations have protected. Let’s be respectful of their sacrifices and hard work and treasure the history of Japan and all countries as well. We can pay our respect and still enjoy them at the same time!

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