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Pop Culture in Japan: Comedy

Spend one night watching Japanese television and you'll realize that the stereotype view of the locals being a dour, unfunny lot is rubbish. The Japanese love a laugh and have long enjoyed the skilfully told monologues of rakugoka, traditional comedy performers. Even more popular is the contemporary format manzai - a two-man team of comic (boke) and foil (tsukkomi).

The Kansai area around Osaka has traditionally produced the nation's best comics. Internationally famous now for his movies is "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, one half of the old manzai act The Two Beats, and still a regular host and guest on quiz and light entertainment shows. The current top performers are Ishibashi Taka-aki and Kinashi Noritake, aka the Tunnels, who have recently eclipsed long-running stars Matsumoto Hitoshi and Hamada Masatoshi, a comedy duo known as Downtown. They won a loyal following for their dazzling improvisational show Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (This Is No Job For Kids!). Other funny guys you'll find hard to avoid on prime-time telly are U-chan and Nan-chan.

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