Manzai or a comic dialogue (漫才)

Manzai or comic dialogue is a type of entertainment or talk show performed mainly by a comedy duo, which has been uniquely developed in Japan's Kinki region based upon the traditional form of manzai observed on New Year's Day. The witty dialogue and wisecracks from a pair of comedians produces a lot of laughter. Manzai was named by the advertising department of Yoshimoto Kogyo in 1933 after Mandan started by Benshi (Japanese film narrators for silent movies) at the end of the Taisho era. Performers who perform manzai are called 'Manzai-shi' (stand-up comedian). Manzai seen in the Kansai area is often called Kamigata manzai.


Manzai (written in different kanji from the main topic Manzai) which is said to be the origin of manzai is a form of entertainment that started in the Heian period to deliver a congratulatory speech for the New Year along with chanting and dancing. A pair of performers visit each house, with one of them playing the drum and the other dancing with it after delivering a congratulatory speech for the New Year. In the Edo period, manzai named after its originating location including Owari Manzai, Mikawa Manzai and Yamato Manzai became popular in many places throughout the country, which developed into something much funnier by adding more wisecracks and riddle dialogues to utamai (a performance of singing and dancing). However, this form of entertainment nearly faded out by the end of World War II. They have been restored and succeeded in some preservation societies in recent years.

Manzai (written in different kanji used as the main topic and the previously-mentioned Manzai), which is an Osaka vaudeville started in the Meiji period, is based upon Sankyoku Manzai, one of many types of manzai. Sankyoku Manzai was a boisterous manzai using a Chinese fiddle, a drum and a shamisen, and the early Manzai was accompanied by some musical instruments after the fashion of Sankyoku Manzai. Some of the early manzai entertainers included Entatsu TAMAGOYA, a pioneer of manzai, and a duo of Sutemaru SUNAGAWA and Haruyo NAKAMURA. However, vaudeville at the time was mainly comprised of rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) and manzai was regarded just as a supporting type of entertainment.

After that, manzai began including elements of Niwaka (an impromptu comic play), Karukuchi, which was transformed from Niwaka and had a form of rakugo played by two persons, as well as Rokyoku (recitation of a kind of sung narrative), and reached its present form. At the end of the Taisho period, a duo of Entatsu YOKOYAMA and Achako HANABISHI, who were Yoshimoto Kogyo entertainers, established manzai as a talk show called 'Shabekuri Manzai' in which entertainers made people laugh only with their conversation, and their style achieved significant popularity.

Up to the beginning of Showa period, manzai had been described mainly in either '萬才' or '萬歳.'
However, when an advertising department was established in Yoshimoto Kogyo in January 1933 which announced in 'Yoshimoto Engei Tsushin' that they would change its description in kanji (Chinese characters) to '漫才.'
Therefore, it is now widely accepted that Tetsuhiko HASHIMOTO, who was managing the advertising department at the time, started using the kanji '漫才' to describe manzai. However, some people believe that the person who started using the kanji '漫才' to describe manzai was actually Shonosuke HAYASHI, the general manager of Yoshimoto Kogyo at the time, rather than HASHIMOTO since the kanji '漫才' had been already used as one of the business line of Yoshimoto Kogyo in March 1932, when Yoshimoto Kogyo changes its name to Yoshimoto Kogyo Gomei Kaisha.

Since the appearance of Entatsu and Achako, the popularity of manzai has rapidly spread among people and many other forms of manzai-shi have emerged. In Tokyo, Kingoro YANAGIYA who was on familiar terms with Entatsu and Achako was inspired by manzai and thus had Goro and Rokuro of the Yanagiya family perform comical conversation on stage. The duo later changes their names to Rigaru Senta and Mankichi, and came to be regarded as the origin of today's Tokyo Manzai. On the other hand, there were some manzai-shi, who maintained the classic style of using some musical instrument, including Sutemaru SUNAGAWA, Haruyo NAKAMURA, Kashimashi-Musume in Kansai, and Keiko and Yoshie UTSUMI as well as Chiyowaka and Chiyokiku SHOKAKUYA in Tokyo.

In the post war period, many manzai-shi suffered their own partners' death from war, death by disease, and unexplained disappearance, etc. Some manzai-shi, who did not have an exclusivity contract with Yoshimoto Kogyo, gathered in Osaka and established Dannosuke Geino-sha, a company that received orders for and engaged in managing entertainment. Dannosuke SHOKAKUYA gathered several manzai-shi at Sanno, Nishinari Ward, which was a convenient place for gathering people in terms of public transportation. Accordingly, Sanno was called "Geinin Yokocho" (entertainers alley) and became popular among local people. Later, it became easier for entertainers to work in places other than Sanno due to the development of public transportation, and many of them signed a contract with Yoshimoto Kogyo or Shochiku Geino.

The 1950's and 60's were the heyday of manzai. Popular entertainers on television and radio shows in the Kansai region during the period included duos such as Daimaru and Raketto NAKATA, Itoshi YUMEJI and Koishi KIMI, Miyako Chocho and Yuji NANTO, Koro JINSEI and Sachiko IKUE, Ohama and Kohama UNABARA, and Manga trio. In Tokyo, the duos of Senta and Mankichi who were described earlier, Tenya SHISHI and Wanya SETO, and Toppu and Raito COLUMBIA were also active on television and radio shows.

In the late 1970's, manzai became popular through the TV shows on the Fuji television channel, namely "Kao Meijin Gekijo" and "THE MANZAI," and some mid-career and young manzai-shi including duos of Yasushi YOKOYAMA and Kiyoshi NISHIKAWA, Kausu and Botan NAKATA, Comedy No.1, Two-Beat, Sento and Ruisu HOSHI, The Bonchi, Norio NISHIKAWA and Yoshio KAMIGATA, Shinsuke and Ryusuke as well as BB achieved significant popularity. Many of them are still active at the forefront of entertainment today.

Manzai was originally developed as a form of entertainment performed in a storyteller theater; however, manzai has also had a remarkable affinity with the mass media and has thus been frequently shown or introduced on radio and TV shows.

Other countries such as the U.S.A., Germany, Korea and China also have similar types of entertainment; however, no performance where nori-tsukkomi and dotsuki (hitting your partner) are seen in these countries due to cultural differences.

Conventionalized style

Manzai is a talk show performed mainly by a duo, but there are some cases where a trio (a group of three members) perform it. Background music may be used or the performers themselves may play some musical instrument.

Traditionally, many male performers wore matching costumes or suits, which were tailored with flashy, primary-color lame fabric. However, the young manzai-shi who were also active as comedians in the manzai boom in 1970's started changing the tradition and many of them began wearing more fashionable or informal dress which can be seen on the street. Also, one or both member(s) of some comedians and manzai-shi duos sometimes wear unusual costumes in order to represent their unique characters or trademark (Yoshichi SHIMADA of BB in their younger days, Taka of Taka and Toshi, etc.).

No props are used in manzai, in principle; even when used, the number of the props is quite small. There are only a few restrictions about costumes and props.

Boke and Tsukkomi
Roles in manzai can be divided into two types; boke and tsukkomi.

Boke is the role of the comic that is expected to say something funny about the topic. He/she uses obvious mistakes and misunderstandings to mainly tell silly or funny jokes about the topic, to make the audience laugh.

The partner of the boke comic immediately points out the mistakes or misunderstandings made by the boke comic to show the audience what is funny about it. Common ways to react to the boke comic's jokes are to slap or hit the boke person's head with a light item or to hit the chest of the boke person with the back of his/her hand. This role is called tsukkomi.

Boke used to be called toboke because he/she often made the audiences' laugh by acting stupid (the word is originated from "tobokeru," which means playing fool in Japanese). In introducing the roles of a duo (or trio) as 'tsukkomi toboke' on stage, the phrase came to be interpreted as 'tsukkomi to boke' (tsukkomi AND boke), which became the current names for each role.

The act of tsukkomi butting in the boke's jokes is called 'tsukkomi wo ireru.'
The timing of tsukkomi itself often provokes laughter of the audience. Tsukkomi also provides a break in the ongoing topic of the boke person and thus is effective in producing brisk structural rhythms. There is another style of tsukkomi called 'nori-tsukkomi' in which a tsukkomi person does not butt in the boke's joke immediately, but develops the joke further before butting in. However, the laughter is actually provoked by the tsukkomi person in nori-tsukkomi, and thus is different from the original role of tsukkomi.

According to Daijisen (a type of Japanese dictionary), tsukkomi is a role that develops a plot of the topic; however, that is not necessarily so. There are quite a few duos or trios of manzai-shi where the boke person(s) develop the plot. Roles of boke and tsukkomi can be switched around; versatile entertainers can switch their roles naturally depending on the situation. Therefore, it is a good guess that boke and tsukkomi are not fixed roles in a precise sense, and the exchange of conversation between the two roles is just conceptualized.

Examples of manzai duos where the tsukkomi person develops a plot include Nakagawa-ke, Noiru and Koiru SHOWA, and Itoshi YUMEJI and Koishi KIMI. On the other hand, examples of duos where the boke person develops a plot include Bikkizu, and Daisuke and Hanako MIYAGAWA. Examples of manzai duos where roles of boke and tsukkomi are not fixed include Daimaru and Raketto NAKATA, Yasushi YOKOYAMA and Kiyoshi NISHIKAWA, Kausu and Botan NAKATA, All Hanshin and Kyojin, Tomiizu, and Kenta and Yuta OKA. As mentioned earlier, there were not a few manzai-shi whose roles of boke and tsukkomi were not fixed. However, since the teacher-student system collapsed and new generations who have learned manzai at a manzai training school (the third comedy generation or later) gained power, most of the comedians in those generations have performed manzai in which their roles of boke and tsukkomi are distinctly divided.

In addition, although the number is still small, there are some manzai duos both of whom play boke roles (e.g. Waraimeshi) or tsukkomi roles. Also, some duos have no tsukkomi role and the partner of boke role develops the joke by acting impressed or convinced by it instead of butting in the conversation (subspecies of manzai duo in which both of them play boke roles) (e.g. Shampoo-hat, POISON GIRL BAND, etc.).

Types of manzai

The form of manzai has a tendency where the style is first established by a pioneering duo, and then patterned by other followers or latecomers. Although people have tried to classify the types of manzai in consideration of such patterns, the classifications are just used to facilitate the description of each manzai and never become established as genres.

[Original Japanese]