stand-up comedy

Ask Gaijin Girl :Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #8

Always ready to give advice on life and relationships because she never has one. 200px-Japanese_The_Spoken_Language_-_Book_1_-_Jorden_Noda

Dear Gaijin Girl,

I’m 16 years old, live in Iowa and want to learn Japanese. What’s the best way to do that?

Sincerely Stoked,

Lori

Dear Lori,

Dear sweet Lori, I know exactly how you feel. You see a Kurosawa, an Itami film or some anime and are blown away by how exotic and mysterious the people and culture seem to be. Whenever people make a list of all the places they’ve visited on their website or in conversation, Japan is always mentioned last because it is culturally and technologically the closest you can get to the moon. Hell, you could have gone to the moon and set up a self sustaining colony there and people would still say, “Really? You’ve been to Japan? That’s fascinating!”

Let me save you hours upon hours spent scribbling thousands upon thousands of angled pretzels into little green boxes or conjugating infixes.  Don’t bother learning Japanese, nobody is saying anything interesting.

I studied Japanese for three years in high school, four years in university (it was my major.) before coming to Japan to find out no one is debating the meaning of life or how many reincarnations it takes to reach enlightenment.  They’re talking about how much cuter their rhinestone Hello Kitty smartphone case is compared to the “old” one they bought two months ago. (and that’s just the men)

One of my Japanese language classmates translated a book and some letters written in pre-Word War II Japanese into English. Because of this, he won an award and got to meet the emperor and empress. (He said they were nice and cordial enough but that their heads were so disproportionately large compared to their tiny little bodies that they looked like bobble-heads on a dashboard.) The night before he flew back to America we took him out for a drink that turned into several. Then this man who I looked up to and whose Japanese ability I absolutely envied said, “Why the hell did I study Japanese! Where can I go? Where will this take me other than Japan?! I should have studied Spanish or French, I’d be able to travel around Africa independently if I spoke French! Where the hell can I go with Japanese?! “ At this point, a Japanese friend and classmate raised a glass proposing a toast in his nonnative English, “May you never remember your time here forever!”  “Here, here!” said my my award winning classmate as glasses clinked. Last I heard, he became a best-selling science fiction writer.  I have no idea if he translates his books into Japanese himself, but somehow I doubt it.

By the way, just so you know, many Japanese people don’t want you to learn Japanese.  It’s much more charming and romantic if you don’t. One summer, I went to the ocean. A twenty-something woman and her two friends approached me in the water.

“Where are you from?” she asked in Japanese.

“From the States. “ I answered.

“Cool, here, you can use my inner tube. Do you like Japan?”

“Sure, it’s great.”

“Your Japanese is pretty good. How long have you been here?

“Thanks, I’ve been here twelve years.”

“Ugh! Give me back my inner tube. You’re not any fun. You know too much about us!” she said as she took back her flotation device and swam in the direction of Westerners with tattoos on their forearms. Fat chance they’d been in Japan longer than a week unless they loved wearing long-sleeved shirts  year round.

If I still haven’t deterred you from studying Japanese even after I tell you that unless you live in California, Hawaii, are Asian or work as a translator for a Midwestern soybean farm, people are going to assume you are pretentious and loaded since you have the time to study such a seemingly superfluous language.  I recommend you have a “Japanese and…” plan. You can only learn a language effectively  if you have something to talk about so pick some skills you can master, get paid for and then talk about. Do you like Japanese manga or anime? Learn how to draw and research the words and phrases that come up during rape. Do you like politics? Practice throwing people under the bus and then become proficient at avoiding direct questions about it. Maybe one day, you’ll be the American ambassador to Japan and when a dispute over whether Japan, Korea or China owns a particular island, as well as, the natural resources under it, you can bust out a pair the binoculars on the first bullet train to Kyoto and say,”My, what beautiful temples you have here!”

My advice? Learn how to code.

Sincerely,

Gaijin Girl

How to Avoid Comedy Competition Scams

All new comics want and need validation of their talent and ability to work and get paid. Entering a competition seems like the most efficient way to make that happen. The truth is it can be, but it usually isn't. If a person enters a competition, they need to do four things: prepare the best material possible, pack it into the allotted time frame, spend a lot of time and/or money and be prepared to lose to a better act.

Most comics that enter competitions are prepared to do all of these things. The one thing competitors are not ready to do is lose to inferior or crap acts. Surprisingly, this happens a lot and by "a lot" I mean it happened to me.

In an effort to help other comics avoid the mistakes I've made, I've compiled a checklist for comics to go through before entering a competition so that time, money and opportunities are not wasted.

1. Remember that losing to an inferior act is not 100% avoidable unless you refuse to enter a competition. This is important to remember when you are tempted to think you are entering an "easy" competition. Abstinence is the only safe option. Keep in mind that there are other more productive things you can do to further your career instead.

2. Do your research on whoever is holding the competition.

Ask yourself these questions: What kind of experience does the organizer have in the comedy industry in the country you want to work in? Who does he work with? Have you ever heard of them? Do professionals work with him? What are people saying about him? What does he do for a living? Why is he holding a competition in the first place?What are his prejudices, if any? Ask around long enough and the answers will pop up, trust me. Oh, and don't let the prize money dazzle you.

By the way, if an organizer has a habit of typing in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TO PEOPLE HE HAS NEVER MET REMINDING THEM TO BE PROFESSIONAL AND TO BE ON TIME, this is a sign the organizer is unprofessional, if not mentally ill.

3. Find out what the politics are.

Does the organizer consider himself a comic? If he does and especially if he runs a "comedy class" beware. A student can never surpass his master. If you're funnier than the "comic" organizer, he'll never admit it, particularly if you are not one of his students. -The organizer at my "competition" offered all the contestants comedy classes "at a discount" five minutes before the show started. That's when I threw up in my mouth. That said, if you are one of his students and you like each other, go for it. You've got a better shot than an outsider. What other rooms in other cities/countries/clubs does he do business with? If you're not connected to those places, that's another strike against you.

4.Get as much information about the venue as you can. Does the venue serve alcohol, drinks, and/or food? This may seem like a stupid question, but you need to find out. No one wants or should perform to a room full of punters that paid 20 dollars for a comedy show and suddenly find out they will be sober, thirsty and hungry for the next two hours. ( I had to do this and frankly believe all of the contestants deserved a Purple Heart for performing under these circumstances.) Is there a proper stage, lighting and seats? If it looks like you are performing in some rich kid's family basement, you probably are.

5. Find out who the judges are. The judges should always be professionals in the industry. This is very important, even if you don't win or place. You need to be seen by people that can like you, remember you and help you in the long run. My judges were "friends of sponsors who have seen stand-up comedy once or twice and are guided by the organizer" There were three rounds, nine judges and each judge judged a grand total of one show. If you feel a little sick at this point, you should. The judges should never ever be punters, civilians or sponsors. If you want your creative ability to be judged by unqualified people, I suggest you pitch a TV show to an American TV network instead.

6. Don't travel internationally for a competition. The more money you spend the higher the stakes. If someone else is paying your way or you can travel and get accommodation cheap, go for it. Do not be tempted to spend your savings or money you don't have. If you are rich, hold your own competition and declare yourself the winner. -Side note- If the organizer doesn't or can't help you secure the necessary visa, it is not a professional competition.

7. If you know that a competition is dodgy don't encourage other comics to enter. Be honest with other comics. Puffing up the credibility of a competition you've entered does not raise your credibility as a comic, your honesty does. The competition I was in came highly recommended by two acquaintances that had been in the competition before. It was only after I arrived at the competition that I discovered it was common knowledge that " the organizer picks who he wants anyway." These two acquaintances that recommended me work full-time in the banking business so shame on me for being surprised.

Conclusion Now you've gone through the checklist and decide you want to enter a competition anyway. Remember, things rarely work out as planned. It's the people you meet and the relationships that develop that matter most in the long run.

I was fortunate enough to meet an equally duped and like-minded comic at the "competition" and have made a dear friend and brother for life. Because of this, I now have opportunities in Australia and in the U.S. that I didn't have before.

If you've decided not to enter a competition, good for you. There are other options. Go to a major city with a good circuit, sleep on a friends couch and gig as much as you can for as long as you can and meet as many people as you can. Put a show together and do the Edinburgh, Adelaide or Brighton Fringe. It is more expensive than the first option but the value in terms of developing your craft and meeting people that can help you is priceless.

No matter what happens, keep writing, keep working, keep going. If after reading this, you find yourself a victim of a comedy competition scam...haha! Welcome to the Screwed Over Club and start writing that half hour of material you know the experience has given you.