The Three Stooges are legends of comedy. They were and will forever be hi-fucking-larious. I loved them when I was three, I still love them in my thirties. The same can be said for my father, my grandfathers, and just about every person with a dick that I’ve ever met (note: ownership of a dick is assumed, rarely have I personally confirmed these assumptions) has had a fondness and an innate understanding of the funny the Stooges provide. In contrast just about every person with a vagina that I’ve ever met (usually assumed, sometimes confirmed) has an incredibly strong dislike for the Stooges. Attempts to understand why through calm, level-headed discourse has often led to dismemberment of one or more parties of said discourse. I don’t get it. Apparently the funny bone that comes standard on the female models lacks the optional Stooge functionality that is standard on all male models.
The Stooges are one of the most polarizing subjects between the sexes. I believe I have found the current-day equivalent. And so I will inaugurate myself to Team Dick by introducing to those of you with dicks (I do not need to confirm ownership of a dick, I will gladly take your word for it) a modern-day comedic conundrum that will polarize the sexes as much as it will make you laugh so hard your dick will hurt (but it’s a good hurt).
“Batsu” (罰) is a Japanese word that means punishment. A “Batsu game” (罰ゲーム) is a game in which the loser or losers of the game suffer some form of punishment. Batsu game television shows are quite popular in Japanese television and, thanks to the power of YouTube, the rest of the world can now enjoy them as well. Below is a clip from a particularly epic batsu game.
In the above video, gentlemen are asked to name off things from a specific category. If they fail to name a thing off when it is their turn they get viciously slapped in the balls by a “chinko” (ちんこ) machine. Chinko is, of course, Japanese for penis. And it (the video) is fucking funny. So is the word “chinko”. And so is “chinopokomon“, a Pokémon spoof in South Park that translates to “penis monster”. Look for our Japanese blog partners, Team Chinko, in the coming months.
However the aim of my inaugural blog on Team Dick is not to simply introduce you to batsu games, it is to introduce you to, the legends, the Stooges, of Japan.
Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ダウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!) is an incredibly popular television show in Japan that’s been on the air since 1989. It is hosted by the Japanese comedy duo Downtown (ダウンタウン) along with the comedy duo Cocorico (ココリコ) and comedian Yamasaki Hōsei (山崎 邦正).
Before going further I’d like to let you know that there is a fuck ton of information I want to share about this show, the comedians that host it, and Japanese comedy in general. However I don’t have the attention span (and you probably don’t have the patience) to do it all in a single post. Instead I’ll try to tackle this in chunks. There will be bits of information that would help broaden your understanding of this show that I’m going to leave for a later date (or you could just spend a few hours following the Wikipedia links given above). Sorry about that, but I need to pick a starting point and go from there.
Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (commonly shortened to “Gaki no Tsukai” or simply “Gaki”) airs every Sunday and is thirty minutes long. The show does not follow a single format, but there are common formats. You might think of it as a sketch comedy show where each show represents a single sketch. Some sketches are one-time deals, other sketches occur with some regularity. However it’s not sketch comedy. Some episodes are based on a script, but most shows are based around a basic idea or premise and the cast’s natural reaction to what’s going on is the source of the comedy for the show.
Some example formats for the show include:
There’s many other “sketches” or “bits” that they do, but I’m not here to give you a comprehensive introduction to the show; just a little taste.
What I really want to talk about are their epic, annual “No Laughing” batsu games.
The first of these “No Laughing” specials aired in 2003. Four of the hosts were forced to spend a day at an onsen (温泉) (an inn located at or near a hot spring). The concept was fairly simple, if at any point during their stay any of the four were caught laughing they were subjected to a batsu in the form of a blow dart to the ass. The producers, of course, do everything in their power to make the four laugh while there. Some jokes are very subtle such as signs on walls with pictures of crew members or funny slogans, while other jokes are very forward such as two old women walking by dressed up as t.A.T.u. while one of t.A.T.u.’s songs plays.
In 2005 the scene for the “no laughing” batsu game was a high school. It was a moment from this batsu that went viral a few years ago and first caught my attention. It was this video that led me to discover Japanese batsu games and, more specifically, the Gaki no Tsuaki show. This is that clip:
The anguish on their faces as they try incredibly hard to not laugh takes an already funny scene way over the top. And each moment of each “No Laughing” special is just as funny.
A side note: The guy reading the English book was a former co-host for Gaki no Tsukai in the early 1990s. His name is Jimmy Onishi (ジミー 大西) and in an early Gaki no Tsukai show the hosts had a drawing contest. It was during this contest that they discovered Jimmy had some legitimate artistic ability. He later left the show to pursue a career in art (in which he’s become quite successful). However he still shows up every year in some kind of informational video that is played during the “No Laughing” specials. And every year the Gaki members get destroyed by Jimmy’s amazing comedy. It makes his departure from the show all the more bittersweet.
Over the past decade the format for these specials has been finely tuned. Originally there would be a preceding game in which the losers were forced to participate in the “No Laughing” batsu game. The winner or winners would assist the crew in adding to the misery of the losers during the game. That has since changed to every host participates in the batsu game. The hosts are placed into scenarios (like becoming high school students for a day) unlike the early batsu games where they would stay overnight at an inn. It has also become well known for the amazing number of Japanese celebrity cameos. The latest batsu game (December 31, 2010) had the hosts take on the role of spies in training. It was the longest batsu game yet at over six hours long and featured over 100 celebrity cameos.
There is a thriving online community centered around Gaki no Tsukai. With the power of the internet (and kind folks living in Japan) you can usually find the entire batsu game online within a few hours of it airing. Within a few months a fully translated and subtitled version of the batsu game will appear. In the past couple years the translators have been kind enough to release clips from the batsu game as they progress with the translation. However I find that a translation is not necessarily needed to enjoy these specials. I don’t understand Japanese (yet, but I hope to) so I don’t get all the jokes until the subtitled version is available, but you don’t really need subtitles to get many of the gags the producers pull on the hosts. Laughing itself is a universal language that requires no translation. I also find that the these comedians are especially expressive with their face and body language. It doesn’t require translation to know that a particular member of the show is not happy about the impending kick to the ass from a professional Thai kickboxer, but there are more subtle expressions that you can easily pick up on to add to your understanding of what’s going on in a particular moment.
You can start to get a taste for the show with a quick search on YouTube. If you like what you see there are other resources out there. Shibata Bread is someone who has helped translate many Gaki no Tsukai shows and will often provide context to many of the cultural references in the show that we Americans won’t likely get; I’ve found his blog indispensable. There is also GAKIFILES which provides subtitled episodes of Gaki no Tuskai and other shows as well as movies in which Gaki members have appeared.
It has become something of a New Year’s Eve tradition in Japan to watch the “No Laughing” batsu game while ringing in the new year. It’s very similar to a New Year’s Eve tradition we have here in the states: the Three Stooges marathon. And like the Three Stooges I’ve yet to meet a woman who finds these batsu games funny.
Team Dick, fuck yeah!
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