Comedienne Tomochika is quite a character

by Setsuko Kamiya

Along with comedy duos who do manzai (two-man standup) or short skits, a rise in “pin geinin (solo comedians)” is another dimension to the current owarai boom.

Some make fun of celebrities, or just make fun of themselves, but funny lady Tomochika has chosen instead to create original characters in absurd yet everyday situations. She could be a ryokan waitress serving newlyweds, or a mama-san in a hostess club, or a voice artist who has to jump rapidly from one character to another. She totally inhabits these personas, and their ridiculous behavior invariably gets lots of laughs.

Before she became a comedienne, Tomochika, 31, was already a celebrity in her native Ehime Prefecture as a reporter for a local evening news show. Wanting to realize a childhood dream, however, she gave up parochial stardom and left for Osaka and New Star Creation (NSC), a well-known comedian school run by Yoshimoto Kogyo. She entered when she was 26, and since then her talent has blossomed.

Since her debut in 2000, she has quickly gained popularity and, in 2003 and 2004, won several prestigious entertainment prizes. These days, she is a regular on three radio and 11 TV shows, requiring her to commute back and forth between Osaka and Tokyo on a frequent basis.

Late last month, before leaving for Osaka for a live TV show, Tomochika took a moment to share her professional views on the current owarai boom.

Did you always want to perform solo?

No. When I entered NSC, I thought I would perform as part of a duo if I met someone good. But I was already 26, whereas most of my classmates were only 18 or 19, and there was a large gap between what we thought was funny. We didn’t share the same values, as our experiences up till then had been different. They just didn’t understand.

How do you come up with your performance ideas?

Usually, I start by imagining a situation and playing with it. I also get ideas from interesting characters or conversations that I encounter in my daily life and start creating from there.

I like to observe people, especially men over 50. They are hilarious and often move in really silly ways, so I like to copy them. I also like to perform as people who are obsessed with something and can’t see anything else.

Is performing on stage and on TV different?

For me, not so much. The performances I do on TV are usually ones I’ve already done on stage. Sometimes TV production people ask me to change things to make it easier for the whole audience to understand. But if I simplify my lines or actions, then it’s no longer my original idea, so I refuse to — I protect my routines.

In this “owarai boom”, female entertainers seem to be in the limelight. Do you feel that way yourself?

I think that it has always been easier for comediennes to become popular faster than male performers, once the audience accepts you. So I do think we have an advantage.

Some entertainers who are on TV all the time at one point suddenly drop out of sight. Any thoughts on that?

I’ve always thought that entertainers shouldn’t be on TV too much because they end up not creating and doing their own neta (comic material). I don’t want to be like that.

At the same time, it doesn’t mean that the career of a comedian has ended just because they are not on TV anymore. TV audiences seem to think that way, but I would like them to change such views.

You are known to admire the comedian Tamori, but what do you like about him?

He’s very knowledgeable and does silly things that he believes are funny, even if it doesn’t necessarily make everyone laugh. On [the daily variety show] “Waratte Iitomo!” I often see occasions where the audience isn’t laughing, but he just continues with his routine. I can relate to that.

Comedians take different approaches, and I think those with his kind of attitude are in the minority. And even though some want to be like that, they end up just adjusting themselves to the audience or TV. Of course, that’s necessary to a certain extent, but I personally don’t want to make any compromises.

How do you see comedians’ place in the entertainment world?

I think they are the most talented at reading the atmosphere of a show or performance. To be able to say witty things to others, you have to always be aware of what everyone is doing or saying. Those who survive in this world are the ones who can do that. I think comedians are among the brightest people in the industry.