Japanese woman wins BBC newcomer comedy award


Staff Writer

Japanese stand-up comedienne Yuriko Kotani won this year’s BBC Radio New Comedy Award for aspiring comics last Friday, beating five other finalists at the Comedy Store in London with a five-minute act blending humor and sarcasm.

“I’m speechless. … This is so wonderful!” Kotani, 34, said after receiving the award.

Kotani won £1,000 ($1,510) and will receive special guidance from the BBC Radio Comedy department as well as a chance to appear on BBC shows.

The competition was open to burgeoning comedians with up to five years of experience. Contestant were asked to showcase a five-minute routine made up of stand-up, character routines, musical acts or sketches.

In just under two years since her January 2014 debut, Kotani managed to stave off competition from more experienced rivals, making it to the finals of around 10 other contests.

In August, she was named runner-up in Britain’s longest-running annual stand-up comedy contest, So You Think You’re Funny. And last month, she was named winner of this year’s Brighton’s Squawker Award, which is open to a variety of comedy acts.

Kotani’s winning routine, selected from among 750 entries, made the audience burst into laughter as soon as she took the stage.

“Have we anyone from Japan today?” she asked, a question met with silence from the audience.

“Because all the Japanese are at work,” Kotani said.

Despite her noticeable Japanese accent, Kotani has been winning audiences over with her observations as an outsider and her sarcastic and self-deprecating offbeat punch lines that riff on the idiosyncrasies of both Japanese and British culture.

Recalling a poster stating that 93.12 percent of all London commuter trains run within five minutes of their scheduled time, Kotani, who came to the U.K. 11 years ago and now lives in London, offered a wry comment: “Is this confession?”

“Underneath it says ‘We are improving a journey on London over ground,’ are they apologizing?” she said in a reference to the famed punctuality of Japanese trains.

Half-jokingly, Kotani also praised British culture, describing its people as laid back and relaxed as opposed to the Japanese who, she claims, are too organized and too busy “with no time to mess about.”

“I don’t want to live like robot,” she said.

In another routine, Kotani referenced the English suffix “-ish,” used colloquially in situations where there is some doubt, saying that announcements about delayed or canceled trains in Britain could be replaced with displays saying “coming-ish.”

This is the reason “why people are called British,” she said wryly.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    So, basically this woman’s gig is telling gaijin all the racist stereotype rubbish that Japanese throw at NJ in Japan all the time as an insult, except that her overseas audience don’t know that, so they think she’s being funny, instead of just saying what many Japanese people really believe.
    Ahh, Japanese racial superiority myths; I could just laugh all day.

    • Alucard

      Without cultural stereotypes there would be no room for jokes

      • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

        Err, way to apologize for racism there! Well done.
        Acid test; replace ‘British’ with ‘Japanese’ and see how many Japanese people don’t slam you as a racist.
        It’s interesting to me that the Japanese are so sensitive to foreigners they think are making jokes at their expense (no one remembers BBC’s ‘QI’ show a couple of years ago?), but have no reservations about making jokes at the expense of foreigners. This is exactly the type of arrogant parochialism that sees blackface continue in Japan. We are not helping Japan by making apologies for them.

      • shatonbytories

        I agree on the QI episode. For anyone who doesn’t remember, the quiz asked who was the unluckiest man alive? The answer was a Japanese bloke who had the misfortune of being at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they were atomic bombed. Now on face value this does not seem very sensitive or comic, but anyone with half a brain would’ve realised that the joke was not on him, it was about the bizarreness of the situation in which human beings actually deemed it totally normal to unleash two of these terrible things so that he had to suffer them twice. The joke was on us all as humans who, despite advances in technology, still haven’t progressed mentally beyond the Stone Age and about the ordinary folks who get caught up in this backwardness through no fault of their own. However, the Japanese govt took the joke on face value (despite one of the local tropes being that foreigners don’t get subtlety and nuance but Japanese do!) and complained and received an apology from the BBC.

        I don’t agree with you on this Japanese comedian though. I mean, I haven’t heard her routine yet (I’m working – so her joke is actually no joke!) and it might just be the easy stuff we banter about with each day here as you say, but if you are complaining that this stuff shouldn’t be on Britain’s airwaves aren’t you no better than the Japanese you claim exist in your post. We are better than that aren’t we? Free speech and all that. I think it shows maturity and healthy confidence when you can laugh at yourself and have others laugh at you without taking offence. The same goes for countries. I like it that we can take the mick out of the royal family and the absurdities and cr+@ness of British life and social structures. These things are never lampooned in Japan. I do not think you want British humour to go down the same path?

      • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

        I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I’m just trying to say that when the shoe is on the other foot, the Japanese government steps in; it’s that big a deal for them.

      • shatonbytories

        Or the uyoku do, hence the total lack of gags about the Emp or anything that challenges their glorious and noble view of the past.
        I await the day when some new comedian emerges to take down some of the sacred cows in this country. For instance, the whole rigid and conformist sempai – kouhai dynamic deserves a good satirical slating. It might be a useful social construct in some instances but it is never critiqued. Maybe most people think it is natural rather than being a construct and do not conceive of the absurdness and humour contained therein.

        I got round to listening to the Japanese comedian’s routine….. Maybe a B+ for effort. The train timetable stuff was old hat and not even well done (Top Gear did it better when they were on the Shinkansen once…. Yep, Top Gear.) The “ish” material had potential, so if she has more than 5 minutes next time, she should develop that further.

  • KetsuroOu

    I listened to her set. It was great. Despite her nervousness, she gave a funny and well-timed performance. As the article mentions, her bit on the word “-ish” was really amusing.

    I hope that she does get the chance to appear in some BBC productions. It would be nice to see more of her in the future.

    • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

      I hope she gets booed off stage.

    • Sam Gilman

      I thought the material was kind of unoriginal (maybe safe as it’s a competition) but she definitely has talent and she seems to generate a lot of warmth from the audience. It would be nice to see her live act for a better sense of who she is.

  • Hendrix

    Not funny and an annoying voice, if this was a foreigner making jokes about Japanese in Japan there would be outrage…unless it was some foreign “terento” who is paid to act like a bufoon on Japanese TV so they can laugh at the gaikokujin… her routine had the usual tired stuff of trains being late or whatever.. a far cry from Eddie Izzard or Blackadder or Ricky Gervais..

    • anoninjapan

      Agreed. The “ish” was a nice observation..except that it came across as too contrived, as if, written for her by someone.

      Can you imagine a non-Japanese doing the same in Japan. Oh look how funny you Japanese are because all you can say is ‘oishiiiii’ for food no mater the taste and ask…’can you use chopsticks’ when sat down to dinner..or ‘can you eat rice’, ‘can you eat raw fish’…etc when the food is ordered…with very obvious double-entendre humour based around these daily events etc…..nope.

      Her attempt at self deprecation of herself/Japan didn’t cut it for me. Too contrived again and as if an apology for having a perfect clockwork train running country to counter balance. What next the Mother-in-Law jokes of Les Dawson..?

      Her routine was more of the 1970s style dressed up as progressive

      • Hendrix

        Yes contrived, good observation.. and if a foreigner started using the same banta as you outlined they would be considered racist or that they don’t understand Japan and never will kind of nonsense.. just hope people in the Uk wake up to her unfunny spiel..

      • KBeee

        I heard her (and the other finalists) on the Steve Wright show, and she made me laugh more than the others..
        But re Eddie Izzard mentioned by a previous poster. He was on the Steve Wright show today, and that man just goes up and up in my esteem! Doing his show in Germany, he does it in German (and not learned parrot fashion – he understands), French in France, Spanish in Spain.. He’s learning Russian now to bring his show to Russia. Amazing