Entertainment News

Japanese woman wins BBC newcomer comedy award

by Magdalena Osumi

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.