Comedian Esper Ito is famous for putting millions of TV viewers — and even Japan's funniest entertainers — in stitches. Wrapped in a gold cape and sporting red tights, he cuts a tragicomic figure, a court jester who's never afraid of risking bodily harm as long as he can make others' lives more fun. In his routines, Esper keeps betting against himself like an athlete who has nobody to compete with, and, much to the delight of his audience, he usually loses big-time. Whether he is putting price tags on milk cartons, blowing up plastic gloves pulled over his face or climbing through a tennis racket with his body completely folded in half, his total dedication to the activity at hand is what makes him so funny to watch. But Esper's no fool: He's Japan's No. 1 wedding-party act, a good-luck charm whose presence is said to ensure not only a great party but a married life full of laughter.

Siblings can be a pain in the butt. Ever since I can remember, my elder brother used to kick me down the stairs. He thought that was hilarious, and soon I did, too. I became very adept at rolling down them without any serious injuries. Once I went to school, I realized that others couldn't do that. "How come?" I wondered. When I showed them my staircase stunt, all the kids would laugh. I never felt pain, just happiness. That's why I do crazy things even now — to hear laughter.

To become a strong adult, a child sometimes has to make it through a lot of fear and hardship. Lions throw their cubs into a deep ditch, and only the ones that climb out are considered worthy to be called family. I know the rigor of cubhood well because my brother acted like we were lions. He wanted me to be tough and brave, and I am.