Comedian Esper Ito

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.

It’s easier to read others’ minds than to read your own. In my teens, I was already a psychic and heavily into esoteric things. I let Tokyo University’s Psychic Circle use me as a sort of guinea pig for experiments. They would blindfold me, put something into a box and asked me to guess what it was. A red apple, a pink notebook, I knew what they were hiding. How did I do it? No idea!

If you are attracted to danger, it helps to be young or stupid — or both. Many years ago, I did a whole series of crazy, dangerous acts, without ever considering the consequences. When car airbags first hit the market, I came up with an idea: I would take an airbag out of a car, sit on top of it in a Zen meditation position and purposely make the gas inside explode just to see what would happen. I quickly learned — I was blown clear and broke my spine.

Being famous works against you in private. The first hurdle to good times is being recognized. There’s absolutely no benefit in that. People assume that picking up women is easier, but not in my case, because the type of girls I like are cute and shy, so they get too nervous if they think I am someone on TV. Or maybe this is just an excuse to run away from me.

Asking people’s age is just so passé. Japanese love knowing who’s older or younger, but I never tell. If I look older than what they assume, too bad; if younger, that can be nice, but it rarely happens. Mind you, one magazine introduced me in its Famous & Young section while my same-age friends were all in the middle-aged section. I was very happy — for a minute.

When I give autographs, I feel OK, but once the fans leave, I feel so much shame to be alone. I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s like when you’re on the subway with a friend talking, and he gets off and you’re left alone. That’s the worst, right? Do you keep talking or stay silent?

Being a good-luck charm for weddings makes me the happiest, though it also keeps me single. I do 200 weddings a year, so I have no time to find my better half. Actually, I see 200 of them a year, but they are all spoken for. End of discussion.

Being a yes-man to the wrong people is a big no-no. This is the story of my life: I always had a lot of ambition and made an effort, but I went out too much. Still do. Friends call, and the next thing I know we are drinking, and a few days later my manager, Endo, appears and takes me home. He’s the guy I should say yes to more. Yes, Endo!

We are like our parents, even if we don’t try to be. My father and mother had a few hundred jobs between them, and we moved over 50 times when I was a kid. It was fun but a bit unsettling, too. So what do I do? Switch jobs over 200 times. I was a computer programmer, a manga artist’s assistant, a construction worker, a driver, a cleaner, you name it. Why? I couldn’t relax anywhere. I was searching for the best match and only found it 20 years ago when I began performing.

Getting and keeping a job takes energy and time, but getting fired can be accomplished in an instant. This is especially true if you can’t make deadlines. I was an illustrator — and not a bad one — but I could never submit the drawings on time. That was the end of the pretty picture for me.

The most fun of all jobs is being a driver. I was in charge of the Kanto area, driving a minivan for a cleaner. I met many people, was free to decide my route and could stop anywhere, anytime for a snack.

Know your own limits, and don’t worry about others’. For example, people think that one can die from too much alcohol. How about water? They say that drinking eight liters of water in five hours can kill you. I gulped down nine liters of beer in less than that and had no problem.

Just keep doing what you are doing. If you change jobs or homes or lovers, the next one might be worse than the one you have now. It’s risky. I know. Only if you are like me — weird and filled with the spirit of challenge — can you handle the setbacks and the excitement. Maybe I will do something else soon. Just kidding!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at:

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