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Japanese comedians turn to yakuza-linked 'underground performances' due to unstable income

JIJI

Despite mounting criticism over recently revealed “underground performances” for organized crime by some comedians, quitting such work appears difficult, as they are important sources of income for the entertainers, many of whom are apparently not earning enough money from activities through their talent agencies, experts say.

On June 24, major entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. said it had suspended some of its comedians after they were found to have attended an event arranged by a purported organized crime group and received money for it.

Underground performances refer to activities comedians engage in for money without the involvement of their management agencies.

The scandal should be used as an opportunity to consider ways to deal with organized crime groups, instead of simply criticizing the comedians involved, an expert said.

The scandal came to light when a weekly magazine recently reported that Hiroyuki Miyasako, 49, a member of popular comedy duo Ameagari Kesshitai, and others who belong to Yoshimoto Kogyo participated in an event hosted by an alleged group of fraudsters about five years ago.

On June 4, the company fired Shinya Irie, 42, a member of another comedy duo, Karateka, who is believed to have invited the comedians to the event.

The company announced on June 27 that it has suspended two other comedians indefinitely as they received money for performing about three years ago at a restaurant owner’s birthday party that was apparently attended by organized crime group members.

About 6,000 comedians belong to Yoshimoto Kogyo, according to the company.

Most of them are apparently facing hard times as they are living only on income generated by work arranged through the company, such as television appearances, sources said.

Underground activities are believed to be a lucrative source of income for comedians, as commission fees are not collected by their management agencies.

“I can’t make a living without underground operations,” said a comedian in his 30s who belongs to a major entertainment agency.

“Although a number of comedians have become popular thanks to the rising number of TV programs featuring comedy routines, it is difficult for many of them to sustain their popularity,” said someone who works in the entertainment industry.

“They have no choice but to conduct underground operations, because they have become well-known among the public and can therefore no longer take part-time jobs,” they added.

Such secret business activities are not illegal, but the possibility of proceeds from crime being used to pay comedians cannot be ruled out, sources say.

The event that Miyasako and others participated in was held in December 2014.

Later, the Metropolitan Police Department arrested people, including one of the leaders of the purported fraud group, for allegedly swindling an elderly woman out of ¥5 million in cash between November and December 2014.

Although the event was held around the time when the group committed the crime, an investigative source said that it would be difficult to build a case against the comedians unless it is fully proven that the money paid to the entertainers came from the swindled money.

“The scandals have been used to slam those comedians, instead of holding anti-social groups accountable,” said lawyer Takashi Ozaki, a member of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

“We should consider how to help keep individuals and companies away from anti-social groups,” he said.