Of Fame and Umeboshi
If you can’t beat em…join em?
By now my seething hatred of Japanese television should be fairly well known. If Hollywood has taught us anything about life, its that when one person hates something so passionately, so derisively, that there are only two possible conclusions – an all-out fight to the death, or for the hate to turn into romance of some sort. While my plan to rain down unparalleled destruction on Japanese TV networks is still in the planning phases (do you have any idea how hard it is to gather Satan’s minions…?), I may have to put it on hold for a while, as…well…now I’m actually appearing on TV.
Calm down, I haven’t become the next Bob Sapp or Bobby Ologun *shudder*. So far its only been a few random appearances on one TV show. …So, how does that happen anyway?
Last year with my wedding ceremony coming up I was crunched for cash. I was also working the Job From Hell (see the Sour Apples entries), so I was regularly checking job postings – something part-time I could do in addition to my job to help with the wedding costs, or a full-time job to replace the nightmare I was working at then. I came across an ad for a talent agency for foreigners. The office wasn’t located too far from my workplace, so I figured why not – I contacted them one day and went for an interview/screening during lunch break.
They explained that they are an agency that provides foreigners for various roles in the Japanese entertainment business. TV spots, movie extras, commercials, etc. I gave them my information and took some profile pictures. They said they would give me a call if any good projects came up that would be suited for me.
I did get calls from them for time to time. Usually something that called for a large black man. For the most part, filming took place during a weekday, and as I had regular work then I declined a lot. I did get one offer where the filming was scheduled for a weekend. Part of some random variety show involving language differences. A Japanese guy in China goes into an English school expecting to find a beautiful woman teacher, but is instead greeted by me. …Yeah, I would have been disappointed too. There’s a Japanese/Chinese language joke in there, but I am far too lazy to explain it, so those who do know can enjoy their nice private chuckle.
A few months ago, I got a call for a TV show, and the shooting was to take place on Sunday. The script called for a big black guy who could speak Japanese, and I had nothing better to do on Sunday, so it was a match. The TV show this time is a show on the MBS network called “Samurai Chuto” – starring the comedy duo of Tutorial (in Japanese, tutorial becomes “chuutoriaru” – thus, Samurai “Chuto”). It also features a female comedy duo called Harisenbon. Tutorial is very famous, among the A-list of Japanese TV personalities. Harisenbon are also fairly popular, I doubt there are many people in Japan who are unfamiliar with them. The show also features regular guest-stars who are also part of the Japanese TV A-list club.
…I guess that’s a big thing? I kinda sorta didn’t care. My wife, however, shit bricks.
Her: OMGOMGOMG! You’re gonna be on TV! With Tutorial!
Me: Yeah, I guess.
Her: This is HUGE!
Her: YES! Wow, I never imagined I would get married to a TV celebrity…
Me. …Whoa now, hold the phone. I’m doing a random dumb foreigner bit in a TV show. That hardly makes me a celebrity.
Her: You never know. This could be your big break! You could be like that Soft Bank guy!
Me: And become the second-fiddle to a cute white dog? I’ll pass on that, thanks…
I forget the name of the skit, but it took place in a school for helping Gaijin become famous in Japan. The “teacher”, Tutorial’s Tokui, points out that since Bobby, there haven’t been any foreigners who’ve had a big break in Japan; therefore, this is a good chance for someone to step up and succeed. The “Gaijin” included Yama-chan of Nankai Candies as a Brazilian, Tutorial’s Fukuda as…an African? (we’ll ignore the black-face makeup…because that makes life easier), Haruka of Harisenbon as a Chinese girl, and Haruna of Harisenbon as…well…Marilyn Monroe. I’m not making this up.
After Tokui gives a short lesson about famous Gaijin talent and their shtick, he tests their reactions by giving them an umeboshi – its a pickled plum-like fruit…thingy. Forgive my overly scientific explanation there. As Gaijin, its their first time to eat an umeboshi, so they should have an appropriate reaction to it. After the 4 Gaijin fail in coming up with an appropriate response, I come in, late. Tokui gives me an umeboshi, to which my reaction is considered to be the correct one and the other students are instructed to take notes.
My lines here weren’t actually scripted. Upon arriving at the very first rehearsal, I was told to just come up with something on the fly. Somewhat ironically, I had just eaten umeboshi for the first time about two weeks prior. …Yes, I have lived in this country for almost 6 years, and? I’ve never really thought “Man, I’m craving some umeboshi right about now!”, and the few times its come included with a bento or something I usually just skipped over it. Forgive me if I’m not inclined to eat something that looks like a turd from a California Raisin.
So, a few weeks prior to even getting the phone call about the show, I was eating an bento with an umeboshi, and for whatever reason (divine intervention?), I decided to eat it for the first time. Thinking it was just another variety of picked vegetable, I was moderately surprised to find it had a hard core. At the time, I thought nothing of it.
So, showtime. In front of some of Japan’s most famous comedians, I’m handed an umeboshi and told to improv a reaction to it. I remember back to my initial surprise of the core a few weeks ago. I bite down into it and with my teeth loudly clashing with the core, I grab my jaw in pain and say “Um, there’s something kinda hard in here…”
Apparently, this was really the correct response. The talent, the crew, anyone who happened to be randomly watching burst into laughter; Tokui even dropped to the ground (The Sanma Epic Maneuver?). Yama-chan points out “He really did bite into it, I heard the crunch!” Afterwards, the actors and crew told me to stick with that line, as it was a winner.
After one or two more rehearsals we moved to the actual set, and after just one more rehearsal we filmed the actual skit. I repeated my action of genuinely biting into the umeboshi – I have to completely immerse myself into my characters y’know. After taking my seat and having the students repeat my reaction, Tokui asked me some random questions. Again, these were unscripted; I hadn’t prepared for them, and didn’t even really know what he was going to ask me.
He asked who my favorite Japanese actress was. My mind raced – I don’t really have one. Or at least, one that doesn’t do porn. I thought about giving as one of my answers one of the Japanese female comedians – usually, female comedians are known for being not cute/ugly, so me saying she was a favorite actress would have been the “dumb” response. I couldn’t think of one in particular though, and the cameras were actually rolling. So my body did what it does in all emergency situations – give all the decision making powers to Penis.
Tokui: So, who is your favorite Japanese actress?
Anxiety: C’mon we gotta answer! Brain! What are you doing up there?!
Brain: Who do I say? Sayaka Aoki? No, too obvious. Morisanchu? What if they take me seriously on that one? Miyuki Torii? Way too insane. Haruna Kondo? Goddamnit, she’s sitting right next to you!
Anxiety: Brain! We don’t got no time here!
Brain: Aaah…I can’t do this! Penis! You take the blood, and do something!
Penis: Leave this shit to me. Eyes!
Eyes: Yes sir!
Penis: Gimme a visual on a chick we saw on the magazine ad on the train.
Eyes: Right away! View screen recall, time 1437 hours.
Penis: That’s her!
Anxiety: Well, she’s cute, but why her?
Penis: You dumbass, stop looking at her face and look a little lower…
Anxiety: …Wow. Those are some nice tits.
Penis: I know, right? And on a Japanese broad! Okay, now Brain! Access the memory logs, give me a name…
Brain: Okay, gimme a sec, coming up now…
Az: That would be Ayase Haruka.
Apparently, this answer was also funny in how “normal” it was. Like, they were expecting me to say something off-the-wall, and because I didn’t that was funny. …Okay?
(Later, at a different shoot, some random guy introduced himself to me and said he works for the same company that employs Ms. Ayase. He half-jokingly offered to introduce me to her. That’s cool and all but…what would I even do?
Brain: Hmm, this guy here says maybe he could introduce us to Ms. Ayase.
Penis: Miss Tits? Up close and personal?! DO WANT.
Heart: Yeah, and? We’re married, its not like we can do anything.
Penis: C’mon now! The little missus would understand. She’d have to. This is one of those situations where you get the Get of Of Jail Free card!
Anxiety: Does anyone remember that Friends episode with Ross and the laminated list?
Brain: STFU Anx. No mentioning Friends around here.
Heart: Even if our wife did forgive us that (highly unlikely…), its not like we’d have a shot. “Hi, my name is Az, I was the foreigner on that show who said that you were his favorite actress.” “Oh, its you! Wow, I thought you were a manly stud on television, but in person you’re so much more studlier. And I was just thinking I wanted to have hot sweaty sex with a big black man. Won’t you take me to a love hotel right now?” Like THAT’s going to happen!
Penis: C’mon. Can’t you let a penis have a dream?)
Tokui also asked me why. Heh heh, why huh? I don’t quite remember what I said, but I think it was along the lines of her being very “talented”*. Tokui saw right through me though, and said “Yeah, talented with a nice body!” even drawing curves with his hands. …I’m glad to see that not all Japanese men are attracted to half-anorexic stick figures. This part didn’t actually make it on TV though, and that’s probably for the best.
*There’s a Sailor Moon dub joke in there. If you get it, pat yourself on the back for being a very old uber-nerd. If you don’t, appreciate the fact that you have a real life and don’t know enough about Sailor Moon, much less the dub of it, to catch the in-joke.
Tokui then asked about my favorite place in Japan. Again, temples and what not seemed like a boring answer. So I came up with the most non-boring yet honest answer I could – the toilet. I didn’t get to explain why, but there’s method to my madness – toilets in Japan have seat warmers. Seat warmers! The best thing ever. And then there’s the bidet, which sprays a warm jet of water directly into your ass…its a little off-putting at first, yes, but once you’ve had bidet you’ll never go back.
About a month or two later, the episode aired on national Japanese television. I watched it together with my wife – she was beside herself with laughter. I was more embassed than anything. Is my voice really that high pitched? Goddayum. BRB, gotta take some baritone lessons…
I figured that would be the end of my brief stint into Japanese television, but apparently not – I got a callback, asking me to come shoot more sketches. Apparently, I made a good enough impression the first time for the producers to want to use me again. I’ve been to a total of three shoots so far – material from the first two have already aired, with material from the third going on air tomorrow. So if you live in Japan (or have access to Japanese TV for whatever reason), tune into Samurai Chuto Tuesday, November 3rd at 11:30PM on MBS to see me in action. …Keep your expectations low.
(As for the stuff that’s already aired, I did a casual search to see if the show had been uploaded to YouTube or even NicoNico, as many Japanese shows are. While there are some random clips from Samurai Chuto, it doesn’t look like anyone bothers to upload the episodes regularly, or at least any of the ones I’ve been in. I recorded them using the TV tuner on my computer (One Seg), but I have no idea how to do anything with the saved video other than watch it.)
My wife is still hoping that this is my big break to stardom. I actually don’t particularly want to be famous. If I can get money from it, sure, but being famous doesn’t really look like a whole lot of fun. The only fun part would be loads of cute groupies, but being married sort of cancels that out as well. I’m actually sort of ambivalent about the whole thing. I mentioned to some friends that I would be busy Sunday with filming, and one of them said “I love how this guy just casually says “I’m doing a TV shoot tomorrow” like its no big deal whatsoever. What kind of life do you lead anyway?”
Maybe I’ll tackle radio next…