The Pirates of Tokyo Bay, a Tokyo comedy group, has been performing across Tokyo since 2010. The first year of shows the improv comedy group performed at the Pink Cow in Shibuya and at the Tokyo Impro Festival put on by our friends at ImproJapan. From that first year joining the bustling Tokyo comedy scene, the Pirates worked hard to put on bilingual (Japanese and English) improv comedy shows, something that was new to Tokyo.
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While there is a small improv comedy scene in Japan, it is not as popular as it is in the West. “If I asked 100 people, I wouldn’t even be surprised if it was zero who knew what it is,” says Mike Staffa, founder and leader of The Pirates of Tokyo Bay.
“I haven’t seen any group that does a game style similar to ours, even in a Japanese improv comedy festival,” adds Lisa Sumiyoshi, who has been with the group all of those five years. “Normally the Japanese improv comedy style is more theatrical, they don’t do many games, so in that way it’s really unique even in Japan.”
“Our style is short and sweet, you’ll get a laugh,” explains Bob Werley, a member of the group for four years. “They aren’t those long narrative story based scenes, our games are like 2 to 3 minute each. So if you thought a game is not that funny, and you didn’t laugh much, it’s only three minutes. And then the next game is gonna start, and you’ll think; now that is really funny!”
What makes The Pirates of Tokyo Bay even more unique amongst in the Tokyo improv scene is their bilingual presentation. “There’s a lot of couples where one person is Japanese, one person is foreign, and a lot of times you have the choice of going to an all Japanese show or going to an all English show,” says Bob. “So usually one person is not having as much fun. The Pirates allows both people to at least have fun half of the time!”
“We have Japanese games, and English games and mixed language games. And then non-language, gibberish games!” Lisa says. “Our mission statement is: ‘we want everyone to laugh regardless of your language’, and I think we accomplish that,” Mike adds. “There’s no-one in town that we shouldn’t be able to entertain!”
For this special 5th anniversary show, the group will be playing at the avant-garde SuperDeluxe venue near Roppongi Hills. The group played at SuperDeluxe for their 4th anniversary show last year, and are returning to put on an even bigger show. “We had such a fun time, and were able to do a lot more technical stuff at that show, so that’s why we’re doing it again there for the 5th anniversary.
“Plus the Osaka Pirates are coming back, so we need a bigger stage,” adds Mike, referring to the Osaka-based improv group Pirates of the Dotombori. “It’s fun for me to perform with the Osaka Pirates, because I started them 10 years ago. It’s really special, and it helps the audience realise that we are a Japan-wide brand. They always bring a different style of comedy, especially with their Kansai-ben.”
So what can you expect from the 5th anniversary show? “We will have a lot more singing games and a lot more rapping games that we’re gonna be doing this year,” Mike tells us. “We also have a couple of surprise games. YouTuber EpicLLOYD will make an appearance digitally and challenge the Pirates to a game, and none of the Pirates know what that game is!”
Another popular Japanese YouTuber, Bilingual Chika, will also be challenging the Pirates to a surprise game, and a world-famous voice actor will also be making a surprise appearance as an announcer at the show.
The Pirate of Tokyo Bay 5th Anniversary Show will be held on 29 November from 18:30–21:30 at SuperDeluxe in Roppongi. Tickets are ¥2,500 and include one drink. Buy tickets at the door or in advance at Peatix: http://ptix.co/1PI7krS
Top photo © Benjamin Parks.
Learning Japanese is fun! OK, it is sometimes fun, and definitely a major challenge. If you're getting tired of JLPT textbooks, kanji apps and watching TV you don’t understand, why not think about using improv comedy to study the language?
Improv comedy is when a couple of performers create a funny scene using suggestions from the audience to get started. No script, no rehearsal, and no clue what will happen next!
The Pirates of Tokyo Bay is a Tokyo-based bilingual improv group whose multinational team has powered up its Japanese skills through comedy. The group has performed internationally across Asia and the U.S., for various embassies and international schools, and welcomed dozens of international guests to its regular public shows across Japan. The Pirates have recently started offering business training using improv skills in the workplace as well.
Here are some lessons we have learned!
5. Be a Different Character Every Day
When you study Japanese,you need to master formal, polite, and casual grammar structures. With improv, every scene is different, so you can have fun exploring the different speaking styles as you slip in and out of multiple characters!
4. Stop Overthinking Your Grammar
Perfectionists, this one is for you. Fluency is not just about grammatical flawlessness, it is also about speed. When you do improv, there is no time to slow down. You have to initiate (or react to) conversation—and that means throwing caution to the wind and just diving in!
3. Be Ready for Anything
They key to successful improv scenes is closely listening to your partner and following their suggestions (even the crazy ones!) without dismissing them immediately. Together, you find the right solution. Sound familiar? It should! Japanese people tend to make decisions in the same manner, both professionally and socially.
2. Be Confident
Improv, like life, is completely unscripted. Diving into a scene, the performers can’t show any hint that they don’t know what comes next—they just need complete faith in their ability to find the right way forward. The uncertainties of living in a foreign country and speaking a foreign language are enormous, but learning to have faith in yourself is key for finding happiness abroad.
1. Learn Japanese Humor
Making Japanese people laugh is not just for native speakers! Dates, business dinners, and even regular office work will be far more enjoyable with a healthy dash of humor!
Want to see some Japanese and English improv in action? The Pirates of Tokyo Bay are holding their 5th Anniversary Show on November 29, 2015 in Roppongi at SuperDeluxe. Tickets can be bought at the door or in advance on Peatix.
Top photo © Benjamin Parks. All other photos © Michael Holmes.