Before I tell you the bizarre tale of my recent trip to Japan, let me first say that the Yakuza are probably very nice people and law-abiding citizens. Mayyyybe. But definitely handsome, brave and well-inked. And did I mention handsome? That being said, get ready for a true story that is full of WTF. Honto desu yo!
Prior to performing in Tokyo, all I had known about Americans in Japan is that trouble is always nearby. My education came from movies. Black Rain much? How about The Karate Kid, Part II? Or more recently, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift and The Wolverine. Of course by “trouble,” I mean the Yakuza. The Japanese Mafia. Those guys who are so completely handy at crime… if not completely handed.
The problem with arranging shows in Tokyo, as I was told many times by various promoters, is that there was no market for English-language comedy. Much less for American-style stand-up with a single person behind a microphone, telling you their point-of-view. After all, it is the country that has a TV show where contestants must sing karaoke while getting handjobs.
My buddy Gary Jackson isn’t the kind of guy who likes to hear the word “no.” He is a world-traveling businessman with sort of a top-secret job that takes him all over: South Africa, Brazil, Pakistan and, yes, Japan. He’s also a fellow American and stand-up comic. So he really wanted to facilitate my doing shows in Tokyo as he felt that the market could support such a scene and thought I might be a good way to get a foothold there.
On my arrival, we headed out for sushi and sake (because Japan) and ended up at a local bar, where we drank for 8 hours (again, because Japan). They hit the alcohol really hard there. Really hard. At some point, about ¾ of the way through our bender, word got out among the Tokyo underworld that American comedians were in town. I had earlier noticed a shadowy figure at our bar on his mobile phone, gesturing at us with his eyebrows the way someone only does when they are talking about you on the phone to the local Yakuza kyodai. Much like Garindan at Mos Eisley spaceport alerting the Empire to the presence of Obi-wan and Luke.
Shortly after we were reported, this guy showed up:
From what we were told by the barkeep, this guy was a comedian sent by rather serious individuals in an organization. You know, the kind of organization who would wish to remain nameless, but whose name was mentioned anyway because why bother having a sinister group if you can’t even scare folks into compliance by saying its name. So, I can’t say the Yakuza sent him, but the Yakuza totally sent him.
His goal was simple: he challenged Gary and me to a contest where if he made us laugh, we would have to drink tequila shots. Also, we would have to put him on my show the next night. He tried his best, with Gary folding pretty quickly and often. I stayed stone faced, however, not to avoid drinking or deny him a spot on my show, but because AMERICA. After he realized his failure to defeat me in mortal comedy combat, he offered his apologies and drank tequila. We still ended up offering him a couple of minutes but he did not show up the next night. Perhaps because the Yakuza do not take failure lightly? Well if it was seppuku, he was going to need a longer sword judging by that gut. Here is a sample of what went down:
So there you go, Western comedians. Just like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, I have vanquished the Yakuza, thus opening the doors for you to go perform there. You are welcome.