It’s that time of year again in Japan. When 10 comedian groups gather together on national television and battle each other to the dea… laugh for the title of top comedian. King of Conte (キングオブコント) is an annual event I’ve immensely enjoyed for the past decade, and 2018 is no exception.
コント (Conte – did you know this was a french word?) is a visual sketch comedy act with a duo or trio of comedians. It resembles the type of comedy you’d see on Saturday Night Live. This is very different from the other type of comedy Manzai (漫才), which focuses 100% around a back and forth talk.
There are all kinds of comedy events in Japan for Manzai and Conte, but King of Conte has always been my favorite one. It’s a great way to be introduced to some of the funniest new comics out there, see some of your favorites, and ultimately laugh, laugh, and laugh.
The format of this show has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with what the new rules will be. At its core, each comic group gets a few minutes to perform a sketch in front of judges who grade them on a 1 to 100 point scale. The top 3 acts proceed to the final round and get to show a second, different sketch. The group at the end with the highest points wins, with money and fame to follow.
I’m not a fan of the format because it feels like there is nonstop filler talking before and after every single comedy sketch. The banter comes from the five judges (the two comics from Bananaman, the two comics from Summers, and one half of Downtown).
The main problem is that most of the reasoning and explanations behind chosen scores are ridiculous and irrelevant. The two judges from Bananaman do a good job, but the others can be annoying to listen to.
However it’s easy to look past this, because the show is about watching good comedy. And this year delivered beyond my expectations. I thought I’d give a roundup of the acts, with my own personal ranking and thoughts. I won’t spoil it with who actually won (the below ranking is different from the show), since I know that is a big part of the excitement. The only spoiler is who made it to the finals, because they have 2 acts each.
Theme: Two high school students at a bar. One lives a completely different life than the other expects, and reveals how amazing he truly is.
Thoughts: I couldn’t get into this at all. I couldn’t relate to the theme, and it carried on too long without any payoff.
Theme: An employee plans revenge on the company he works for by setting an explosive device. A janitor happens to be there at this exact moment of his crime, and thwarts all his efforts.
Thoughts: Too unrealistic and far-fetched, and not the best dynamic between the two.
8. ザ ・ギース
Theme: A detective acquires the help of a high school student with the ability to touch an object and see everyone who was ever involved with that object. The two try to solve a murder mystery, but all the possible evidence seems to result in different visions that don’t help much with solving the crime.
Thoughts: Great theme, with creative use of props and video. Good for some laughs, but I started losing interest towards the end.
Theme: A salaryman tries to impress his subordinates by secretly paying for their bill. His plan is to make them all think “wow what a generous guy my boss is.” Things don’t go according to plan.
Thoughts: Great start and I’ll never forget the made up phrase かっこつけ払い (or trying to act cool by paying for someone else). It grew a bit repetitive towards the end.
Theme: What would happen if one of the victims of the “Saw” movie series was loud and annoying and refused to be cooperative?
Thoughts: Even though I’m not a fan of the Saw series (I saw the original movie only many years ago), trying to turn this into a comedic situation was an interesting idea. As the tormentor (from the TV) tries to explain the horrific situation the victim was in, the victim’s reactions are priceless. My only complaint is it is a “yelling” sketch, which is a type of Japanese comedy (which I don’t personally like), where yelling a lot is what gets the laughs.
Theme: Two construction workers are hard at work. One is super hip and trendy, and somehow uses tools made out Apple laptops, keyboards, chargers, and more.
Thoughts: Great use of props in a way you’d never expect. However they relied a bit too much on “look at this crazy tool I made!”
Theme: Motivating students who are studying for entrance exams isn’t easy. The solution: hire a cram-school motivational speaker. No teaching – only motivating. But the cram-school motivational speaker brings with him some unintended side effects.
Thoughts: I love さらば青春の光 . They have made it to the finals of King of Conte numerous years, but just never seem to be able to claim a victory. Their sketches have always stood out to me as extremely creative, and stick with you for a long time. But they have trouble crossing the line between funny and can’t stop laughing hysterical (which is needed for a victory).
Theme: A man exits a convenience store, and went to grab his umbrella. An old man accuses him of trying to steal an umbrella. The two get stuck in a time loop situation reliving this moment over and over again.
Thoughts: Wow, was this fun. It was so unexpected, and you can just imagine getting caught up in a time loop involving a mundane and annoying situation.
Theme: A newly hired cashier is learning the ropes from his boss. For some reason the new cashier seems to ask question after question after question.
Thoughts: The theme sounds stupid, but they pull it off so well, I had a smile on my face the whole time. The questions and reactions were just too perfect.
Theme: A man bumps into a dangerous man, and is about to get involved in a bad situation. However, he has an arsenal of useless super powers to help save the day.
Thoughts: I usually like these supernatural element sketches, but the superpowers relied too much on cheap visual gags, and not enough on the way the two interact with each other.
Theme: A man in his 30s is telling his father about the woman he is about to marry. However the man doesn’t know the age of his soon to be wife, only her Chinese Zodiac animal sign. This allows the two to try to solve how old she is, by giving a large range of possible ages.
Thoughts: I didn’t think I would like this, because it uses a lot of cultural references from different eras that I’m not familiar with, in order to guess her age. I was completely blown away. The idea of having to guess someone’s age based on their Chinese zodiac sign worked so well, and was one of my favorite acts of the night. I really wanted to see a second act from them.
Theme: Ever wonder what your dog is actually thinking and why he acts the way he does? Finally we get to see this answered.
Thoughts: For anyone who likes dogs, this is a must see. A simple setting of a dog and his master, but seeing the way they explain the logic that creates a dogs actions is refreshing and just too much fun.
Theme: A high school boy and girl fall in love. The girl wants the boy to catch her (in a game of chase)… strange things ensue.
Thoughts: I don’t think anyone had a clue of what they were watching. But it was so insane, that you just couldn’t stop laughing. While I enjoyed their dog sketch more, they have incredible appeal, and I am excited to see what they will be doing in the coming months/years.