All About Japan

5 Ways Improv is a Sport

| Comedy , Tokyo
5 Ways Improv is a Sport

Held on October 10 each year, Japan's Health and Sports Day commemorates the opening of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. While it exists to promote sports and an active lifestyle, the definition of sports has expanded since the ‘60s (competitive eating, anyone?), and the focus today is more on an active lifestyle in particular.

So if you’re tired of tug-of-war or three-legged races, why not try your hand at competitive improv comedy?

Competitive improv is when teams of performers vie for laughs and points in order to be crowned the show’s winner. They create funny scenes using suggestions from the audience, so there’s no script, no rehearsal, and no clue what will happen next!

Applying all the essentials of a sports match—teams, challenges, judges and points, albeit without the hostile aggression—competitive improv is alive and well in Tokyo courtesy of The Pirates of Tokyo Bay.

The Pirates of Tokyo Bay are a Tokyo-based bilingual improv group whose multinational team has been battling for laughs every month since 2010. The group has performed for various embassies and international schools, internationally across Asia and the U.S., 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 ways their comedy goes beyond theater and enters the world of sports!

5. The Uniforms

5. The Uniforms

If you’ve ever been to a Sports Day festival in Japan, you’ll see hordes of Japanese school kids in their red or white caps vying for points with the hopes of ending the day as champions. The Pirates of Tokyo Bay’s monthly shows in Tokyo are no different: Teams of comedians separate into Red and White teams, with the audience voting on which team is the funniest throughout the show!

4. The Showdown Between Teams

4. The Showdown Between Teams

Competition gets fierce during Sports Day in Japan. Friendships are put on pause as school buddies are thrust into competition against each other. Of course, it’s all in good spirits, as is the comedic joust between comedians in a Pirates show. The winning team at a Pirates show gets praise from their peers. The losing team has to clean the venue!

3. The Intense Coaching

3. The Intense Coaching

Japanese school kids practice their sports events and cheer routines for weeks before the big competition. The Pirates practice every Sunday in Shinjuku to keep their wits sharp and friendships strong. Sure, the Pirates show is improvised, but there’s a lot of coaching each week that helps prepare the comedians to be their best come show day!

2. The Global Competition

2. The Global Competition

Much like the Olympics that inspired Japan’s Health and Sports Day, improv comedy can be a global competition. The Pirates have toured internationally 10 times, taking on groups in Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai. They even joined the “Super Bowl” of improv comedy—the Del Close Marathon in New York City. Over the past six years, the Pirates have become known globally as Japan’s top improv group.

1. The Fans

1. The Fans

If you’ve been to any Sports Day in Japan, you’ve seen the fans: The housewives cheering on their kids and the salaryman-fathers videotaping every second of their child’s 4x100-meter relay. After over half a decade of shows in Tokyo, the Pirates have gathered quite a fan following as well. Regulars at the shows have stamp cards to get free shows, and online the Pirates social media channels have a global following as well (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube). Because at the end of the day, the reason for the Olympics, Sports Day and Pirates of Tokyo Bay shows to exist is simply to make the fans smile!

Want to see some Japanese and English improv in action? The Pirates of Tokyo Bay have upcoming shows on October 23, 2016 in Ebisu, which is the group’s annual Cancer Benefit show, while their 6th Anniversary Show is scheduled for December 4 in Roppongi at SuperDeluxe. Tickets can be bought at the door or in advance online through Peatix.

(All photos except No. 2 by Michael Holmes)