Please Laugh〜笑ってください

Forgive me for expecting my irony-soaked, pitch black brand of humor to be an internationally guffaw-inducing phenomenon. It seems that I am not very funny in Japan after all. Awkward.


But then again, hours of effortlessly keeping a straight face sitting through Hitoshi Matsumoto’s much-hyped 「ドキュメンタル」 while my husband is practically rolling on the floor laughing, trying to catch a breath before another of the comedians’ privates is flung into the air in some of the most ridiculous costumes I have ever seen suggest that certain types of Japanese humor do not tickle my funny bones either. Again, ‘certain types’. すべらない話 is a winner in my book.


The fact that the difference in culture and blunders of translation cause the lack of congruence between my personal humor and that of the Japanese is obvious enough. I have, in countless occasions, tried to explain every punch line of How I Met Your Mother to my husband after all (because explaining the joke is funny, right?) – only to have a pitiful “I can’t see why it’s funny” as a response.

文化の違いや翻訳の違いが、私の個人的なユーモアと日本人のユーモアの間の不一致を引き起こしているのは明らか。これまでにも「ママと恋に落ちるまで(How I met your Mother)」のオチを全部、夫に説明したことが何度もある。(ジョークを説明するのは面白いからね、でしょ?)結局、「何が面白いのかわからない」という答えを聞いてガッカリするだけなのだけれど。

Yes, I totally get it. But I am a Filipino millennial. I am part of a generation raised under the idea that anything you ever dreamed of is within your grasps – if only you have the courage to try. So I try. I stubbornly try to make Japanese people laugh, darn it. And of making a clown out of myself, here are some of my takeaways.

うん、わかってる。でも、私は新世代フィリピン人なのだ。「夢見たことはなんでも叶う」というアイデアの元で育てられた世代なの - 挑戦し続ける勇気がありさえすればね。だから私は挑戦している。頑固に、日本人を笑わせようとトライしている。そしてそうやってバカを晒しているうちに、わかったことがいくつかある。

If you maintain a steady diet of American TV series like I do (at least five episodes per day since I was 16), you may occasionally develop the urge to respond to things with sarcasm. Do. Not. Give. In. Sarcastic comments do not fare well in these lands and though you might be lucky enough to not end up with a knife in your gut if you do so, you are almost always guaranteed to find yourself in an undesirable situation. With a silly smirk on my face, I once made the mistake of telling a convenience store attendant that she need not worry because “…I’ll simply use my hands…” when she asked if I wanted chopsticks with my noodles. Between her alarmed expression and the cupful of change she shoved to my hand, I did not bother explaining that I did actually need those chopsticks.


Second, and this is going to sound very cliche but hear me out – be yourself. As the gaijin in a room full of nihonjins, you are expected to soon make a linguistically wrong remark or a culturally different action that would lead to a pleasantly funny experience. When I unwittingly said that I was an English 教室, the entire group I was with broke into a laugh. At least I gave them a good time, eh? And don’t think that a perfect command of the Japanese language or a complete understanding of the country’s culture would exempt you from this. A towering white guy with a perfect Japanese accent? Well, that’s even more entertaining. Not that being a good immigrant is funny per se. It’s just that, in the words of a Japanese friend of mine, it is “funny for being strange”. So wear the color of your skin proudly and, honey, just do you.

それから、これはとても陳腐に聞こえるかも知れないけど、私の話を聞いて - あなたはあなた自身でいなきゃダメ。 ニホンジンでいっぱいの空間にいるただ一人のガイジンとして、何か言語的に間違ったことを言ったり、文化的に間違ったことをして、それが何か面白おかしい場面につながることを期待される。私が間違って「私は英語教室です」と言ってしまった時、一緒にいたグループ全員が一斉に吹き出した。少なくとも私は彼らに楽しい時間を与えられたのかな、ね? 日本語を完璧に操ったり、日本文化を完全に理解することで、この「期待」から逃れられると思わないで。日本語の発音が完璧な背の高い白人男性ですって? えーとね、それはさらに面白いのよ。良い移民であるってことは、それ自体面白いってわけじゃない。でもそれは、私の日本人の友達が言うところの「変わってて面白い」なの。だから自分の色を誇らしくまとい、自分自身でいればいい。

When all is fails and you find yourself facing a crowd of wide-eyed spectators waiting for a punchline that would never come, here’s one thing I’ve mastered. Plaster your face with the widest, silliest smile you could afford and yell “Gaijin Jooooke”. I don’t know why but, much to my glee, this always results into a chuckle.


On a final note, I would like to reiterate – I’m usually funny. No takers? Fine. Gaijin Jooooke.

最後にもう一度申し上げたい。私はたいてい面白い。誰も真に受けないって? いいわ。 ガイジン・ジョーク!

この記事を書いた Jill Ueda先生は Brighture のカリキュラムを松井博と共同開発したトップティーチャーです。

Ueda Jill

Curriculum Development Manager of Brighture English Academy