October 04, 2003
Boke - Tsukkomi

Comic Culture

Japanese comedy is unique when compared to comedy styles in other parts of the world, but even within Japan the styles of comedy vary greatly. One aspect of Kansai style comedy called 'tsukkomi' and 'boke' is particularly interesting.

West Side Japan is known for its comedy. There are stand up acts, game shows which are really just comedy shows in disguise, and what is known as 'manzai'. I am sure there are other styles that I am not aware of as well.

One particular 'style' of Japanese comedy that pops up in all of these different comedy styles however involves the 'tsukkomi' and 'boke'.

'Boke' and 'Tsukkomi' describe the roles that can be taken by two people in a relationship. The 'Boke' is the person who will occasionally say stupid things, or make silly mistakes. The 'Tsukkomi' is then the character who catches these mistakes and dishes out explosive yet warm hearted punishment to the 'Boke'. Often, the punishment that the 'boke' delivers includes a smack to the back of the head.

For example.

Boke: Wow, there are so many 'gaijin' in America, it's amazing...


Tsukkomi: Of course there are lots of gaijin in America! It's a foreign country moron!

This is pretty funny. There is even an arcade simulation of this. I have never seen anyone playing it though, nor have I tried myself.

For a 'Boke' and 'Tsukkomi' relationship to work, it is up to each party to play their roles well. If a 'tsukkomi' is going to 'tsukomu' the 'boke' correctly, the 'boke' should not feel unhappy as a result of being 'tsukomu'ed'. It should be a funny, silly event that both people can enjoy. If the 'tsukkomi' is slacking and doesn't notice when the 'boke' is purposely saying something silly, he may hear 'お前、そこでつっこめよ!' 'Man, you gotta tsukkomu me on those!' Likewise, if the 'boke never does anything silly or fails to play his 'boke' role, then
the 'tsukkomi' will never have a chance to 'tsukkomu'.

'Boke' and 'Tsukkomi' culture is so deep in Japan, that it is actually quite common to use the terms when describing someone's personality. What's Reiko like? 'kanari boke dayo'. People will be expected to get along well if one is naturally a 'boke' and one is naturally a 'tsukkome' type.

While watching Japanese comedy shows on TV you should be able to identify the 'boke' character, and the 'tsukkomi' character very easily, try it and see if you can pick it out. Once you get really good, you can start labeling your friends for type as well!


Posted by Harvey at October 04, 2003 10:32 PM

Hi Harvey,

thanks for this insight on todays blog. I have seen these caracters all the time on TV when I am in Japan. I always think it is a bit too silly for grown ups. Kind of like good old Laurel and Hardey humor.

Anyhow, I appreciate the more frequent updates since you returned from "old Europe" ;-)

Posted by: Marco on October 8, 2003 12:41 AM

That's funny that they actually made a video game out of this! I guess you have to hit the boke on the head depending on the comic timing?! Weird.

Posted by: mdchachi on October 9, 2003 05:52 AM

Thanks for the encouragement Marco! I'm going to Osaka this weekend, and asked a friend to take me to Manzai, so maybe I can check out the real thing and report back ;-)

chachi, the game works like, there is a script of the two guys running across the screen, and when the boke... bokes... you have to tsukomu him. There are 3 ways to tsukomu. You smack him on the back of the head, in the forhead, or backhand him in the stomach. The differnet locations are identified by differnt colors on the screen that the script is highlighted in.
If your timing is really good, the screen flashes with a comic image, you know... like those fighting games sometimes do. It's really funny.

Honestly though, I think I can only understand about 70% of the conversation. It's all Kansai-ben and Japanese comedy. Tough. I totally miss the punchlines sometimes!

Posted by: Harvey on October 9, 2003 01:31 PM

I'd be the boke..

Posted by: vvx on October 10, 2003 04:33 AM

I am loving it.


Posted by: baghayero? on January 31, 2004 10:43 AM

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