Rakugo is a traditional Japanese sit-down comedy show, where a lone storyteller entertains the audience with a long tale. Rakugolobal, however, has somewhat of a twist. Created by performer Showko, who started her career as a comedienne here in Singapore, as well as her master and fellow Rakugo performers, Rakugolobal is a mix of Rakugo, ventriloquy, and puppetry. herworldplus.com asks 41-year-old Rakugo performer, comedienne, ventriloquist and mother of 1 about her craft and tips on how to be witty.
Rakugolobal is happening on 1 (in Japanese) & 2 (in English) August, at 3pm and 7.30pm respectively at The Japanese Association. Tickets are available at http://www.gatecrash.com.sg for $45.
What made you interested in Rakugo?
Rakugo has a history of over 400 years and is very revered in Japan. Like Kabuki, it only used to be a man’s thing. It was something I really wanted to try, but getting into the Rakugo scene was very difficult. I started out differently from most Rakugo protégés, as my 3-year training was carried out in London where my master, Kakushow, had moved. I got there a day before him and ambushed him at Heathrow airport. My persistence and conviction convinced him to accept me, and I began performing at comedy clubs and on street corners under his tutelage.
Are women Rakugo performers, or Rakugoka, common?
No, because it really is a man’s game. Being a woman Rakugoka, you sometimes have to put up with sexual harassment and dirty jokes, from both the audience and from other performers backstage. You have to be very strong-willed – many women give up after awhile.
Was it easy to combine ventriloquism and puppetry with Rakugo?
My master invented puppet rakugo, and being a ventriloquist with a huge interest in Rakugo, I knew he was the one I wanted to learn from. Puppetry helps to expand my audience, it gives me the ability to tell more stories. Rakugo relies on the power of imagination, while puppets help create characters.
Did you always want to be in comedy, even as a child?
My father’s side of the family would hold huge New Year parties and they started leaving me in charge of the entertainment when I was about 8. I did everything from being the emcee, to magic tricks and puppet shows. I think my love for performing and comedy began there.
How differently do the audiences in Singapore and London react to your performances?
Singaporeans, although shy sometimes, are very honest with their reactions and open-minded towards my performances. British audiences were very analytical about my performances, so I have to make myself appear more mysterious to get their attention.
How do you juggle your work plus constant travel and being a mother?
My husband’s support has been very important. He quit his job and followed me to London, where intitially I faced a very trying time financially, and he was basically my cheer squad. Later on, when we moved to Japan, he looked after the household and our son. It must have been very difficult, because he couldn’t speak Japanese and had no friends. He’s been so amazing and understanding.
Were you always this confident? How do you conquer stage fright?
Being scared is a natural thing – even my master, who has been performing for about 40 years, still gets nervous. Having a little tension is good, I believe it makes for a stronger and more focused performance.
Do you have any tips on how to be funny and witty when you’re out on a date?
Firstly, you must be a good listener. Listen to what he says, pick up interesting things and make a joke about it. It’s not a performance – there is no punchline. Just talk about everyday things in different ways. Sometimes even bad experiences can be used for humour, in a sort of self-deprecating way.
What are your future plans for your Rakugo performances?
I want to create more of my own storylines, and keep performing traditional stories with my own twist, right up until I die. I believe Rakugo is an art that I will get better at as I experience more, and that can only come with age.