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Britain's Got Talent: How a Japanese Comedian Stole the Spotlight in His Undies

In just his underwear, Tonikaku became the first Japanese finalist on Britain's Got Talent. Never let language barriers get in the way of your dreams.



Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura at an event for his photo book on December 3, 2015. (© Sankei)

Japanese comedian Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura had the Britain's Got Talent judges in stitches with his famous underwear dances. Although he didn't win, he made history as the first-ever Japanese finalist on the show on June 5 (JST). Aside from his captivating charm, it seems a stroke of luck also played a part in his success.

Yasumura first took the BGT stage on April 22, where he sparked roars of laughter with his iconic catchphrase, "Don't worry, I'm wearing!"

Although he didn't make it past the semifinals, he snagged a wildcard spot in the finals. There, Yasumura wowed the audience by sporting a mustache and channeling the legendary frontman of Queen, Freddie Mercury, resulting in thunderous applause.

According to Tom Renton, the Education Manager of the British Hills program at Kanda Gaigo Group, BGT is a "traditional show where the winner gets to perform for the British royal family." Given this context, Yasumura's achievement of reaching the finals is truly remarkable.

Britain's Got Talent
Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura at a promotional event for the film "Terminator Genisys" at Osaka Station on June 23, 2015. (© Sankei)

The Potential of Gesture-Based Comedy

But how did Yasumura manage to win over the British crowd despite the language and cultural barriers? Dr Satoru Kimura, a professor at the International Culture Department of Japan Women's University and author of a book on the "philosophy of laughter," sheds light on the matter. While sumo and public baths are part of everyday life in Japan, Western cultures tend to view nudity in public spaces as taboo. 

That's what makes Yasumura's moves so ingenious. By revealing his undies from the get-go, he served up the perfect comedic concoction of surprise, eccentricity, relief (that he didn't actually drop his underwear), and a touch of Japanese exoticism that captivated his audience.

Meshida, a Japanese stand-up comedian with training experience in the United Kingdom, raises an interesting point. Just as everyone fell in love with Rowan Atkinson's character Mr Bean, non-verbal comedy relying on gestures has great potential in the UK.

Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura strikes a pose at the award ceremony for the U-Can New Word and Buzzword Awards on December 1, 2015. (© Sankei)

Don't Let Language Barriers Stop You

By chance, Yasumura also formed a special bond with the audience through a grammatical error in his catchphrase. 

Whenever Yasumura dropped his catchphrase "I'm wearing!" the crowd would respond with a resounding "Pants!" (In British English, "pants" means underwear.)

Since the transitive verb "wearing" requires an object, the audience probably thought he was waiting for them to fill in the rest. Learning from this, Yasumura began asking, "What am I wearing?" and the audience naturally replied, "Pants!" And that's how he managed to pull the crowd into his comedic dance.

Meshida views this as a fantastic example of an English mistake leading to comedic interactions with the audience. He encourages Japanese people to fearlessly venture abroad without worrying about language insecurities or grammatical mistakes, just like Yasumura did.



(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Nozomi Motoe

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