On Japanese comedy and Kansai-ben

※ This article discusses an experience I made after coming to Tokyo after living in Kansai for 6 months.

Disclaimer: I am a beginner of the Japanese language and therefore neither watch nor understand Japanese comedy regularly. However, I understand the claim a Kansai student has made from a phonetical point of view. I will elaborate on this now.

At Kobe University, most students don’t come from Kobe, but from Osaka. But Kobe and Osaka are both part of Kansai and therefore the vast majority of students at Kobe University speak Kansai-ben, the regional Japanese dialect of Kansai. Living 6 months in Kobe, I got totally used to Kansai-ben. The dialect contrasts the Kantō region around Tōkyō. But, there is no such thing as Kantō-ben. The Japanese spoken in Kantō is considered as "Formal Japanese".

I don’t listen to word-level differences that much. First, I am not that long in Kantō and generalizing things is therefore difficult. And second, as a beginner in Japanese, I focus more on gestures / body language as well as pitch/stress in pronunciation. And pitch is the major difference between Kansai-ben and Kantō. Kansai-ben features a wider pitch range.

Because of the changes of the pitch, listening to Kansai people gives you a lot of information about their emotions and level of excitement. Listening to Kantō people is strange to me. It sounds monotonous and the missing pitch range indicates lack of interest to my brain.

Different topic: I prefer Austrian (esp. Alfred Dorfer) and Swiss comedy (esp. Ursus & Nadeschkin) over German comedy. And let’s have a close-up look at these comedians and their phonetics. The comedian use little pitch, stress and the volume is constant. Punch lines are almost entirely based on associations, words and meanings. Imitation is important. But the punch lines don’t need special support by sounds, noise or visual effects.

Let’s talk about Japanese comedy. For example, take a look at comedy by some 吉本新喜劇 . Pitch, stress and volume are extrordinarily important compared to conversational Japanese. For punch lines, the comedians often raise their voice. Jason Danielson is from the US, but a Japanese comedian. He also employs the same characteristics (for example in this video). This is quite contrary to Austrian or Swiss comedy.

And now comes the claim: Because Japanese comedy uses these phonetic changes for punch lines and Kansai people also use it in everyday language, most Japanese comedians actually come from Kansai. It is easier for them to make the audience laugh. Interesting, right?

Granted, Wikipedia gives a different explanation (not phonetics, but convention):

Since the Taishō period, the manzai form of Japanese comedy has been developed in Osaka, and a large number of Osaka-based comedians have appeared in Japanese media with Osaka dialect. Because of such associations, Kansai speakers are often viewed as being more funny or talkative than typical speakers of other dialects. Tokyo people even occasionally imitate Kansai dialect to provoke laughter or inject humor.

— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansai_dialect#History