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Arts

‘Tony’ Yasumura Reveals all About his Not-naked Shtick and its Origins in Japanese Comedy

TOKYO — The shtick that’s gone viral features a soccer player, a Spice Girl, James Bond, you name it, appearing to be naked, except they’re not really naked at all.

The disarming sight gag by Japanese comic Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura is simple and rather silly. But its bare-all message about the deceptiveness of what meets the eye has a lot of people laughing.

The recent appearance of Tony, as Yasumura is known these days, on “Britain’s Got Talent” has drawn more than 10 million views on the audition show’s YouTube account.

In this image made from a video, Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura performs at a Tokyo theater on May 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

“Do it with a majestically dignified and utterly unfounded confidence,” he told The Associated Press recently in Tokyo, of the secret to his comedy. “That gets over because what you’re doing is such nonsense.”

Yasumura has been doing his trademark act for nearly a decade on TV shows and comedy houses around Japan.

He stands before the audience wearing only a pink flower-patterned bathing suit and declares he will portray a certain person posing naked.

Then he raises a leg, sits with his hands folded, or crouches low, strategically and carefully positioning himself so his only attire is out of view.

“Don’t worry,” he says in a friendly, reassuring tone.

“I’m wearing,” he adds, without saying more because in the Japanese language, the object of the sentence is often unspoken.

On the British show, the judges finished the sentence for him, shouting out, “Pants!”

In this image made from a video, Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura performs at a Tokyo theater on May 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

Yasumura says he can depict anyone this way, including politicians, musical stars or nondescript people doing everyday things like drinking tea.

“It’s just funny. There is absolutely no meaning,” said Yasumura, 41, who has a jolly laugh but is obviously intensely serious about his craft.

You must always wear a smile. And never, ever flinch.

He acknowledged he barely understood what the show’s judges were saying, and inside felt unsure what to do. But he didn’t skip a beat.

“Honestly, you are the funniest contestant we’ve had all year, seriously. Really, really funny, and original,” gushed Simon Cowell, the show’s producer and usually one of the harshest judges.

“He brought confidence, comedy and luckily his pants! Tonikaku had us crackin’ up from start to finish with his brilliant audition,” the show said in a statement.

The humor in Yasumura’s performance is rooted in the Japanese version of vaudeville, which includes traditional storytelling, in which the narrator plays all the roles, as well as standup comedy.

“Hadaka gei,” which literally translates as “naked acts,” make up a genre of Japanese comedy.

It’s different from putting on a performance, like a juggling act, playing an instrument or dancing, no matter how funny it might end up being, because what he does constitutes the Japanese art of comedy, or “neta,” Yasumura says.

“Neta” is also used to describe the ingredients of gourmet cooking or the scoop of a news story, in other words, the key kernel of what’s unfolding.

He chanced upon his idea when he saw a female pop idol on a book cover, yes, posing naked, except she was sitting in a position that made you imagine she could be nude, when all you saw were her legs, face and arms.

“It was exactly the same as my neta. I saw that and knew: This is it,” he said.

And he hasn’t stopped since.

His success on “Britain’s Got Talent” has resonated at home. Many people left uplifting comments online, noting he had made them feel so proud, witnessing comedy crossing borders.

Soccer star Keisuke Honda posted a photo of himself kicking a ball on Twitter, next to a photo of Yasumura striking the naked soccer player pose. “I’m wearing,” Honda tweeted.

In this image made from a video, Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura performs at a Tokyo theater on May 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

Matsuko Deluxe, a reputed writer, noted on a recent TV show that Yasumura wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself, when much of modern-day humor tended to do just the opposite, and poke fun at others.

Although Yasumura exudes an innocence about him, in all his naked-baby cuteness, he also possesses a strength. It’s obvious he’s done his pants gimmick over and over, for years, even when no one laughed.

Even today, some online observers are already slamming Yasumura as inane, if not offensive.

Yasumura says he is lucky because he doesn’t have to do anything special to maintain his chubby figure.

Still, sticking with a mode of self-expression requires dedication and courage. After all, it’s clear he isn’t afraid literally to stand practically naked before an audience.

He swears he’ll be doing his routine till he dies.

If he makes the show’s semi-finals, Yasumura isn’t sure what exactly he will do, maybe Elton John or Freddie Mercury posing naked.

But don’t worry: He will be wearing pants.

___

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

 

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