Owarai – Japanese Comedy on Television

Japanese television has a certain reputation with Western audiences for being extremely colorful and sometimes a little weird. In fact, Japan has a huge variety of game shows, entertainment programs and comedians who get broadcasted on television. Let’s take a closer look at Japanese comedy programsn – Owarai (お笑い).

Owarai is a broad word used to describe Japanese television comedy. The word Owarai means “a laugh” or “a smile”. Owarai is most common on Japanese variety shows and the comedians are referred to as Owarai geinin. Presently, Japan is considered to be in an “Owarai boom”, and many minor talents have been finding sudden fame after a gag or skit became popular.
Manzai, a traditional form of Japanese comedy that became the basis of many modern acts today, is characterized by a pair of usually older male comedians acting certain roles in a constant comedic battle against themselves. This tradition is continued in the acts of many modern talents. While there are many women talents, they are largely outnumbered by the men, and they tend to take more minor roles.
Japanese variety shows are the main outlet for most comedians and along with drama and anime they are some of the most popular shows on Japanese television.


As a general term in Japan, “variety show” can refer to “straight” variety shows with an appropriate myriad of topics, segments, and games. It is also used for comedy oriented shows that focus more on stand-up and skits, and quiz/trivia type shows featuring comic elements. It is not to be expected that a variety show will always follow the same format, and guests from Japanese music and talent pools are frequent.
The variety style shows generally divided into segments of games, features, and “corners”, some very short and some shows focusing (for a special episode) solely on one game or feature. Trivia, quiz, or game shows in Japan are often considered owarai as the contestants of such shows are often a mix of comedians and other Japanese talents of various descriptions. Game shows without any famous characters playing the role of contestants are rare.
Do you enjoy watching Japanese TV? If so, please tell us about your favorite shows or comedians!

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