The Yomiuri Shimbun Fresh from a Tokyo high school, the manzai standup comedy duo Pancake will start a new phase of life in April, taking a step toward a professional career.
Pancake — Yuya Yajima and Yuto Matsuo, both 18 — rose to the top of a nationwide high school manzai contest while in their second year at Tokyo metropolitan Kodairanishi High School. The young aspiring comedians are now drawing their fair share of attention.
Starting in April, the pair will attend the Tokyo branch of New Star Creation (NSC), Yoshimoto Kogyo’s training school for comedians and TV personalities, to acquire the skills they will need for their career.
It all began in their first year of high school. Eager to perform manzai at the school festival, Yajima asked Matsuo to form a duo. Like Yajima, Matsuo was mad about comedians and belonged to the school’s swimming club. The two even share the same birthday.
Quiet Matsuo plays the “boke,” or stooge who often makes foolish remarks, while the bubbly and energetic Yaijma plays the “tsukkomi” role, or straight man who usually fires off witty retorts.
Their performance at the festival went extremely well. Afterward, the two polished their skills at comedy shows featuring high school students.
In the summer of their second year, the pair won the top prize at High School Manzai 2015.
Yajima transformed Matsuo’s awkward way of speaking into laughs with his casual replies. The pair earned high praise at the contest, and they began to receive a flood of offers to perform at comedy shows.
“For the first six months after we won the contest, people were all over us,” Yajima recalled.
However, Matsuo said, “We knew it would be hard to win it again with similar manzai material.”
Matsuo decided to immerse himself in creating material for a new performance, often skipping meals, something that eventually made him sick.
But as soon as he put new material together, the duo began to practice it over and over at a park near their school.
At last year’s contest, in which they participated as third-year students, the pair reduced the number of retorts to Matsuo’s halting speaking style and instead focused on comical content.
The new routine unfolded as a dialogue between a radio personality and a listener.
The listener asked the personality, “What should one do if they get mixed up with a bad guy?” The personality replied, “Say, forgive me for ¥5,000,” to which the listener said, “So, you’re paying cash, right?” Yajima’s swift reply drew laughter.
The duo moved into the eight-team final round for the second year in a row.
However, fervent desire to win the contest spurred them to continue making minor tweaks until the very last moment.
As a result, they made a mistake at the beginning of their stage performance and finished the routine with an incomplete punch line. Although the crowd erupted into applause, the two failed to earn the top spot.
The fact that they were the winning duo from the previous year worked against them, because they felt they could not meet the high expectations of the judges, according to the pair.
Said Matsuo: “If we had won the top prize again this time, we wouldn’t have grown as a manzai duo.” Staying positive, he added, “We want to again develop good material for our manzai performances.”
Yajima will go to university and NSC, while Matsuo will focus entirely on attending the NSC lessons. They hope to one day become a popular manzai duo such as Non Style and Sandwichman.
Said Yajima: “I just want to be famous. To make it happen, I’ll work hard on my manzai performances.”