Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Trials & Tribulations of Starting the Tokyo Comedy Club

Update: The Tokyo Comedy Store now credits me as co-founding the Comedy Store. This
was a nice gesture and sets things right. Thank you to the Tokyo Comedy Store for
remembering me! --Kevin Burns

Pictured: Hadano, Kanagawa Photo by Jonathan DeNardis

Tokyo, Japan

One of the great things about being an expatriate in Japan is that there are so many unique opportunities for us here. If you are willing to take the time to go to the audition or job interview, you have a shot at many interesting jobs. As well, if there is something you want to do, but this organization or club doesn`t yet exist, if you start it, they will come. So often there are others like you, waiting for someone to start a club or group they are interested in.

I have lived here a long time, I`m a good organizer, so I have started many groups over the years. One of them was the Tokyo Comedy Club, which is now known as The Tokyo Comedy Store. I still have a little pride in knowing that I started the whole thing! Maybe someone would have done it eventually, but I did it!

Many years ago now, I decided that I wanted to perform stand-up comedy again (foolish lad). I had performed on CBC radio, and at UBC (where I majored in Theatre), Punchlines and Yuk Yuks in Vancouver. I had even performed Improv comedy at the University du Quebec in French! That was an interesting experience.

So I sat in my apartment pondering the possibility of starting some kind of amateur club that performed comedy in Tokyo. The Tokyo Comedy Club was born when I decided to stop thinking about it and put out some ads in the forerunner of Metropolis, The Tokyo Classifieds. I eventually attracted a group of about 15 performers, most of them stand-up comics, a few improv performers and even a hypnotist named Tony Paget. Many people Emailed me to tell me they wanted to come to the show.

I was interviewed by the Mainichi Daily News about what kind of crazy person would want to stand up all by himself, in front of a large crowd, and try to get them to laugh. I think you have to be a touch crazy to do it.

Our first show was to a full house at the Tokyo American Club. The next show was to an even more raucous crowd at the Tokyo British Club. We also put on an improv comedy show one night.

One day, one of the members, an Australian lawyer, offered to take over as co-manager of the club. This seemed strange to me as he had never offered any help in the past. Suddenly he not only wanted to help, but to be my equal. He wanted to make the club a professional club, which I wasn`t thrilled with. I often feel that the expats in Japan, are into making money too much, and should give back more to their fellow man by donating their time. So I wasn`t too happy about this offer.

I thought about it though, and realized that all the hard work it had taken me to start the club, and get it established had also burnt me out. I was tired and didn`t really want to manage the club. I said to this lawyer a week or so later, that he could be the sole manager, provided that I was allowed to perform at any show I wanted. He agreed. I should have had this in writing, but it was just a verbal agreement.

Ironically, he told me that after the second show I wouldn`t be able to perform. Perhaps I should have seen it coming. A friend of mine came over and excitedly said, "Kev, you have to read this. That lawyer dude is taking all the credit for your club." Sure enough I read the interview and either he had been misquoted, or misunderstood, or he was taking full credit for starting the whole thing. At the time I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to perform comedy, That was what I tried to focus on.

He had gone from being a performer to stealing my club from me. I felt raped. I thought of suing, but figured it would be a waste of time and money. I was very bitter, and sad, but I learned a valuable lesson. Be careful whom you trust, and be careful who you put in charge. Just because you would never do something, and just because you are kind-hearted, doesn`t mean the next man is, especially if there is money to be made.

A fellow actor who eventually took over the club Michael Naishtutt, lamented the loss of my club, and sympathized with me. I tried to downplay the whole thing, but it was a huge loss for me. I have never performed stand-up comedy since. It was always a tough thing to do, but I think this final incident, sealed it for me.

I still toy with the idea of doing it sometimes. I don`t think I will though.

Recently I visited the Tokyo Comedy Store`s homepage, and in their history of the club section, there was no mention of me. Even ten years later, I felt angry and promptly Emailed them, telling them if they are going to have a history of their club, it should be a true history. One of the members assured me this would be changed to reflect the truth. I hope they do change it. I feel a bit like Trotsky at the moment.

by Kevin Burns

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