[Spoiler alert: Do not read ahead if you have not watched Ep 30 of Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020.]
In the current season of Terrace House:Tokyo 2019-2020 , Netflix’s insanely addictive Japanese reality soap about six strangers living under one roof (in a posh condo in the Setagaya ward in western Tokyo), one of the singletons is 25-year-old graphic designer and aspiring stand-up comedian Kai Kobasyashi.
In one episode (Ep 30’s ‘Not Guilty’), the easy-going bloke got to show off his comedic prowess (or lack thereof) at an open mic session. And, boy, did he bomb. Big time. His routine — about suicidal salarymen not having enough sex with their bored wives or something like that — didn’t go well with the crowd at Gamuso, a cozy little club in the Asagaya nieghbourhood, about 10 minutes from Shinjuku.
Even his house-mates, who were in the audience, were flabbergasted by his brand of cringe-comedy. At least that's how it looked onscreen. Did it really happen? Just because it’s reality TV doesn’t mean it’s real, right?
But guess what? Kai’s tumbleweed-and-crickets moment did happen. “No one laughed,” BJ Fox tells 8days.sg. The 39-year-old British expat knows this because he was there — he was the emcee. “It was pretty bad,” he adds. “Saying that, making your stand-up comedy debut is hard for anyone, and that was not the worst I have seen.”
A veteran in Tokyo’s stand-up comedy circuit, Fox, a one-time video game company exec based in Singapore, also has his own sitcom, Home Sweet Tokyo, the first English-language series produced by NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster.
Premiered in 2017, Home Sweet Tokyo, follows Bryan, a British guy who relocated to the Land of the Rising Sun with his Japanese wife (Yoshino Kimura) and their daughter (Isla Rose) and live with his grumpy father-in-law (Tetsu Watanabe). The show ended its third season in January.
While Fox wasn’t impressed with Kai’s set, he’s glad to be part of the series’ legacy. “That [episode of Terrace House] did a great bit of for the Tokyo stand-up comedy scene,” says Fox who doesn’t follow the reality soap religiously. “Lot of people came to see us perform after that, so we’re grateful to Kai and Terrace House for coming.”
Four months after that ep’s January premiere (it dropped in Singapore in early April), Fox is still trying to wrap his head around Terrace House's massive appeal. “When that episode came out in Japan, all my wife’s friends were writing to her, like, ‘Look, it’s your husband!” What really shocked me was that 30 seconds on Terrace House got me more publicity than three seasons [of Home Sweet Tokyo] on NHK!”
“I’ll like say that I’m the first comedian in Japan to have his Netflix Comedy Special that’s only 30 seconds,” he continues, with a laugh. Alas, all the PR generated was short-lived, all thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking to us via Skype, Fox discusses how the global health crisis has affected the comedy clubs in Tokyo, the dread of doing online stand-up, and the stuff we didn’t see in that ‘Kai’-tastrophic episode of Terrace House. The following interview took place on Apr 18, 2020.
Watch Kai's performance here and feel the pain.