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Manzai is stand-up comedy that is usually performed by two comedians (manzaishi). The two comedians normally divide their comic roles. One of the pair plays the fool (boke), and the other the straight (tsukkomi). Most manzaishi write their own material.
Manzai goes back to the 13th or 14th century. At that time it was common entertainment for driving away demons and ushering in good fortune in the new year. Modern manzai developed in western Japan (Kansai) at the end of the 19th century.
The comedians from the Kansai region are especially popular. They talk with the Kansai dialect (Kansai-ben), and make the audience laugh with volleys of gags and their ad-libbed exchanges. The Yoshimoto Kogyo is a famous manzai production company in Osaka. Manzaishi appear regularly on television variety shows.
Takeshi Kitano known as a film director ("Hana-bi," "Kikujiro" etc.) in the west, began his career as a manzaishi in 70's (though he is from Tokyo). The duo was called The Two Beats, and his nickname was Beat Takeshi.
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