LOL: Australia was out on June 19th. I saw the first 2 episodes and enjoyed it so far. It looks like there is a Mexican version, too. I have not seen it but might try.
As you know this series is a modified version of the Japanese original, titled Hitoshi Matsumoto Presents Documental. It's been a quite successful series as Amazon JP just announced that Series 8 is starting in late August. I thought it is good to write what this original is about as it is a quite fascinating series, exposing their straight male dominated customs and norms, particularly their unconscious mindset in the mechanism of laughter. I also think it might be worth talking about it especially now as how this original has successfully (?) got away with controversial jokes, comments and attitudes, making 8 series within 2 years.
I have zero work due to the current outbreak and it is good to think about complicated issues like this.
I said LOL is a modified version though the basic rule stays the same. 10 professional comedians are stuck in one room for 6 hours, losing the game if they laugh. What they mean by "laugh" is quite strict, often including a smily expression. The winner will receive 1 million yen.
The difference is ...
1) The original is not only a reality game show but also a show about finding the strongest meta joke. Not the best joke. Not the joke that most people laugh at. It is a documentary series to search the joke that these comedians with similar joke mechanism could not resist laughing. They were carefully selected by H. Matsumoto, one half of Down Town, who has enormous influence on Japanese comedy/entertainment industry over the last 3-4 decades.
2) It also gives mental pressures onto 10 comedians as they brought 1 million yen (approx. 10,000 dollars) to join this game show. Yes, you heard it right. 1 million yen is the condition for the 10 comedians to be part of it. The answer to how this rule is even possible might be found in traditional Japanese customs and practice, which I don't go into details for now.
3) The original title Documental is obviously Japanese English. It means documenting the mentality of comedians who must resist laughing. It is a very serious gamble because they will lose 1 million yen if they laugh. Most of all, this is an invitation from their mental boss. Therefore, the entire series was shot and edited with some J-horror tastes.
4) A minor point. Those who lost the game cannot join the host in the monitoring room to watch the game.
5) Oh, it's a 60 min show.
Who are "qualified" to enjoy the show?
At the beginning of episode 1, Matsumoto said he presumes women, kids and grandads/grannies are NOT watching this show, meaning the show is for those who are ... men, meaning he/him, who are fans of his line of work or/and have the same joke mechanism as him. Under this premises, the show can dismiss whoever outside his echo-chamber. 10 comedians selected by Matsumoto are his gang, all managed by Yoshimoto Entertainment Inc. (the production of this game show, too). If you find it offensive, rude, immoral, etc, they'd say so fucking what? Your opinion is worthless unless you have the same joke mechanism as them. In fact, the show gives the impression that "your sense of humour" needs to be "good enough" to get it mostly because of Matsumoto's impact on Japanese comedy.
It is also worth noting that 10 chosen ones for S1 are all male, he/him straight comedians, aged 30s-40s, except one that's 20 something. This youngish one is also one and only mixed race. (His presence might be interesting having considered Japan has been keeping its homogeneous image with little or no ethnic/racial diversity.) From S2 to S6, Matsumoto invited a member of a female comedy trio called Mori Sanchu in each season but the trio's motto is "you must kill all the femininity to become a 'proper' comedian" and their career has been relatively successful as a result. They are, therefore, "qualified" to be a part of this show.
On the other hand, S6 is intriguing as 4 female comedians joined in. As Amazon UK provides only up to Season 3, I cannot see what the S6 was like but I would like to see this as an exception at the moment. One of them, Tomochika, knows the inside out of the industry, managed to have established her career in her very own way, highly respected by Matsumoto and his gang. Although she never openly spoke about it, what she had been through to achieve where she is, despite her enormous talent and skills, is a (sort of) known story among some comedy geeks, which might well sound familiar to all the female comedians anywhere in the world. My wild guess is she might have said yes to join in only with a condition of having her two other female comedians she privately hangs out with. The show went back to the usual 9 or 10 male comedians plus a member from Mori Sanchu from S7.
What kind of things did these "qualified" comedians try to make others laugh?
In Series 1, those who have career in live comedy scene tend to have catch-phrase based jokes or/and visually weird characters likely inspired from Japanese nerd culture Channel 4 used to make a program about. Again, if you have the mechanism to find these stuff funny, then, it'd be a hell not to laugh. 2 out of 10 got red-carded at the end of episode 2. From episode 3, those who haven’t done much live comedy career started to make a desperate attempt. One of them, Miyagawa, boasted that he can show his butthole SO quickly that no one can beat him. He poked out his butt literally showed his butthole out to the rest,
It got weirder when they were forced to stare at not only Miyagawa's butthole but also a piece of toilet roll stuck in right there. He didn't plan it. It was an accident. He said he'd go for a shower to get rid of the tissue but one of them volunteered to remove it for him. In front of everybody. With his hand. Miyagawa politely declined the offer first but could not keep saying no to his persistent offer and agreed to let him remove it. As Miyagawa leaned on the table, the guy positioned behind him, slowly took off his underpants. The camera zoomed Miyagawa's face as well as the guy's face who are picking up the tissue with his hand, his bottom, and 6 others who are forced to look at them.
They found this extremely funny and therefore it was agony for all of them to resist laughing.
Once again, it is not about if things described above are funny or not. Things "they" find funny matter and you have no rights to say if you don't get it. I am not trying to see the validity of the straight male dominant comedy and out of context "jokes"(or whatever they are). What I think is legit to discuss here is the reason why they find such things, a straight male do nothing but letting other men in control of his bottom, as funny. I'd say shame and embarrassment like David Brent tickled them but are also linked to sadistic and masochistic nature of comedy that Matsumoto has been consistently exploring in his projects such as R100 (film).
If one more reason is to be added in regards to this particular episode, it could be argued that they still have a mechanism to laugh at gay culture. I am saying this based on jokes they make on their usual TV appearances. You see it yourself and how you read it as it is never obvious. I must say this particular episode sits in a relatively grey area but depressed me nonetheless. It is a sign that Japanese comedy has still an extremely long way to move onto a next era as Matsumoto and his gang are undeniably leading the Japanese comedy industry and will keep in that way for a very long time. As a short term solution, therefore, it was the best to create the Fight Club environment rather than being hypocritical and inclusive, which would surely turn into harassment or discriminatory behaviour to others.
One wee note, though, I still find the show problematic. Cameras tend to keep grabbing who's trying hard not to laugh as what "they" (both the performers and the viewers) find funny rather than "jokes". This does not fit the bill as the Japanese original aims to find the strongest (meta) joke, not a straightforward reality game show.
Woah, this entry got really long but I hope you get a slice of current Japanese comedy scene!
Histoshi Matsumoto Presents Documental S1-S3 is available on Amazon Prime (UK)