Ollie Horn presents his show 'Pig In Japan' at Adelaide Fringe.
Ollie Horn has managed to make a name for himself over in Japan... But it wasn't on purpose.
The comedian from the UK headed overseas as a postgraduate researcher, and you could say his focus shifted when he started to partake in open mic nights.
He's coming to Adelaide to tell audiences all about his experiences... But before that, he had a chat to us about the show, called 'Pig In Japan'.
It is quite a thoughtful yet funny show. Where did the idea to create it come from? I had written lots of jokes about my life in Japan that I was performing at comedy clubs in Japan, but never felt like I could perform them anywhere else. In Japan, the audience would share a context for the jokes with me, but whenever I did a spot at a regular comedy club elsewhere, the same jokes would have to be told completely differently to get the same reaction, just because people didn’t share my reference points.
So, although I often talk about my travels on stage whenever I perform, I never really got a chance to talk about what my life was really like living in Japan, and realised that I would only be able to share my experiences about Japan if I had enough time to bring an audience who wants to hear these stories on board with me. Also I had a load of ridiculous videos of me being daft on Japanese TV that I wanted to show.
Did you learn anything new about yourself in the process of putting it together? Absolutely! I realised quite how normalised I had become to some of the stranger aspects of living abroad. To write the show I actually asked friends who had recently taken a trip to Japan what their first impressions were like, to help me empathise with the culture shock that people go through, and find my own way of explaining the differences from this fresh perspective.
What kinds of challenges did you face when it came to writing a factual show and injecting humour into it? I want the story to be authentic, and I've had to accept that the show is more enjoyable when I don't share every detail with strict accuracy. The show isn't marketed as a biopic, so I've started being a bit less precise with timelines and personal information when I perform it. I discuss some quite heavy topics such as nationalism, racism and isolation in the show.
People are only prepared to laugh at jokes about these topics if they're sure that I'm coming from a good place, so I make sure that the audience get a good chance to understand my point of view, so they can judge for themselves whether I'm qualified to joke about the topic in question. Anybody who has tried open mic comedy will tell you that sometimes a hilarious and improbable real thing that's happened to you doesn't always translate well to the stage, because the joke has already been told before you get to a punchline. I've actually had to take out some stories about things I did on TV in Japan, because they are so crazy and so unbelievable that audiences just don't believe me!
The show tells of how you ‘fell into the Japanese entertainment industry’. What do you mean by this? I had no intention of ever doing the kind of work I did in Japan! Originally, I went as a postgraduate researcher in trademark law—which is actually less interesting than it sounds—and spent my first year there at a Japanese law school. Likewise, when I first started dabbling with putting on open mic nights and appearing on local radio, I only ever did so because it seemed like a fun thing to do—not because it was part of some grand plan of being a TV star. It's a seductive world, and before too long I joined an agency and had business cards saying I was a 'tarento' (entertainer) just because I said 'yes' to enough cool-sounding things.
And what are you looking forward to when it comes to bringing ‘Pig In Japan’ to Adelaide Fringe? I'm doing the show in a more intimate room than I'll be performing in at the Edinburgh Fringe – I'll be able to see each member of the audience individually, and learn from their reactions, which I hope will improve the show.
What about just being in Australia in general? A good number of my comic friends are bringing their shows to Adelaide this year, so I'm going to enjoy watching their shows and hanging out with them. Australia is nice as a Brit as your food is basically British food – which I like – but washed down with more alcohol than would be acceptable in the UK.
What are some of your favourite things about Japan? Without question it's the food. The food you get in Japan is exceptional for three reasons. Firstly, it's a geographically diverse country, so a huge amount of ingredients and cooking styles – that historically would have been closely linked to the natural climate – can be enjoyed. Secondly, it's often said that Japan isn't a country of inventors but one of refining existing inventions to perfection.
This means that you can get genuinely world-class Chinese noodles, French pastries and Italian pizza that have been refined to perfection to within an inch of their life. Lastly, Japan is a rich country with a population that enjoys eating out. Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, and Japan has the highest number of restaurants per capita than anywhere else. It's also an incredibly safe country. People reserve a seat at Starbucks by leaving their mobile phone on the table, and I rarely locked my front door.
Is there anything you’d like the UK to take from Japan… And vice versa? One thing that I think is extremely regrettable about the UK is our attitudes towards low-skilled workers. You'll never hear “work hard or you'll be flipping burgers when your older" coming from a Japanese parent, because flipping burgers is an important job in Japan – as is any job that keeps society moving and people happy. Japanese people tend to take their job extremely seriously no matter how much social status it has, and it’s very humbling to experience first-hand. One thing Japan lacks, that the UK has in abundance, is a sense of sarcasm.
Sarcastic jokes just don't exist in Japan, and I can't count the number of times I've had to backtrack after an ill-judged quip. I recall a waitress saying to me (in Japanese) that they only have a Japanese menu, is that okay, and I replied (in Japanese) that it isn't okay as I couldn't understand what she said. She apologised (in Japanese), and went to get someone who spoke English before I got a chance to say I was trying to crack a joke. Her colleague didn't really see the funny side, either.
Is there somewhere in the world you’ve never travelled to that you’d love to see… And why? I'm quite lucky in that most places I've wanted to visit I've managed to wrangle a gig. But I'm still yet to visit Latin America, and I have a few dear friends who I'd love to visit there. Oh and it's my secret dream to brush up my French and perform bilingually at the Montreal Comedy Festival one day.
'Pig In Japan' plays The BoardRoom at The Griffins Hotel from 19 February-3 March.