Too Young to Play Japan
This was the first time I had traveled internationally. I was offered a comedy spot within a show produced at the Show Boat Casino in Tokyo, Japan.
Of course I didn’t speak Japanese so they translated 8 minutes of my act and sent me the cassette to learn and memorize. (That’s right, cassette) …
My concern was that, if there was any audience heckling, I wouldn’t be able to respond. Turned out, that wasn’t going to be a problem.
Ninety-eight percent of the audiences were Japanese businessmen who never actually watched the show, until the topless American dancers were on. Otherwise, they spoke business, rarely looking up.
As a customer courtesy, the dancers were generally asked to sit with the men after the show (clothed). They were rarely spoken to, mainly out of protocol, but also because neither gender was bilingual. The first night, the girls decided they were ready to leave. They stood, said goodbye, and the businessmen handed them money. A lot of money.
At first the girls were offended thinking they were being called hookers, until the house manager came to explain it was a sign of prosperity, and to refuse would be an insult. One night the female singer was given a mink stole. For the record, the ventriloquist didn’t get shit. (Sure, I wasn’t bilingual or female, but I would have sat with them topless.) I did, however, receive an offer to do a guest spot on a network television soap opera.
I was invited to make a cameo on their version of General Hospital. I had no lines, nor did I have anything to do in the scene. Basically I was asked to walk across the shot, past the hospital front desk as the actors were speaking. A title graphic appeared on screen that read, “American comedian, Michael Ziegfeld.” Why? Who knows? I guess anything American is considered awesome regardless of it making any sense.
I was only around twenty years old and my culinary palate was less than mature. I was young, making a modest income as a road comic, happily, and regularly eating macaroni and cheese as a staple meal.
The first week we were in Japan, the cast and production team were nightly diplomatic guests at a round table dinner full of politicians and business executives. Every night it was the same thing: fish parts, octopus with the big jelly head, calamari. (Not the fried kind, but the kind that looks and chews like a condom just out of the wrapper. Don’t ask how I know that.)
I couldn’t eat it. I hated all seafood at the time, let alone sushi. So for days I ate nothing but noodles or rice until the last night of the week, when the translator said, “Oh, you will be most happy! Tonight is ‘Western’ themed menu!” I said, “Oh great! Western night!” Turns out, it was the same food, but with forks.
As a side note, mac & cheese was not a product sold in Japan. The producer shipped me a case of it that took up most of my tiny apartment.
I’ve been to over fifty countries now. You know it’s time to stop traveling when people ask, “Hey, have you ever been to Civitavecchia?” and you reply, “Probably.”
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