Reading time: 10 mins | Text and photos: Makoto Chiba
Gen Takagi: Comedian and influencer
A video he posted on YouTube five years ago changed his life. The video 9 things I found interesting about Finland obtained a big attention from Finnish audience. Since then, Gen has been continuously creating videos, sketches, and standup in Finnish. So far, his videos have been watched in total over 30 million times all over the world. He has gained more visibility in Finland and has gotten tons of new followers on different social media channels. Gen has also been interviewed by several Finnish media channels. After moving to Finland 2 years ago in 2020, he embarked on his career as a comedian by making sketches, standup, and by collaborating with different Finnish companies.
First of all, what brought you to Finland?
The reasons are quite simple. My wife is Finnish. She was in Japan as an exchange student, and I met her back then and had a long-distance relationship for several years until we got married in Finland. The second reason is more concrete. When I posted the video mentioned above, Finns reacted to my video like crazy. At that point, I realized that I don’t necessarily need to make contents only for Japanese but for Finns.
I have been thinking all the time during my lifetime that I do want to succeed as a comedian or an entertainer and did lots of trials and errors for many years, but it did not come out right. When I got a positive reaction from the Finnish audience after posting the video, I immediately thought that “Oh my god. This is it!”.
What made you decide to start doing comedy?
Creating something funny and making someone smile is what I am best at. At the age of 15, I launched my radio channel. Since then, I have been sharing my ideas and thoughts to my followers via different social media channels. To pursue my dream of becoming a comedian, and to get more knowledge about the media in Japan, I went to Nihon University to study the field of media specifically focused on the TV industry.
After graduation, I started working as an assistant director at a famous Japanese broadcaster. But during my work in a Japanese company, I was asking myself many times “Is this really what I want to do?” My previous boss also asked me back then “Is this really what you want to die for (if it kills you)?” I listened to myself again and the answer was “NO”. Since then, I decided to follow my heart and dedicate myself to what I have been wanting to do. And that is being a comedian.
Where do the ideas for your sketches and standup come from?
When I seek for new ideas of my videos, I watch Finnish and Japanese comedies while letting my mind wander and wait until the next idea will come up. To be honest, I’m struggling all the time with creating new ideas for my videos. Especially if I don’t have anyone to get feedback from, I’ll just go around in circles. But I can say with confidence that I am good at spotting the framework of comedy. I get insight into why a certain comedy show, sketch or standup is funny, and why everyone likes and laughs at it.
When I was parodying one scene from a show by Kummeli, which is a legendary famous Finnish comedy crew, I made a video by only using their show’s framework and just changing characters and dialogues. And my Finnish audience liked it a lot. On the other hand, I would like to try the Japanese comedy framework with a Finnish style. If Finns like it and think it is funny, then it means the Japanese comedy style can fit the Finnish comedy vice versa.
When working with Finns, is there anything that you specifically take into consideration?
I say things to Finns straightforwardly and I am honest. Since in Finland, Finns speak out about things straightforwardly without a doubt. They don’t lie about what they truly think of. If the thing is not good, they say it’s not good. On the other hand, In Japan, we have a different culture than Finland. Japanese people often say it’s good even though it’s not actually good, in order to not make the other feel bad. In that sense, I don’t need to read Finns mind, so it is easy to work with Finns.
How do you find your work opportunities such as company collaboration?
I used to check on a website where I can find the gig for social media influencers, but actually I have never used the service. I just wait for work opportunities and contact requests from companies, but while waiting, I keep creating. My portfolio proves how capable I am and what I can offer to the companies. My recent concern about my work is that the work I get is often as Japanese not as a comedian. In the future, I would like to be recognized as a comedian and get job opportunities from companies because I am a comedian, not because I am a Japanese.
Is it hard to make a living as a comedian in Finland?
It is extremely hard. I especially struggled with pricing my service. At the beginning of my career in Finland, I underestimated my service and agreed on a salary suggestion that was very low in retrospect. After that, I reconsidered the pricelist of my service and so far, so good. I do also YouTube videos, but advertising revenue is really small unless videos are watched million times.
Final question: What are your dreams for the future in Finland?
There are so many dreams that I want to make come true in Finland. For example, I would like to appear on the Finnish Netflix series and become a radio personality. And above all, I want to become a comedian and would like to appear on Finnish TV. This year, I found another dream which is not for myself but for Finnish comedy culture. I would like to let the Finns know about the Japanese comedy culture called Manzai.
Manzai is a type of two-man act and composed of two different roles called “Boke” and “Tsukkomi”. Boke is the same as a jokester who says or does funny things. On the other hand, Tsukkomi is known as “the straight man” in Western comedy culture, who reacts to the boke’s jokes by criticizing with dry humor. In the western comedy culture, when a jokester says something funny, the audience will think themselves what and why it is funny to them, so this Tsukkomi acts as a straight man who reacts immediately to boke’s jokes and explains to the audience what is funny regarded in western countries as not funny. But I have seen Tsukkomi happen in Finnish comedy shows sometimes. But it is neither considered as the real Tsukkomi nor no one notices that it is Tsukkomi.
I want Finns to understand this Japanese comedy culture. I am pretty sure that if Tsukkomi makes inroads in the Finnish comedy culture and becoming commonplace, the level of Finnish comedy would get better and funnier. In the future, I want to see Finnish TV shows where Finnish comedians do Manzai. This is my lifetime dream.
Check out Gen’s trip to Turku in Turku Business Region’s Instagram story highlights.