Stand-up comedian Yumi Nagashima is best known for the clip of her “Japanese Sweet Bite Technique” routine on YouTube. Done in her signature deadpan style, it epitomises Nagashima’s kooky brand of humour, which juxtaposes impolite humour with prim and proper delivery, all through the lens of a single Japanese woman in Vancouver. The formula has worked to great effect, and the comic’s career has been on the upswing with various international gigs, including appearances on season four of Stand-Up, Asia!, which was recorded in Singapore.
Have you had to readjust your stage persona over the years?
Oh yes, I’ve had to change things a little along the way. Initially, I was just the stereotypical Japanese lady who’s shy, submissive and polite. That worked because my sets were short, so what I said would be shocking – and funny – because of that. When I started doing longer sets of 45 minutes or more, however, the shock value wears off after a while, so the contrast between how I look and act and what I say disappears. I’m now writing more intimate and personal jokes for longer sets to let the audience know me better.
What about how you deliver these jokes?
With shorter sets, my punch lines came more quickly, and the jokes were snappier one-liners that engaged the audience immediately. For longer sets, I need to keep things a little subtler, especially at the start. It then becomes a whole big story that flows from a proper beginning to the middle part, before reaching the most dramatic climax at the end.
Do you have a preference in terms of venue?
I rather like dark rooms. It’s a weird thing: when the audience is lit they seem to become more self-conscious, and so they don’t laugh as much even if they find something funny. I think it’s about being politically correct and not laughing at some things you’re not “supposed” to. So the ideal venue is a hidden room that’s dark – like a basement – where people can be 100 per cent honest without worrying about being judged.
How would you like to divide your time between the various parts of your work?
That’s a really difficult one for me to balance. As much as I love live shows, I need to travel all over the world for them, so sometimes there’s jet lag to deal with, or I have insufficient time for my personal life. My goal is to work on TV or film stuff primarily, ideally in LA if that’s possible, then travel out for other gigs when I want to – to take back control of my time, basically.
Are there areas that you would like to explore?
I play the piano, so a little bit of musical comedy, maybe? When you say something offensive but back it up with good music, it softens it up a bit. I think that’s a great idea. I want to work more with other comedians too – it can be really lonely when you do shows alone. So having company, especially after a show, makes it kind of fun. And maybe a festival for stand-up comedy, as a Netflix special? Then I can pick comedians from all over the world. That’d be so cool.
Season four of Stand-Up, Asia! premieres in November on Comedy Central
(Photos Simon Sim; Styling Chia Wei Choong; Styling Assistance Bryan Ho; Hair Christvian Goh using Kevin Murphy; Makeup Wee Ming using Dior)