Funnyman Patrick Harlan fits nicely into the wacky world
of Japanese entertainment
Text and Photos by Chris Betros
You can call the Japanese entertainment industry a lot of
things, and some foreigners even call it a gold mine. Its
also a lot of fun for Patrick Harlan, or Pakkun,
as the 34-year-old comedian is affectionately known, particularly
due to the very popular NHK Monday night program Eigo de Shabera
Naito (You Should Speak English), which he co-hosts with Yumiko
Shaku, Kazuya Matsumoto and navigator Jon Kabira.
Originally from Colorado, Harlan studied comparative religion
at Harvard before coming to Japan in 1996 to start his entertainment
career. Despite very little Japanese ability, he persevered
and formed a manzai comic act with Makoto Yoshida. In addition,
Harlan hosts a J-Wave radio show, does ring announcing for
K-1, and is the author of a number of books. Last year he
did a Schick commercial and was recently named Fukui brand
To foreign viewers, many Japanese variety shows seem ridiculous.
You can be on shows where they drop a watermelon on
you or try the nipple car battery gag. It doesnt look
like something your average Harvard grad would do, admits
Harlan. But its just a different format. A lot
of foreigners dont get Japanese TV. They think it is
low quality crap.
Harlan is one of a growing band of foreigners on Japanese
TV. Some are detested by the foreign population here,
but some are extremely talented, he says. Before
I got into the Japanese entertainment industry, I was a little
embarrassed by foreigners on TV. I thought they didnt
know anything. Early on, I also would never turn down a job,
no matter how degrading, so I can see how foreign people might
see our cheesy work. Now Im fortunate I can work as
an actual entertainer and not just be a token white guy. I
do wish, though, that there were more meaningful parts for
foreign actors. Its basically the English teacher or
military snot, just caricatures.
Eigo de Shabera Naito has raised Harlans profile among
many Japanese. More importantly, the program has given him
a chance to hone his comedic and interviewing skills. Im
much more relaxed now and happy to be either the straight
man or the funny guy, he says. At this point,
the show has its own momentum. I get letters and emails from
viewers saying how much it encourages them that I have managed
to learn Japanese and that theyll try the same way to
So why dont Japanese speak English better? Its
a world of difference if you can just get over the inferiority
complex and view each mistake as a treasure, says Harlan.
Too many Japanese people have been told thousands of
times that their English sucks. Its been hammered into
them. Six years of English classes and you cant
order a hamburger in a McDonalds in Hawaii?! The
problem is they learn katakana English, which doesnt
help them learn proper pronunciation.
Doing nearly 50 shows a year gives Harlan very little time
off. Every day is different. First thing in the morning,
I check out whats going on in the world via the Internet
and watch the TV variety shows. They digest everything for
you. When he gets a chance, he plays volleyball or ping
pong at a gym, enjoys jazz and is also into astronomy. Yeah,
I love looking at the stars.
Tokyos gossip goddess has some
Tall, blonde Lisle Wilkerson is hard to miss as she speeds
around Aoyama on her mountain bike. But with jobs in music
and radio under her belt and new projects in PR and on the
net, shes been a familiar face around the city for years.
How did you find yourself in Tokyo?
I grew up here so I had no choice. I was bamboozled.
Which job do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy all of them tremendously. I realize that I am really
fortunate in that way. I recently started my own company,
LW Entertainment, and Im helping promote shows for Fox
TV, which is perfect for me because I watch Fox all the time
when Im home. Honestly!
Whos the nicest celebrity youve met?
Beyonce. She was such a sweet and warm persona consummate
Whats the web project?
A celebrity gossip and day-in-the-life column for a popular
Japanese entertainment website called Cinema Café (www.cinemacafe.net/gossip).
And the radio spot?
Its called Channel Tokio on J-wave. I introduce
hot, juicy gossip in Japanese!
Are you fluent in Japanese?
Yes, I learned while growing up here. I still struggle with
reading and writing, but Im getting better.
Do you have any tips for learning the language?
Make friends with Japanese people. Find a passion related
to the country and learn through that.
What do you do when you have time off?
Ha! I just started a company, so time off is unheard of.
What do you love most about Tokyo?
It is my home. Also the fact that I can go everywhere I need
to by mountain bike. Thats very liberating.
Where is your favorite holiday spot?
Lake Nojiri in Nagano prefecture. Theres a gaijin
village there where I have been going for summer vacation
since I was 5 years old. That place is still my heart.
Hear Lisle in Japanese on Channel
Tokio on J-Wave, Sundays 1:30-1:45pm. AV
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