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star struck

Patrick’s day
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. It’s 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 ambassador.

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 doesn’t look like something your average Harvard grad would do,” admits Harlan. “But it’s just a different format. A lot of foreigners don’t 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 didn’t 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 I’m 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. It’s basically the English teacher or military snot, just caricatures.”

Eigo de Shabera Naito has raised Harlan’s profile among many Japanese. More importantly, the program has given him a chance to hone his comedic and interviewing skills. “I’m 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 they’ll try the same way to learn English.”

So why don’t Japanese speak English better? “It’s 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. It’s been hammered into them. ‘Six years of English classes and you can’t order a hamburger in a McDonald’s in Hawaii?!’ The problem is they learn katakana English, which doesn’t 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 what’s 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.”


 

Q&A

Lisle Wilkerson
Tokyo’s gossip goddess has some celebrity connections

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, she’s 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 I’m helping promote shows for Fox TV, which is perfect for me because I watch Fox all the time when I’m home. Honestly!

Who’s the nicest celebrity you’ve met?
Beyonce. She was such a sweet and warm person—a consummate professional.

What’s 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?
It’s 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 I’m 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. That’s very liberating.

Where is your favorite holiday spot?
Lake Nojiri in Nagano prefecture. There’s 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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