Adam Lanigan meets Ben Fox, a comedian and entrepreneur who is launching his own comedy venue in Japan.
Ben Fox has never been afraid of doing things differently. And they do not get much more different than launching the first ever stand-up comedy venue in Tokyo.
Originally from London, Ben has spent large periods in Japan for over two decades, but he now calls it home, living in Tokyo with his wife and their daughter, not quite two. Ben first tried his hand at stand-up in Singapore nearly a decade ago, where he just decided to try his luck. Now he is a seasoned performer, performing as BJ Fox, able to do his act in both English and Japanese, in which he is a fluent speaker.
But fed up of the fight to try and market his stand-up performances at different venues across Tokyo, he has taken the plunge with friends to open a dedicated venue, as he explains.
“The idea of doing two gigs a week and working really hard to get an audience, with one gig in one pub and one in another is so hard to market. Then you get paid by the bar and given a few drinks but they take most of the money. I was no longer able to justify spending my Friday nights doing that anymore.
So we decided to do it properly so we can justify going out on a Friday night to do comedy. Hopefully there is money to be made as we will be running a bar as well, although obviously there are risks involved. But it will be easier to market shows at the same venue. It’s hard sometimes explaining, ‘Oh no, we only do that show on the first Wednesday of the month at that place!’ Turn up to this place and there will be comedy every night, and we have a great location.
Fundamentally, we can do good shows now. The more you do it, the better you get. The more you do it in one place, the more people want to do it, so you find new talent. You don’t need to keep reinventing the wheel every week. In 2019, pre-Covid and before my daughter was born, I would be doing four shows a week in four different venues. There would be four different negotiations with different bar managers and different websites and without a permanent space, we could not get on TripAdvisor. Before half my life was trying to tell people where the show was. Now that won’t be an issue.
Now being a dad, I understand that I need to be focused and strategic as my time is more limited. Therefore I couldn’t do everything I was doing before, so it’s a case of what do I really want to do and how do I make it work.
I see this as the start of something. One is the launch of the business, the nuts and bolts of profit and loss of the club and the other is striking out. When I started doing comedy in Japan, I was one of the few non-Japanese guys doing it in Japanese. I ended up getting four years in a TV sitcom out of that. Now I see this as a potential platform for other things, but I don’t know what those things are yet.
Japan is a really interesting place of opportunity. You can start a podcast and get a deal with Amazon as I have done (the first in Japan). Start in comedy and end up on a sitcom. Because everything is so structured in Japan, it’s hard to make that first move and people don’t do it. I can navigate around that because I’m not Japanese. I have the advantage of being able to communicate effectively without being held back by the social conventions over here. When I pitched a sitcom, I pitched it to the person at the top. Apparently, I shouldn’t have done that, but I didn’t know anything different and I got a result.
Now, I am super-excited by this, but it is a lot of hard work. Throwing a first event is easy. It’s what happens a few months down the line, will I still get crowds and good energy from everyone when it’s a weekly thing?
The biggest challenge will be fitting all this in with family life. My wife works as a morning radio DJ, so she’s out first thing while I am out most evenings. Then at weekends, Saturday night is the biggest gig of the week. But I’m sure it will all work out!”