The Pirates of Tokyo Bay: the only bilingual comedy show in Kanto celebrated its 4 year anniversary with a special performance on November 16th at Super Deluxe in Roppongi. The improv troupe, lead by American expat Mike Staffa, features 14 cast members and pianist Benjamin Anderson, were joined onstage by performers from the Pirates of Dotonburi in Osaka.
Staffa, along with Bob Werley and Matt Danalewich, sat down with Anthony and I to chat about the show as well as the evolution of the Pirate life since its beginning in 2010.
GP: Why a four-year anniversary?
MS: It’s kind of a random year, right? We’ve been growing at a really good pace, both as group and with our audience. We’ve grown internationally too– in just four years we’ve been to seven countries, so that’s been a surprise for us. We recently spoke at TED@Tokyo, so we just want to celebrate everything we’ve done in such a short time. Why wait?
GP: The Pirates regularly perform at What the Dickens in Ebisu. Why did you choose Super Deluxe for you anniversary special?
MS: After moving to Japan I learned about Super Deluxe, and it’s always been a goal to perform here. It’s a hidden gem, a huge open space, with good food and good beer. But [Roppongi] is an expensive area of town. You need to make sure you have the audience to come.
GP: One of the big points of difference is that POTB is the only bilingual comedy group in Kanto. How does that work on a performance level?
MS: We’re like the bento box of comedy. We have Japanese cast members from both Osaka and Tokyo, as well as people from Canada, the U.S., England. One of the challenges is to make the material relevant to everyone. If I mention, say, Perkins Restaurant, no one will get it unless you’re from Minnesota. Localized references might not be understood by everyone, but the one thing we all have in common is that we live in Japan.
GP: Bob, you’re a working actor in Tokyo. How long have you been with POTB?
BW: Almost the entire 4 years. I joined right after 3/11. They were doing a benefit show and I talked to Mike about it. They were also doing a show in Beijing and I asked if I could go.
MS: We lost half of the Pirates after the earthquake. I’d seen him perform and he was great so I asked him to come on.
GP: Matt how did you connect with POTB?
MD: I had studied improv in Chicago with Second City, and when I moved to Tokyo I thought “No way is there improv in Tokyo,” but I was introduced and I auditioned, and I’ve been with Pirates for about three years now.
GP: Benjamin, as the Pirate pianist, you’re kind of in charge of setting the tone of each sketch. Music makes a big difference in the show. Can you talk about that?
BA: Well it depends on the situation. Sometimes I riff off of what I’m seeing onstage, and sometimes I just go for it and the performance follows. Tonight I’m not facing the performers while I play, so I go by what I’m hearing.
MS: Yeah we like when he leads with music.
GP: So what does tonight mean for you guys? Do you have any goals for tonight’s performance, or do you just want to have a good time?
MS: For me it means a lot. We have four Osaka pirates who came to join us. I started the Pirates of Dotomburi in Osaka in 2005. I led them for five years, so to perform with some of the original members means a lot. We have a lot of new games for tonight that they’ve never played and the audience also doesn’t know, so tonight’s a big gamble.
BW: He’s going to actually make us improvise. Crazy.
MD: And we don’t get to perform with the Osaka Pirates very often, so working with new people will be interesting.
MS: The Pirates are kind of a family. When foreigners first come here, most don’t have a network. We always tell each other “I got your back.” We’ve help out with loans, hard times– I’ve called an ambulance for a Pirate before. And we have over sixty Pirates who have left and moved to other countries, so when we perform abroad, chances are there’s a Pirate there.
GP: What if actors who live in Japan see your show and want to become a Pirate?
MS: We hold auditions usually every six months–there’s no set schedule. But as Pirates leave we audition for new members. We also occasionally do public workshops to help actors sharpen their skills. It’s a good way for an actor push themselves.
Saturday, January 10th, 2015
¥1,500 (includes one drink)