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Japanese Comedian Naomi Watanabe on Creating Her Own Multifaceted Universe

“Do you think that’s too big of a dream?” –Naomi Watanabe

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Japanese Comedian Naomi Watanabe on Creating Her Own Multifaceted Universe

“Do you think that’s too big of a dream?” –Naomi Watanabe

Naomi Watanabe has become a global sensation. What started as bringing smiles to faces through screens then was brought to life as the comedian set off on her first seven-city American tour this past summer. Between lively podcast episodes and live sketches, you can also spot her on billboards, in magazine spreads and on TV, she really does it all.

But how does someone who is so widely followed stay true to her core and how does she do it all so effortlessly? Watanabe has not only broken barriers within the comedy sphere, but she has become a role model for women everywhere who shoot for the moon when it comes to their dreams. Even though she’s already propelled herself to stardom, the moon is just a stepping stone on her way to creating her own multifaceted universe.

Below, we chat with the comedian, model and actress about her recent live tour, how to persevere in the industry and what’s next.

Naomi Watanabe, Comedy, Beyonce, Touring, American Tour

You started gaining recognition for your impressions and effortlessly goofy vibe, eventually becoming the most followed person in Japan on social media. When you were younger, were you always the life of the party?

I always loved comedy. Even in preschool and elementary school, I was impersonating my teachers already and trying to make people laugh. I didn’t necessarily want to be the center of attention, but I did make love making people laugh all the time.

Who are some of the comedians, models or public figures that you look up to in the industry and what did you learn from them?

In Japan, of course, I always looked up to a lot of the Japanese comedians that came before me. That’s why I became a comedian myself. Kate McKinnon from SNL — I always loved her comedy style and I still look up to her very, very much.

What does representation mean to you and how do you pave a path that is completely your own within the industry?

Since I was young, I watched TV and comedians seemed like they were only allowed to do comedy. I entered this world at 18, and that’s how it was back then at least. Female and male comedians were kind of separated and comedians were considered cool only if they did comedy and nothing else. Female comedians should be a certain way. Male comedians should be a certain way. So I wanted to break that stereotype. I think everyone’s multi-talented, so I thought it would be funny if a comedian did fashion, produced something or starred in films. And then I started getting offers for films and TV shows. I totally think there should be other things that we can do as comedians. We should all do anything and everything that we want to do. I’m hoping that the up-and-coming comedians can open newer doors and are not restricted to what they’re supposed to do. That mindset definitely set me up for the career path I have now.

You have an extensive audience that has grown and continues to grow. How do you remain true to yourself and your core while juggling all that?

I think I have a pretty rigid core within myself and I don’t really get affected or influenced too easily. Currently, in New York, I communicate with Japanese fans mainly through social media. Living here, I do feel like sometimes you just naturally become a little bit Americanized. So, I go on social media every day. I check X every day and search for what’s happening in Japan so I don’t lose that. When I go to Japan, I talk to my friends in New York and keep up with what’s happening in the U.S. I think staying on top of the culture and trends is really important. So, my social media is sort of made up of me, my character, my core — that doesn’t change — but incorporating that culture that I also pull from for inspiration. I always try to stay true to my most authentic self through it all.

How has comedy been a source of release or even therapeutic for you?

I have fun doing comedy and I have fun watching comedy as well. Of course, when I go on stage and I tell jokes and I don’t get a laugh — I stay away from it that day. I just listen to music and stay away from comedy. But to create comedy and to perform and have people laugh at my jokes is my biggest joy. It really is the best moment of my life when that’s happening. I don’t usually use it to release anger. I just want to share the fun and the joy. Ever since I was young, I feel like I’ve had a life where I encounter such interesting, fun and weird people. I love turning these weird people and experiences into comedy, like impersonating them or incorporating them into my sketches. So, in my life, comedy is the most important thing. To the point where when I’m working, some staff members who are more serious and not into comedy, get really annoyed because I make everything about comedy. Everything can be funny to me. I really want to continue this until I die.

Definitely, comedy is a universal connector that brings people together and we really need that right now.

Totally. My English isn’t always perfect and when I meet some people, they speak to me like I’m a non-English speaker. So, even these things, I want to eventually incorporate into my sketch comedy. These are all my personal experiences and I can find laughter in it all.

Your comedy career has led you into fashion campaigns and modeling as well. Do you have any fashion go-tos or an outfit that you feel most comfortable in when on-the-go?

Sweatpants, T-shirts and a backpack. Especially last year, there was a lot of long-distance traveling. I think sometimes people want to hear that my essentials are something super cute, but it’s really whatever’s the easiest and most comfortable.

Naomi Watanabe, Comedy, Beyonce, Touring, American Tour

Tell us about one of the most surreal, “pinch-me” moments you’ve experienced in your career so far and what that meant to you.

I moved to New York in 2021 and I talked to my friends there who told me, “It probably takes about eight or nine years for work to solidify in the entertainment industry. So just take it slow.” But right after I moved to New York, one of my first jobs was shooting with Beyonce with her brand Ivy Park. I didn’t know what was happening, to be honest. About 16 years ago, we were on the same Japanese TV show. So, Beyonce came into my dressing room and she said, “Hey Naomi, do you remember me?” and I was like, “What is this? Is this real?”

That’s incredible. What do you think are some of the most important steps the industry can take to diversify its perspective?

It’s a very difficult question. Moving here, I realized how big the U.S. is. There are so many different states with different people. In Japan, you’re mainly catering to a Japanese audience so it’s much simpler than doing comedy in the U.S. I’d love to ask you, from my perspective, how can I incorporate all the different cultures, respect them and unify them through my work?

There are so many different demographics here so we can understand how it could be a challenge to cater to all of that. You’re someone that people resonate with a lot because you’re so true to yourself. There’s something about that authenticity that draws people in. So, it’s kind of impossible to make everyone laugh, but people really resonate with someone who is just themselves.

I’ve always just been an original and I just do me in Japan. There are, of course, stereotypes in each genre of comedy. But, you know, I’m just gonna do me and continue what I’ve been doing.

Do you have a dream role or gig?

I want to work with a whole bunch of different people. And after doing comedy, fashion and all of this, my ultimate goal is to play the main role in a comedy movie and to receive an award for that. I don’t know. Do you think that’s too big of a dream?

No dream feels too big. What is your advice to someone who wants to pursue a dream but maybe doesn’t know where to start or doesn’t feel like there is space for them?

I think the younger generation has maybe too much information. They’re just overwhelmed with options. But if you do find something that you want to do, just give it a shot because you won’t know until you try. There’s a view, I think, that you won’t see until you step foot in it and take up that space. So, it might be scary, but just take your first step and you might be able to discover a part of yourself that you never knew existed.

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