July 11, 2017 2:12 pm JST

Japan's first and only 'bedridden comedian' has last laugh

Handicapped Asodog seeks humor, not sympathy

"Bedridden comedian" Asodog performs in front of a camera on Feb. 17 in Kumamoto. © Kyodo

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Being rendered nearly completely immobile due to a rare and degenerative neuromuscular disorder is in the eyes of most people no laughing matter.

But in the case of Asodog, who claims to be Japan's first and only "bedridden" comedian, getting audiences to laugh at his own expense is precisely the point.

In one performance, the 38-year-old who lies upright on a type of wheelchair-cum-stretcher has a gag written on a sheet of paper on a flip storyboard near his dangling feet that reads: "Bedridden. It happens."

Then from a pin microphone placed around his neck he offers the punchline: "I can't flip to the next page. This also happens."

Some of the audience burst into laughter when they hear his standard shtick, while others squirm uncomfortably, unsure what the best reaction should be under the circumstances.

"It's fine for you to laugh. Actually, go ahead, laugh! Don't you know by now that you have to be kind to the disabled!" he says.

Asodog (his stage name) was born in Saga Prefecture, southwestern Japan, with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease causing gradual muscle weakness and loss of motor neurons, often leading to death. Now, he can only move his eyes, mouth, neck and left hand.

He attended special-needs elementary and junior high schools near his home but after he enrolled in a specialized high school he moved to neighboring Fukuoka Prefecture because he disliked a teacher in Saga who suggested "he should live out his life quietly."

Asodog performed his first two-man comedy act at a graduation party in March 1994. He said an imposing upperclassman told him to "Do something funny." He collaborated with his classmate and friend who suffered from muscular dystrophy.

"It was a pleasure to get people to laugh," said Asodog, who had embarked on a path to become a professional comedian with the same friend after graduating from school.

At the time, he was still able to move the upper part of his body. He sat in front of his personal computer and frantically compiled ideas for his comedy. He even learned how to write scripts in a correspondence course.

He had gained confidence to perform onstage through days of training with his partner. But his friend died at the age of 23 from his illness. Stunned from the loss, Asodog's desire to become a comedian vanished.

Asodog was determined to live alone after his parents were transferred overseas. "I stayed behind and had to take care of the pet dog and turtle," he said, but the reality was his conditioned continued to progress, leaving him nearly immobile.

"I always felt frustrated," he said, recalling his days being helped by nursing staff around the clock.

It was right around this time that Asodog learned about video streaming sites on the internet. He was surprised that anybody could easily upload videos and thought it might be a way for him to rekindle his dream of being a comedian.

Starting over again at 32, Asodog was determined to put everything on the line this time, deciding he would use his disability as part of his act. "I said I would quit performing comedy if I don't appear on TV in one year."

But there were few viewers of his site where he streamed one-man short stories. He also tried to talk in live broadcasts, but the results were much the same.

The comments he received were harsh.

Some viewers called him "revolting" or made comments such as, "What do you think you're doing living on the tax other people pay?"

Despite the negative feedback, he encouraged himself to press onward. The fact that people had watched at all meant that he was being noticed -- good or bad.

On the other hand, patients with the same disease sent him warm messages and told him to "go to extremes."

He has posted videos titled "Everyday Asodog" on the internet for more than 700 consecutive days, where he uses humor to speak about what he thinks of his daily life.

His efforts paid off. His activities caught the attention of Japan's public broadcaster NHK, and he finally made his debut on TV, appearing in the "Barrier-free Variety Show," a program that focused on disabled people which was broadcasted nationwide in 2012.

Today, Asodog usually appears in a live comedy performance once a month in Fukuoka, the biggest city in Kyushu, after joining a freelance comedian union there.

Yuki Otsuka, 34, a comedian who has performed on the same stage as Asodog for two and a half years, said, "We usually don't make fun of disabled people with comments like 'Hey you, the bedridden guy!' But because he is a real comedian, we make fun of him. He responds by turning such indelicate remarks into laughter."

In April, Asodog gave a live performance in Fukuoka. There was sparse applause from an audience of around 30 people as they watched him rolled out by a helper on his stretcher.

"When I was going to a TV station to perform a comedy, another bedridden man next to me was taken to the studio instead of me," he says, evoking laughter from the audience. He appeared to have won most of the crowd over after the nearly three-minute performance.

Of course, Asodog's jokes are not well received by everyone in the audience, many of whom are puzzled by his use of his disease as material for his comedy routines.

In one performance where he bombed, an elderly woman rushed to him afterward and said, "I was really moved!" Although her words were well intended, they only brought him down. "I am not trying to move people, I'm trying to get them to laugh."

Even so, audiences voted him the most popular twice in a row in 2014, but recently his ranking has dropped. It is the harsh reality of the life he has chosen.

Although Asodog does not reject the sympathy people feel for him as a disabled comedian, that is not what he wants.

Recently, organizers of educational seminars on disabilities have invited him to events as a guest speaker, but he always delivers his comedy there as well.

"I am a comedian. I don't want sympathy but just laughter deep from the hearts of the audience

Get Insights on Asia In Your Inbox

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Get your first month for $0.99

Redeemable only through the Subscribe button below

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

We could not renew your subscription.
You need to update your payment information.

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

We could not renew your subscription.
You need to update your payment information.