The Tokyo Shock Boys eat piranha fish for breakfast, dishwashing liquid for lunch and engine oil at dinner, but will they be able to face a haggis supper? Mark Robinson heard the shocking truth in Japan.

18 The List 12—18 August 1994

atching the four Tokyo Shock Boys raises one simple question: ‘Why?’ Why does the lithe and handsome Gyuzo grip fireworks with his bare buttocks before lighting them? What drives the towering, 6ft 6in Danna to suck liquids through his nostrils so they come out of his eye? Why in a now discontinued stunt did Danna need to spray insecticide up his nose before deciding it’s not a good thing to ([0? ‘Everybody asks us “Why?” says Sangojugo. the Shock Boys’ bleached-blond Master of Ceremonies. ‘That ’5 why. Because nobody else is doing it.’

From Sydney to Las Vegas, the Shock Boys’ ramshackle repertoire of idiotic slapstick, audience participation and repulsive acts has gripped their fans in morbid fascination. After performing here in Edinburgh, they go to London for a season in the West End. Their show challenges the members Nanbu, Danna. Gyuzo and Sangojugo to come up with the right combination of horror and humour.

They don’t swallow goldfish. But Danna did once swallow a live piranha for a TV variety show. ‘It was supposed to come straight out again, but it didn’t,’ he says. ‘1 took some laxatives. then eventually I vomited, but I couldn’t tell whether the blood in there was mine or the fish’s.’ At a medical checkup some six months later. he had to explain to a curious doctor that the marks on his stomach X-ray were, ‘where a piranha hit me.’

‘Everybody asks us “Why?” That’s

why. Because nobody else is doing it.’

Danna now sticks to safer stunts like holding dry ice in his mouth. But even this gag had more foolhardy beginnings. ‘One summer l bought some ice-cream,’ he says. ‘It came packed in dry ice, which looked so good when I put it in some juice I thought: “I should eat this stuff.” Of course, my stomach went into spasms and I couldn’t stop burping. I couldn’t eat for a week.’

Since coming together from separate backgrounds in theatre, television and stand-up comedy five years ago, the Shock Boys have seen a host of imitators come and go. ‘A lot of people have gotten hurt trying to copy us,’ says Nanbu. While he admits that the Shock Boys’ humour shares something in common with shows like li‘ndm'ance which have been aired on British TV, he says the group has developed independently of such programmes. ‘I don’t know those shows,‘ he says. ‘These days, there’s such a variety of humour on [Japanese] TV - from manzai (a traditional stand-up comedy duo act) to nettohbum game shows (where partici- pants hop into boiling hot baths for as long as they can), but I don’t watch them. I’m more interested in performing live, with an audience more like a concert. Many overseas audiences seem to think that all Japanese comedians are like us, but they’re not.’

Not all of the Shock Boys' stunts have paid off. According to Nanbu, the group’s senior member, ‘If we injure ourselves. we’ve failed.’ This explains one rule which seems to govern their game. ‘We never say to each other: “That nurts”,’ says Sangojugo. Absurd bravado or unique enertainment? ‘We’re not freaks,’ insists Nanbu. ‘We’re not like those people on variety TV whose speciality is enduring pain. I’m sure