December 20, 2019
TOKYO TALKS: BJ FOX
Every month, Metropolis talks with a Tokyo resident about their cultural agenda
Every month, Metropolis talks with a Tokyo resident about their cultural agenda. In addition to being a stand-up comedian, BJ Fox writes and plays the lead role in NHK’s original bilingual sitcom “Home Sweet Tokyo.” He comes from London in the UK, and was transferred to Japan in 2015.
What are you passionate about?
I guess my go-to should be stand-up comedy, but my real passion is football. From being a hobby, both playing and watching, I think since moving abroad it has taken on a new role of keeping me connected to home.
What do you like and dislike about Tokyo?
I like the sheer amount of opportunities available here. I’ve been blessed with a lot of success since moving here in 2015 and I constantly see more potential and my friends are also doing well. I always feel like you are just one connection removed from the person you want to talk to, and people are open for those chats. I guess I dislike the transient nature of the expat community; every time I feel like we have built up a really good crew of comedians, some decide to leave or their contract is up, and we have to start the rebuilding process again.
What’s your favorite area of Tokyo and why?
I like the areas around the tracks in Shinbashi and Yurakucho. Having taken many foreign visitors — especially in the work capacity — to numerous ‘nice’ restaurants and to the Robot Restaurant too many times, I always enjoy taking guests to the slightly rougher spots, and they are always appreciative. Good food, nice drinks in a very unique setting.
You’re a man of many talents, Ben. Comedy, acting, writing, business. How did you get involved in these areas?
Writing has always been something I did, comedy grew out of that, and the acting out of that. Business is a funny one, as I guess I just got a career when I was young and was just pulled along by it. One thing funny to me is that I genuinely believe that the successful pitch for the “Home Sweet Tokyo” TV series had less to do with my writing and comedy talents — and nothing to do with my acting “talents” — but largely came down to my PowerPoint presentation I put together, using the skills and experience I have built pitching clients or head-office over the years in my salaryman life.
When I moved in 2015, there was a monthly open mic and another show; now even a beginner comedian can get on stage two or three times per week in a decent room, with a warm audience.
How has Tokyo changed since you first arrived?
Can I say there is so much more craft beer — which is a great thing for me. This is an exaggeration but I felt like a few years ago we had DevilCraft and little else. Now there is a new beer venue opening up each week it seems. We run a Craft Beer & Comedy night, which was a monthly show in Two Dogs Taproom in Roppongi, but now happens multiple times per month in different venues.
What’s the stand-up scene like in Tokyo nowadays compared to 10 years ago?
I can’t comment on 10 years ago, but it has grown incredibly in the four years I have been in town. When I moved in 2015, there was a monthly open mic and another show; now even a beginner comedian can get on stage two or three times per week in a decent room, with a warm audience. For the more experienced of us it is even better, and we are even now getting bookings outside of Tokyo. I can only see this growing with more tourists arriving, more big names doing shows in town and a larger interest in comedy from locals, largely spurred on by Netflix.
What’s your favorite bar in Tokyo and why?
Beer Scent in Meguro. I feel I should shout out to one of the bars we do stand-up in, but Beer Scent is a recent find for me, a few minutes walk from my place. They serve interesting craft and British beers in a very Japanese-style bar, with a backdrop of TV screens showing the football. In four years of living in the same place, I finally feel like I have found my local.
Best museum, bookstore, restaurant and stand-up venue?
Best museum: Ota Kinen Bijutsukan in Harajuku, with its ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) displays and a great shop in the basement for buying seasonal Japanese gifts.
Best bookstore: Probably the T-Site Tsutaya in Daikanyama, for its outdoors seating. I do a lot of my writing there.
Restaurant: I am trying to change my diet and I recently went to a place with a very nice vegan option called Gentile in Omotesando. In a previous life I loved SmokeHouse on Cat Street though.
Best stand-up venue: Titans Taproom and Bottleshop in Otsuka. There is a warm audience and cheap drinks every time, and everyone is welcome to perform. The best show itself is in Two Dogs Taproom Roppongi, and they serve vegan pizza… tough choice.