Comedian Noriko Sato Fusing Japanese Culture With American Comedy Together In BATSU! NYC Game

Noriko Sato and the BATSU! NYC team | Image by Soho Creative Studio

As the world tentatively begins to open up again, one of the most exciting things many of us have been looking forward to is in-person events. Where we actually get to see real live human beings face to face, talk, laugh, eat and generally enjoy each other’s company! It’s been a ROUGH couple of years, but now we are ready for some serious entertainment that doesn’t require any screens.

If you are lucky enough to live in NYC, you are in for a treat because the team behind BATSU! NYC, a unique entertainment experience hailing from Japan originally, is bringing people back together using food, humor and physical comedy. If you aren’t familiar with BATSU!, here’s your chance.

Having been on hiatus since March 2020, the BATSU! NYC team started performances again March 2022, and announced their post-pandemic return with a new partnership with Japanese restaurant Kogame, who created a custom menu for the BATSU! NYC experience.

The batsu game is a Japanese style of comedy that features a series of challenges, where
losers face hilarious punishments. The BATSU! NYC experience is a cultural fusion that merges
this Japanese game with American comedy when four warriors face off in comedic challenges
to avoid painful, humiliating, and ridiculous punishments.

Image by Soho Creative Studio

“With BATSU! we’re giving New Yorkers the opportunity to learn about a piece of Japanese
culture first-hand,” said Noriko Sato, founding member and co-host of BATSU! NYC in a press release. “We all need a bit of laughter these days. I believe that we are serving the community through comedy.” Noriko has been with BATSU! NYC since the company’s first performance.

The journey begins when audiences enter through a speakeasy-style entrance and into the world
of BATSU! – an immersive adventure that fuses the Japanese batsu game with authentic
Japanese food, featuring some of the best performers in the city.

BATSU! NYC is a majority AAPI-owned business, and proud collaboration between Face Off
Unlimited and Kogame. The New York City-based comedy group and Japanese restaurant are
using their platforms to promote positive international fellowship through the fusion of food,
comedy, and culture.

Since May is Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we had the chance to speak with Noriko about her role within BATSU! NYC, her journey from NCAA basketball to NYC comedy, and how this unique entertainment experience amplifies Japanese culture and fosters community through comedy. But first, here’s a short video explaining exactly what Batu is:

@stuckincity Thank you @TheNYCAgent for inviting me! #nycspeakeasy #nyc #nycnightlife #nyccomedyclub #nyccomedy #batsu #eastvillage #nycbars #nycfoodie #thisismynyc #nyclife #nycfoodie #nyctiktok #cocktail #speakeasy #nycspots ♬ Zou Bisou Bisou – Gillian Hills

What made you initially want to work with the BATSU! NYC team and be a host?  

Before I began working, the Face Off Unlimited improv team invited me to come see one of their shows. I remember thinking, “Hey, I want to be like them. I want to do this!” They were really great and made it look so easy. 

Those three comedians were interested in creating a new show. They had a space underneath a Japanese restaurant, and were inspired by the Japanese batsu game. When I showed up for the casting call, I remember saying, “I’m super cool. And I’m 120% Japanese, so hire me.” I guess they liked my answer, because soon we all began working on BATSU! NYC. 

What has been the most memorable or funniest way you’ve heard BATSU! being described?  

Batsu is the Japanese word for punishment. In our show, if the performers lose their comedy-based challenges, they receive a batsu. These punishments vary from bizarre to painful. As one of the hosts, I get the pleasure of giving losers their batsus. After one show, a woman came up to me and said, “You woke something up inside me. You beat up all those guys, I just loved it. It was just such a great experience. So thank you.” That was certainly one of the funniest comments I’ve heard.

It’s also really meaningful when people come up to us after the show and share how much they needed to laugh. We’ve had a tough few years, so hearing this is such a good reminder that laughter is cross-cultural, and something that can bring us all together.

Growing up in Japan and living in America, was BATSU! a part of your upbringing, and when did you begin to embrace it? 

I’ve always embraced it! Batsus are really common in Japan. One memory from childhood was a game that involved chewing gum. There was this special kind of gum, where one pack had three different types of gum in it: two were regular flavors, but one was super sour. As kids, three of us would buy a pack and see which person got the batsu –  the super sour gum. The name “Batsu” makes it sound like it all sounds like a fun game, but the word means punishment, right? So with BATSU! NYC we bring that kind of playful, high-stakes approach to our comedy show. It’s all around good stuff.

Can you tell us about your journey from being an NCAA basketball player to the NYC comedy scene? 

I was in the NCAA in college when I came to the United States, and played as a shooting guard for Radford University in Virginia. The school was Division One. So they were really good, but I didn’t get to play much. I decided to transfer to a Division Two team in Maryland, before moving to New York City for acting.

There are a lot of similarities between basketball and performing in BATSU! – both are high-energy and require a lot of stamina. They’re both also very team oriented. Even though the comedians might seem like they’re competing with each other, it’s really a way of working together to create a show. While one person is going to technically “win”, it’s a collective effort to make sure the audience has a good time. That’s in the game. Teamwork is a huge part of BATSU! We’re a small company, so we have to work together and communicate.

Understanding how team energy works on a basketball court has also translated to BATSU!. We have a lot of different comedians on stage; as you get to know each other better, you learn one another’s’ strengths. It takes a little time and a lot of trust, but that trust has helped us build a really great team.

BATSU! NYC is led by a majority AAPI team. Why is this significant right now, especially in light of AAPI heritage month coming up? And why is it important to create more opportunities for AAPI performers? 

We want to bring in a glimpse of Japan to New York City. Batsu is a Japanese concept with a multicultural cast and audience. It’s a wonderful (and hilarious) opportunity to bring folks together. BATSU! NYC blends the Japanese game with American improv, so it’s the best of both worlds.

When we portray our culture during the event – everything from the initial greetings to the food – we’re focused on making sure it’s authentic. We see BATSU! NYC as an opportunity to teach audiences about Japanese culture. So while people from all backgrounds may be participating in the experience, the language and traditions are coming from an authentic place. 

Not everybody excels in saying Japanese words, but we have the opportunity to teach them and they do their best. It’s like Japan and the United States are coming together to create something unique to both cultures. We want to bring attention to the AAPI talents in BATSU!, with the goal of making AAPI performers and stories more visible in the world.

Can you tell us more about working in collaboration with Face Off Unlimited and Kogame? 

Food is a huge part of any culture. And because we’re doing a concept of a Japanese game show, it was important to have authentic food. Kogame is a new restaurant by Kamehachi – Chicago’s original sushi restaurant. Kogame has created a custom menu (with a bit of an edge) that matches BATSU! NYC’s cross-cultural experience. So while they have Makimono, they also sell French fries (but with Japanese flavoring, of course.)

The Kogame chefs even give the audience their very own batsu experience through a special Wasabi roll at the end of the show. We weren’t sure if people would try them, but we actually run out all the time. Some shows, people ask if we have more. They’re nuts! I’ve never even eaten one. I would die. 

What aspects of Japanese culture will audiences get immersed in during the show?

BATSU! is immersive from the beginning. It starts with a speakeasy-style entrance that’s inspired by the alleyways in Tokyo. When audiences come in, they’re greeted in Japanese. We have Japanese dancers, a sake ninja, and hachimakis for people to wear. 

The show is also bilingual. The host always speaks in both Japanese and English, and some performers speak Japanese as well. There’s something interesting about the translation happening in real time. It’s a fun way to bring the immersive experience to life.

Noriko Sato and the BATSU! NYC team | Image by Soho Creative Studio

We’d love to hear more on how comedy and community can be healing, especially after the last couple of years? 

Yes! Part of it is how we bring people together. We try to get audience participants from different groups and backgrounds to participate on stage with the comedy warriors. One part of the experience involves a sake shot relay. Most of the time, the players are on a team with somebody they don’t know. One of them might be celebrating a birthday, another is from a bachelor, and some may be out on a date or with friends. We encourage them to play and compete together, and then we do a toast for the winners as a group. We create this communal moment, as everyone is cheering and chanting “batsu”. It’s such a specific moment, but it really does bring people together.

We want people to forget all the negative stuff at least while they’re there, so they’re just in the moment with us instead of worrying about, you know, paying the rent or getting groceries. We just want to focus on the comedy and the laughter. We believe that laughter is a universal language. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, laughing is universal. And because we are such an immersive experience, our audiences aren’t simply watching the show, they’re experiencing it with us. 

We love the fusion of culture, food and comedy described through BATSU! What do you want NYC audiences to enjoy during this experience as you ramp up live shows? 

BATSU! is such a full-body experience – with the sounds, lights, food, and comedy. It’s also different every time, so audiences can come back and they’ll have a totally new experience no matter what. That’s pretty amazing for us too, that every show is unique. We get to feed off the audience input and energy. 

While audiences get to experience BATSU! with their eyes, ears, mouths, and beyond – we are also focused on increasing accessibility for folks living with disabilities.  We’re excited to see how we can share this experience with even more people!

For more information about BATSU! NYC and to get to a performance if you happen to be in the Big Apple, click HERE.

Noriko Sato and the BATSU! NYC team | Image by Soho Creative Studio

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