Stand up comedy routine with a straightman and clown (usually 2 people). Manzai thrives in the Kansai (particularly Osaka) region. The best known Entertainment company that sponsors Manzai is 吉本興業 よしもとこうぎょう which started a comedy theater in 1912.
Manzai is often spoken VERY fast and (at least in the Kansai area) is rich with Kansai slang. Watching Manzai (for intermediates) is a great way to study this fascinating and lively dialect.
- ぼけ - boke in Manzai, the person who plays the clown (like Costello). Boke comes from 惚ける bokeru meaning 'senility' or 'forgetfulnes' [For more see 万年ボケ man nen boke]
- 突っ込み - tsukkomi the person who plays the straight man (like Abbott)
The following is translated (with some additional commentary) from Wiki Japan about the History of Manzai: (http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%BC%AB%E6%89%8D)
This style of entertainment finds its beginnings in the Heian period (794 - 1185). It was originally a special song and dance to welcome the New Year. A two man team would visit various houses making a short speech to celebrate the New Year then one would play drums while the other dances. During the Edo period, various regions of Japan had their own Manzai (三河万歳 Mikawa Manzai, 大和万歳 Yamato Manzai, 越前万歳 Echizen Manzai, etc.). It wasn't only singing and dancing, but also included a kind of stand-up comedy. But after WWII, this type of Manzai (万歳) for the most part stopped.
During the Meji Period (1868 - 1912), the Osaka Manzai (万才）started being based on the Edo Period's Manzai (万歳). At first the new version of Manzai (万才） had musical accompaniment like the Edo Period's 万歳. The early pioneers of Manzai included many talented entertainers, but at that time Rakugo took center stage. Manzai (万才) was still secondary.
As the Taisho Era (1912 - 1926) ended, Yoshimoto Kougyou's (the main entertainment advertising company which sponsored Manzai) entertainers began a style of Manzai with the entertainers only conversing. This eventually became a big hit. In Showa 8 (1933) Youshimoto Kyougyou renamed the art form to 「漫才」 and also started Manzai in Tokyo. This is the kanji used today. Since that time, Manzai has become increasingly a part of daily Japanese life. Manzai's popularity was spread through stage, radio and later, TV.