Dave Spector is a regular on Japanese television, appearing in commercials, dramas and variety programs. He even writes columns in Japanese magazines and has published books.
Yet, when he was recently interviewed by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about March 11’s earthquake, Matthews introduced Spector as “an American who just happened to be over in Tokyo during all this”. That’s a bit like introducing George Harrison as a guy who happened to play the guitar.
Big in Japan but largely unknown in the US, Spector came over to Japan in the early 1980s as a segment producer for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He ended up staying, making a career out of being in front of the camera.
Don’t let his bleached hair and blue contacts fool you, Spector isn’t simply your token “gaijin tarento” (“foreign media personality”). He is adept at digesting American news media and framing it in a way Japanese people can grasp when appearing on talk shows.
In Japan, Americans are generally not considered funny, largely because people don’t understand the English language or American culture. Thus, the term “American joke” is used to refer to things that simply aren’t funny. Much of Spector’s appeal is his ability to make rapid-fire puns and jokes in Japanese that even impress native speakers.
Take his recent quip: 個人情報が漏れる失礼なゲーム機→無礼ステーション, which translates to “A discourtesy game console that leaks personal information→RudeStation” with “rude” (“burei”) being a wordplay on the Japanese “play” (“purei”). Spector has an endless steam of jokes like this, so follow him on Twitter if you are into Japanese puns, corny jokes or Dad humor.
In the 1980s, Spector famously said that foreigners who appear on television are like “pandas”. According to Spector:
A lot of times the foreigners on TV, models and what-not, are compared to pandas. They use that term here—pandas— because they’re cuddly, you can go and have fun with them, and throw a marshmallow and that’s about it. And you don’t get involved any more deeper than that. But…since I’m making half a million dollars a year, I’m very happy to be a panda.
Continuing, Spector added that he’d happily be a sloth for that kind of money. Spector’s frankness earns him money—and detractors, who say he’s sold out or is perpetuating stereotypes.
Spector is no pushover, though. When Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara infamously used the discriminatory term “sangokujin”, which was used to refer to Koreans and Taiwanese, Spector participated in a protest at City Hall the next day.
“If you want to be a fluffball gaijin tarento,” Spector told The Japan Times, “that is not what you do.”
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(Top photo | SkyPerfect TV)