Worse Than Losing Our Hair, We Are Losing Our Sense of Humor

Ryan Matsumoto
Commentary, Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

The first time I got slapped was in the third grade when I called Shelly Hirayama “Smelly Hairy Mama” even though she was neither smelly nor Okinawan. I’m kidding, she was. Okinawan, that is. Half. But she wasn’t hairy, nor was she a mama – she was none of the unfortunate names I gave her – but I thought it was funny at the time. I guess both Chris Rock and I learned the hard way that hair can be a sensitive topic.

And though it’s only been one Bel-Air (new drama series streaming on Peacock) episodes since the most famous slap in human history took place at the 2022 Oscars, I’ve talked about it on my morning radio show — the Sam and Ryan Show on 93.9 The Beat — more times than Gov. Ige has mustache hairs, which is a lot. And that’s not necessarily better than having no hairs at all, let me just add. For the record, both hairless and hairful people look equally beautiful to me, please don’t slap me.

Sam Ambrose, “Hawaiian Ryan” Matsumoto, and “Becky Mits” Martin make up the Sam and Ryan FM radio show on 93.9 The Beat.

Serendipitously, today’s Panda Express fortune cookie reads: Worse than losing our hair, we are losing our sense of humor. Worse than losing our sense of smell, we are losing our sense of reality. Okay fine, I made it up. But it’s true, no? 

When Will Smith walked on stage at the 2022 Academy Awards show and sucker-slapped Chris Rock for telling a joke, it was like he forgot that he only pretended to be “Muhammed Ali” in a movie, and the awards show wasn’t a movie. It’s like, he forgot he was only the executive producer of “Cobra Kai,” and that you can’t go around assaulting people in real life, teaching kids that notorious but fictional bully code: Strike Hard! Strike First! No Mercy! Maybe because we have seen so many Will Smith productions where actions like this are accepted, even praised; we too have become confused about what is real. I’m just glad Smith didn’t produce “The Purge.” Yikes.

Yet every comedian is part SLAP-anese. We’ve all been either literally slapped, or threatened, or forced to face an angry person who didn’t like a joke we told. Comedy is surgery. If you do it right, the outcome can be a miraculous act of healing. This is why I became the first stand-up comedian to enter “Brown Bags to Stardom” – a Hawai‘i statewide high school talent show put on by the same radio station I work for today, 32 years later. I wanted to bring joy and healing to a dark world. I still do. But done poorly, or even just taken the wrong way, it can feel like you’re just “cutting people open” for no good reason. 

Comedy has always been a dangerous art. However, Ricky Gervais, the creator of the television sitcom “The Office” once said, “Please stop saying, ‘You can’t joke about anything anymore.’ You can. You can joke about whatever the #%$* you like. And some people won’t like it and they will tell you they don’t like it. And then it’s up to you whether you give a #%$* or not. And so on. It’s a good system.”

But nowadays, it feels like people are getting canceled left and right for jokes, tweets or even just comments. It can be scary to those of us who get paid to make jokes or even just use words at all. 

Being in the Hawai‘i radio industry for 30 years, doing stand-up comedy, emceeing weddings, graduations and birthday parties, producing controversial parody songs like “Rice, Rice, Baby” and “Jamaican Fairy” with the “3 Local Boyz,” I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of human response, from “You just made me shi-shi my pants” to “I’m going to beat the crap out of you!” 

So while on one level, I do think people today are overly-sensitive about everything, and that I’m always one joke away from collecting unemployment and starting an onlyfans.com page focusing on my second-best talent — juggling spam musubi while wearing refurbished mu‘umu‘u — we professional entertainers are used to facing the precarious dynamics of “the job” and accept the challenge. 

Young Ryan Matsumoto was a natural born comedian.

Laughter really is the best medicine, and the reward you get for “patching someone up” who needs it, is priceless. For most of us, this is a calling. We don’t have much of a choice. This is our ikigai (life’s purpose). And so, while we will never stop defending the “Chris Rocks” against the over-reactive violent attacks of the “Will Smiths” of the world, nor will we give up on trying to become better at our craft in order to avoid as many unnecessary hurt feelings as possible, we will also never let anything stop us from doing what we do – entertain.

Growing up in Hawai‘i, it’s easy to see both sides. On the one hand, we can tease each other about mostly anything, even racial roasts are accepted; but on the other hand, we get into stupid fights too, “Wot, you looking at my chick?” But at the end of the day, we know deep inside that “Cobra Kai” is “shmall-kine” toxic, and that Mr. Miyagi had it right: “Fighting is always the last answer to the problem.” Also, “Never put passion in front of principle; even if you win, you lose.”

Four generations of Matsumotos. From left: Shinichi, Issei; Michael Jyun, Sansei; Harold Toshio, Nisei; and Ryan Scott (middle), Yonsei. (Photos courtesy of Ryan Matsumoto)

And yes, Shelly Hirayama is now an actual mama, and we give each other a big ol’ hug every time we see each other at Longs or wherever.

“Hawaiian Ryan” Matsumoto brags that he won the Hawaii Music Awards “Best Comedy Album of the Year in 2000” despite being the only entry. You can hear him on the radio @samandryanshow @939beat every Mon-Fri, 6-10 a.m. Also follow @ryanmats on Instagram.


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