TOKYO -- They talk, they smile, they have blond hair. They are not trained entertainers and are unknown at home, but the two Kents are the hottest -- and richest -- American celebrities in Japan.
Their faces are plastered on billboards, splashed across magazine pages and beamed daily into the living rooms of the Japanese. Wherever either of the two Kents walk, hordes of girls erupt in giggles and passersby contract whiplash.
TV personalities Kent Derricott, 33, and Kent Gilbert, 36, are not a stage act, just two Americans from Utah who caught the wave of a Japanese television 'foreigner boom' that surfaced five years ago.
The two have each earned from $500,000 to a $1 million a year since then, much of it through advertising products ranging from vitamin drinks to feather beds. And what else do the two Kents do for these princely sums?
They talk. This may seem a trifling talent, but the two Kents have mastered one of the world's most difficult languages. And for this the Japanese bestow on them admiration as well as riches.
They are versatile, too. Gilbert won a trip around the world on a TV quiz show by guessing the price of horse's milk in Germany. Television cameras rolling, Derricott stood for two minutes under a cold mountain waterfall wearing only a short kimono to simulate a Buddhist monk's ritual.
In a country where a leading TV station was recently accused by the Malaysian government of coaxing Malaysian villagers to crawl and howl like dogs for a quiz show, television is rarely sophisticated fare.
The two Kents appear separately -- and occasionally together -- on dozens of shows that range from the ridiculous to the informative on Tokyo's six commercial TV stations, including talk and game shows and news-format programs. Gilbert has played piano with the Tokyo Symphony and Derricott cut a soft-rock album.
'I'm not a Bill Murray or a Robert Redford. I couldn't do this is America,' Derricott said. 'But I've always been funny. I was the student body president who cracked them up at high school assemblies.'
Both Kents are graduates of Brigham Young University. They learned to speak Japanese when they came here as Mormon missionaries in the 1970s. Both are married to Americans who were their college sweethearts. Both have three young children.
Gilbert has the kind of clean-cut looks Americans call boyishly handsome, and Derricott, with his yellow hair and magnified blue eyes behind round eyeglasses, is considered cute. To American eyes, he looks like Bob Newhart with hair.
Derricott believes Americans are popular on TV and in advertising because of Japan's 'America complex.'
'The audience is interested in us because they still hold America in a little bit of awe, even though they've surpassed us in some ways. And they're flattered that we can speak to them in their own language, that we cared enough to learn it,' said Derricott.
Some foreigners living here say the two Kents and a handful of other foreign celebrities are no-talents who earn big bucks from being Japanese television's 'token foreigners.'
'It's kind of like they're animals in a zoo, with the Japanese prowling around the cage, pointing and giggling at their strange characteristics,' said one Canadian.
'At first we were a curiosity, and there are still times when they laugh at us, but 80 percent of the time they are laughing with us,' Derricott said.
They are also criticized by foreigners for representing the views of all Americans. But Gilbert, a U.S.-trained lawyer, says Japanese audiences have grown too sophisticated to believe that all Americans think alike.
On a recent news show reporting the arrest of American baseball player Richard Davis for possessing marijuana in Japan, where illegal drug use is minimal and drug laws are harsh, the two were asked to explain the effects of marijuana on one's health.
Both Kents, practicing Mormons who don't drink or smoke, said they believed marijuana contributed more to cancer than tobacco, that it is prevalent among junior high school students in the United States, and that it often leads to stronger drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Derricott, who used to sell bullet-proof vests called 'Second Chance' to the Japanese through his small import company, came to Tokyo in 1983 to open a branch office and saw Gilbert on a quiz show.
'I said to myself, 'I can do that,'' said Derricott, and with a few inquiries he was propelled into a career now in its fifth year that includes about 35 regular or guest TV appearances a month.
Derricott said he will return to Utah and to the business world in about three years whether or not the foreigner boom has died. Gilbert, who recently opened a chain of fast-food Mexican restaurants, will stay as long as the work remains profitable and fun.
When they do return home, will they miss the attractive strangers approaching them on the street with 'I love you,' the limousines, the whiplash factor?
'I'd be lying if I said it wasn't an ego trip,' said Derricott. On the other hand, said Gilbert, 'It will be such a relief to be able to comb my hair in public.'