It’s nothing new that humor, comedy and what is generally considered funny is quite different from one culture to the next. Naturally, you’d then expect the Korean sense of humor to be quite different from Western humor, but honestly, I’ve come to realize that it’s a lot closer to what I consider Western humor than I’d have imagined before moving here. There are obviously some things that can be joked about in a Korean society that would not seem funny in a Western context. Among these jokes are jokes involving status and hierarchy which are of much less importance in a Western culture and therefore less funny. Likewise, joking with religion, politics and other ‘sensitive topics’ is not considered funny in Korea, whereas the Western definition of comedy is that there are no limits as to what can be the subject of ridicule.
I’ve encountered several types of Korean humor ranking from “dorky dad jokes” known as 아재개그 (click the link for brilliant examples), to childish humor told to me by a girl at a local volunteer center: “소희쌤, 강아지 한 마리밖에 없는 나라 뭔지 알아요? 독일!” “Teacher Sohee, do you know in which country there’s only one dog? Germany!” Obviously, this is only funny if you know that the Korean word for Germany is Dogil and that il means one in Korean. So, dog + one = Germany. And it’s not even that funny, but her excitement when telling it to me made me laugh too.
One type of comedy that has been noticeably absent in Korean popular culture, though, is standup comedy. There’s a long tradition of standup comedy in Western countries, but for some reason, this concept is relatively new to Korea. Netflix Korea is in the process of changing this, by recently having launched a one-man standup show called “Too much information” with famous Korean comedian Yoo Byung Jae. I watched it on Korean Netflix and I was almost hurting from laughing so hard by the end of it. He nails the style of standup, and I thought I’d share the most memorable moments with you here:
- He defines ‘too much information’ as something we don’t need to know because we already know it, something we don’t need to know because it has zero informational value, and something we desperately don’t want to know. His examples are hilarious: We don’t need researchers from Oxford to publish a study where they prove that short guys are not popular among women. As he bluntly notes: “I’m 162 cm and I’ve been doing a real-life experiment on that for 30 years and could’ve easily told you that if you’d just called and asked”. He desperately does not want to hear about his boss’ personal love life as it brings images to the mind’s eye that are not easily erased. And finally, he finds that Instagram updates with hashtag “outfit of the day” have zero informational value. Too much information. The same goes for publicly administered warning messages of heat waves when you’re already walking outside sweating like a pig.
- He constantly makes fun of himself and spends 3 minutes reading the hate comments he’s received online, turning it into a complete laugh fest. It’s particularly funny when he points out that some of the commentators clearly have him mistaken for someone else.
- He addresses homosexuality in a sophisticated manner by saying that he’s straight and then immediately correcting himself saying “Well, at least I have only liked girls until now. But if Dane Dehaan one day sends me a text at 2am asking if I’m asleep, who’s to say my heart wouldn’t flutter just a little bit? That’s hard to know for 100% certain.”
Here are a few of the clips I could find on Youtube (Warning: very graphic Korean language): One where he reads comments from the internet and one where he hilariously suggests how you can offend people in a less aggressive way. Example: “Instead of saying that Koreans act like lemmings, may I just suggest that we instead say that lemmings behave just like Koreans? There, already it’s less offensive. Or, instead of saying that your teacher is a real d***, you can soften it by alluding to the idea that your nether regions resemble your teacher.”