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Korean vs Western Humor

January 3, 2013

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It’s our first TL;DR in our new studio! We’re not exactly sure where we’re gonna film our TL;DRs, since we’re still waiting for furniture to come in, but we found this angle and thought it looked rather cute, so we decided to film there!

Anyhow, enough about the studio, which we’ll show (we promise) once we’ve fully designed it and put in the rest of the furniture; more about this week’s topic, which seems to be asked every single week. This week it got a ridiculous amount of thumbs up, though, so we thought we’d finally tackle it.

Now, it’s not a topic that we’re really fully comfortable in talking about, because humor is a deeply cultural thing, and it has many aspects that can only be appreciated by those in the know. So I’m sure that Korean people watching this video and reading this post can definitely add to this discussion, and I hope they will!

We did talk to one of our staff members who’s Korean, though (yes! We have A staff member now! Just four more until we can hire foreigners!) and she was telling us a bit more about Korean humor. While a lot of the humor we’re used to is primarily verbal humor, like bad puns or sarcasm/irony, she was telling us that Korean humor is mostly physical humor. There are SOME cases of verbal jokes, but it’s not really that popular, supposedly.

In fact, we were eating out the other day when Gag Concert was on, and we saw a guy covering an orange in wasabi sauce, so much so that it looked like the orange was a muffin and the wasabi sauce was put on like frosting. And then he dipped it in Soy Sauce. We asked her, with a very open mind, what the eff was going on. Supposedly this guy was very famous for doing bad stuff to himself, like drinking soy sauce (BEUGGRRGHH just dry-heaved at the thought of it) and this was another example of something he was about to do. Not really the best programming for a restaurant, I’d say, but we found it interesting, because I don’t really think that’d be too popular back where we’re from, no?

Anyhow, one of the things we think about is our videos and our style of humor. How well does it translate into Korean? We don’t have a big audience in Korea: over 90% of our audience is OUTSIDE of Korea. We figure it’s the language barrier, but probably also the humor isn’t the same, you know? Our Korean staffer also told us about Kang Ho Dong supposedly making a joke about IU and Eunhyuk, which we found to be bloody hilarious, but it didn’t go over well with fans who were furious, or something? I’m not sure. If that’s the case, then we gotta ask ourselves: how is it we haven’t been stabbed by anyone in Korea yet? Ha!

Anyhow, we’ve asked a lot more questions than we’ve answered. The big one is to whether humor has a universal style, or whether different approaches to humor are needed for different cultures. British humor, by the way, is sooooOOOOoooOOO beyond me. I know it should be funny. I just don’t know why.

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Korean vs Western Humor

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  1. I have been wanting to ask this for a while now but Simon and Martina how was it like when u went on the set of Running Man and tried their food lol was it good or terrible and are kwangsoo, kim jong kook, jae suk, suk jin, ji hyo, jongki, haha, and gary really funny and amazing comedians?

    3 years ago
  2. This is true, that is why everyone sees Onew from SHINee as not very funny. He loves puns and uses them frequently, and he always gets a stale, awkward chuckle from his members and other Koreans. But, I think many foreigners think Onew is really funny. [at least I do] He always has witty come backs and uses puns well!

    3 years ago
  3. Martina, How did you do your hair? I think we need to open the happy and find out.

    3 years ago
  4. Don’t forget the British. Nobody does sarcasm like the British. Masters of the form.

    3 years ago
  5. Yes, Korean uses a lot, and I mean, A LOT of physical jokes. One thing I cannot understand with some of my Korean colleagues is about the barrier of the physical jokes. Like BakaBabo said, this kind of jokes only used for people who already close to each other. But some of my colleagues, use it even with a new guy in the office, or someone who barely knew them. So it’s kinda weird and odd, since we don’t find it funny, at all!

    Well, this week’s topic is awesome. Now I can understand some things about their jokes, but personally, I still think it’s hard to make some jokes with ’em, no offense :) I just feel umm…awkward.

    3 years ago
  6. LOL MARTINA. I LOVED FIRE MARSHALL BILL! <3

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdR2T6YKAUc

    3 years ago
  7. I laughed so hard when Simon said “Yes, that is acceptable”. It’s so sad that Simon did all that as if he ate 6 tablespoons of sugar and the director was just like “Yes, that is acceptable” so calmly ROFL XD

    3 years ago
  8. I think the thing about the Eunhyuk/IU thing, was not that the joke was not funny, it was that the fans were still very sensitive because the scandal had only come out like a week or 2 before.(As a Jewel, yes, I’ll admit, I was irrationally butthurt for the first few weeks and made the choice to bad mouth IU, and I do regret it now, she is a very talented artist, and if they want to have a healthy relationship as adults then they should)
    I have also noticed something maybe not so much about humor, but just something that Koreans seem to do(that I’ve seen anyway) If they are in kind of an awkward situation, they’ll smile and laugh and try to make light of it, whereas Americans seem to deal with those sorts of things in a more serious manner, or just ignore the awkwardness altogether. (Just my opinion from my own experiences)

    3 years ago
  9. For what I’ve noticed from watching Korean variety shows is that sarcasm is there, though it is used between entertainers who are comfortable with each other in real life. For example, when I watch Running Man and 1 Night 2 Days, the cast members do a lot of jokes where they fake insult each others and pretend to be mean, but this happens only when they know each other well and aren’t afraid of their jokes being misunderstood. Since Koreans, like you said, are very polite with each other and have to be respectful towards their elders and superiors, they don’t seem to use sarcasm as often like Americans do. But when they do, in variety shows and between friends, I find it to be very funny. It’s easy to go overboard with sarcasm and hurt someone’s feelings (and I notice that sometimes about American humor), but thanks to the Korean politeness the sarcastic jokes are usually quite well-balanced in general.
    At the same time, I have to agree with you that there is a lot of physical comedy and over-exaggeration. I don’t find over-exaggerated physical jokes, toilet humor and slapstick comedy that funny, though. I only enjoy physical comedy that it seems unplanned and natural, which is why I prefer variety shows where the cast is put into unusual situations and then the comedy seems to happen all by itself, without forcing themselves to be funny.
    One thing that I think is unique about Korean comedy is the fondness for all sorts of games. In variety shows they oftentimes play various games (most of them entirely new to me) and it’s very funny if players take them seriously enough (and they usually do, very seriously even). And since I’m usually totally unaware of the rules of these games, the way the shows are edited is actually very helpful. Like you mentioned, they use these cartoon “tears”, images, sound effects and extra remarks that emphasize and “explain” you the jokes. Perhaps it would seem annoying if I understood everything, but it makes so much easier for international fans like me to watch these shows. And once you’ve gotten used to this, it doesn’t really bother you. In fact, it even makes the viewing experience more enjoyable. You just have to be fast enough to read the subtitles and every little commentary on the screen,

    Okay, this all is only based on my observations of Korean dramas and variety shows. So feel free to disagree with me here. And sorry for this extremely long comment. I just really liked this week’s question for the TL;DR.

    3 years ago
  10. I actually really find Korean Variety shows funny to the point that I laugh so hard.. But i need English subtitle though… Over exaggeration is also what I use to teach my student while being funny..

    3 years ago
  11. You should have countered her Fire marshal Bll with a Homie the Clown….I dont know who all got the references but bonus points to you guys for droppng an In Living Color Reference.. LMAO made my night. TY

    3 years ago
  12. Love the Doctor Who crack!!!!! <3

    3 years ago
  13. Way old enough to remember In Living Color, Fire Marshall Bill, Men on Books and “Homey Don’t Play That”.

    3 years ago
  14. I’m very sarcastic, lol, sarcastic and insulting to my friends XD Guess if I ever go to Korea I’m gonna have to censor myself

    3 years ago
    • I am also very sarcastic and it doesn’t go over well with people in my country, especially my students.

      3 years ago
  15. DOCTOR WHO joke omg lololoo8oll8oll

    3 years ago
  16. HAHAHA LOOOOVED THE ENDING! yes simon… people do watch till the end!!!! XD

    3 years ago
  17. Koreans loves puns! Have you seen any of the TVshow X-Man, during the OfCourse! segment… a lot of it are puns and word play, name play and things like that. There are many bits where there are puns… they just don’t translate very well because the korean connection between the words can be missed when translated into english.

    3 years ago
    • No, I don’t live in Korea, I live in Australia…. with Koreans, who speak “koreans”, and they use word-play and puns as much as anyone else. eg. Q: 뱀파이어의는 음료를 좋아요?(What is a vampire’s favourite drink?) 코피! This always makes them giggle… Ko-pi, it means nosebleed – but it sounds very similar to 커피, the word for coffee. I had this explained to me when I tried to ask them to go out and get nosebleeds and they almost died laughing.
      edit: maybe you just live in a really serious part of korea?

      3 years ago
  18. you guys were so right on the editing- a lot of the times it’s really the captions and edits that are done that make variety shows hilarious for me. Like they’ll add a sound effect and ! when a guest is caught off guard or surprised, and I’ll just be DYING from laughter. xD

    i will admit that the replays can get REALLY annoying- especially when it’s supposedly a suspenseful scene and they replay it 5 TIMES in SLOW MOTION from different angles. *-_-

    3 years ago
  19. Of course I remember Fire Marshall Bill. Do you remember 3 snaps up (in z-formation)?
    It’s funny because when I started watching dramas I picked up immediately that sarcasm wasn’t really a common form of humor in Korea. On the other hand, I’ve known some EXTREMELY sarcastic Korean Americans.

    3 years ago
  20. It’s an English thing. Sarcasm is key to British and Canadian humor. Canadians love sarcasm.

    3 years ago
  21. If you haven’t watched Runningman yet, you are missing perhaps the best TV show in the world. I am such an absolute addict to this show. My daughter and I are huge fans and if there were just one TV star we could meet, I would be hard pressed to choose between the Runningmen. Seriously…. Watch and episode.

    3 years ago
    • I absolutely LOVE that show!! Im glad to have found a fellow addict! People seriously dont know what they are missing at all. I love the whole cast, except jong Kook, he gets on my nerves sometimes. But Lee Kwangsoo and everyone else just ROCKS! :D

      3 years ago
    • Me too! Especially Yoo Jae Suk!

      3 years ago
    • Running Man is the very first S. Korean variety show that I religiously followed, episode to episode. So my perspective of S. Korean humor in general is the humor used in Running Man. There have been jokes in the show that just didn’t get to me, mostly because of the cultural differences and because I’m not the biggest fan of physical jokes. But there have also been many, many times where I just find myself rolling all over the floor laughing when they use sarcasm (and I tell you, the Running Men do use a lot of it).

      (While we’re at it, slightly off topic, the subbing team for Running Man definitely made the show a winner for a lot of us foreigners. I don’t know what we’ll do now that there are threats of it being taken down as well. I don’t think Running Man will enjoy the amount of popularity they have overseas without this subbing team.)

      3 years ago
    • OMG I know who I would choose Lee Kwang Soo aka The Giraffe aka the Betrayer aka teh awesomestest runningman of evars.

      3 years ago
      • Kwang Soo is soooo my favorite!!! He’s so innocent and yet he so easily back-stabs. So many conflicting emotions!!!

        3 years ago
        • Yes! I love his pathetic faces and theme music when he gets betrayed or left behind like on some of the episodes on the high speed rail. I don’t know what I’ll do if Runningman ever goes off air. I think I might lose my will to live.

          3 years ago
  22. FIRE MARSHALL BILL! JIM CARREY! OMG I LOVED THAT SKIT!!!! getting those nails stuck in his head and getting burned…ahh…good times… xD and I couldn’t live without sarcasm…it’s my second language :)

    3 years ago
  23. Well…I am going to have to disagree a little. I am South African…and in South Africa we totally use sarcasm all the time. And the United Kingdom is also big on the sarcasm, and being witty. I am not as sure about Australia and New Zealand though.

    3 years ago
  24. Yes, I remember Fire Marshal Bill. I had wondered about the humour thing as well – given the brouhaha over BATOOST and all… and now I am sad. Sarcasm has no place in Korean humour. *emo tear*

    3 years ago
  25. I remember Fire Marshal Bill!

    3 years ago
  26. so is it nice to have a work place and a home place…..

    3 years ago
  27. I must be going to hell because I found that April Fool’s prank on Martina was pretty funny lol side note my birthday is on April Fool’s

    3 years ago
  28. I honestly believe 100% of my humor is just being mean to people. And for some reason, people laugh at that! Of course, it’s not as if I really mean the things I say, however just poking fun at people who I’m comfortable around makes others laugh. I’m not sure if that’s a type of humor or anything, but that’s the only way I get people to laugh.

    3 years ago
  29. I don’t think the IU x Eunhyuk joke was culturally not funny to the Korean fans, it was probably just the fans being protective over their idols. We all know kpop fans are extremely sensitive when it comes to their favourite idols. I personally enjoy funny sex jokes once in a while myself, but I did NOT like them at all in this scenario since I’m a huge IU fan and it was totally destroying her image…

    3 years ago
  30. Ah, the Eunhyuk/IU drama, i.e. ‘The Scandal That Never Was’… I think fans were more angry about the fact that in that episode they kept pushing the jokes at Eunhyuk’s expense, even after it was pretty clear that both him and the others didn’t find it funny? It wasn’t nice seeing him look so blatantly put-out :/ It just left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, I guess.

    Also the thing about Korea not really using ‘adult’ humour, I thought that at least every episode of SNL Korea was 19-rated? I’ve only seen the (seemingly infamous) Super Junior episode and some of the Jay Park one, but both of those were, shall we say, DEFINITELY worth the rating XD

    3 years ago
  31. I do get your point, at the beginning I found Korean variety kinda… awkward? Like the style of humor they use is very (can’t find another word) basic/simple. Something that can be understood by most people (hence the predominance of physical jokes). Regarding verbal jokes, in our case as foreigners sometimes it’s barely possible to understand them without (in the case of subbed shows) a short caption explaining the meaning of it.
    Now I personally love it!! The appeal of it for me it’s the part where pretty much anything can turn into a joke, differently from Mexican humor which tends to go to the “dirty/double sense/swearing” jokes (and this isn’t my cup of tea, I’m more into American and British humor since they’re more based on clever language jokes and sarcasm -I’m very sarcastic myself so it sits me I guess-), so everything is quite refreshing to me.

    And the cheesy edits!! At first you do find annoying the “let’s repeat this 13894710489 times” but then it just feels awkward without them.

    3 years ago
  32. Martina has so much aegyo :3

    3 years ago
  33. i love sarcastic humor so much XD couldn’t live without it

    3 years ago
  34. I have a problem like this: I find jokes like ‘Your momma’ jokes totally fine when they’re made by Western people (like you guys) but it would sound rude to me if a Korean made the joke. I don’t know why….

    3 years ago
  35. Don’t feel bad. I know plenty of native English speakers that don’t get sarcasm. I think it’s not something that everyone can get. I can be really sarcastic at times and have had people look at me with a blank look thinking that I’m being serious.

    3 years ago
    • yep me to! Plus sometimes when I’m being sarcastic and picking on people I’ve used “big” words before and I remember this one guy was like what does that mean. I had to then explain to him how I was “playfully” insulting him and what the insult meant. Took all the fun out of it… It wasn’t even a “big” word.

      3 years ago
  36. I personally am a variety junky! It’s actually what really got me into Kpop and I rely on it to introduce me to new bands all the time. I find it hilarious! I remember searching for all different kinds of variety shows and when I would get interested in a group I would look everywhere for english subbed variety shows that they were in. You can really tell a difference from some of the shows from a few years ago to today’s shows though.

    The one show where I found quite a few of my favorite groups was Star Golden Bell. I loved that show! Now of course I’m obsessed with Shinhwa Broadcast (I’m a ShinChan!) and I’ve been watching episodes of Teen Top & 100%. (plus I’ve been going back and watching some of the older shows like X-Man and Oh My School and SuJu’s Explorers of the Human Body, etc).

    Oh, and yeah I found the April Fools Day prank the students played on Martina absolutely hilarious… but I have a warped sense of humor at times.

    3 years ago
  37. I can’t believe you guise made this already after all the EYKA craziness! Seriously, we just can’t thank you enough for all the hard (and fantastic (baby)) work you put into your videos/blog!

    3 years ago
  38. lmd

    Eh, don’t take it too personally you guys. Some of those Suju fans can be cray cray.

    3 years ago
  39. I would find it SO HARD not to be sarcastic. I find sarcasm to be a natural part of everyday living. You know what I mean?

    3 years ago
  40. *Sneaky copy from the Christmas TL DR*
    Question for next TLDR- I work in healthcare & believe Australia
    & Canada have similar health care systems (big ups for public
    health!) What is the system like in South Korea. Do they have GPs/local
    Doctors and/or how is the hospital system managed? Cheers…

    3 years ago
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