Fast-rising comedian shuns TV for stageA rising comedian famous for his Latin dance style and witty repartee recently left television after a few short months.
“I will no longer be on a regular TV show, because I have to pursue my dream,” said Lee Sang-hun, better known as Lee Mario, 32, who had his last performance on television at the end of last month.
Mr. Lee made his debut on television Oct. 28, generating laughs with his “greasy” smile in “Utchatsa," a popular comedy show. For the last five months, Mr. Lee showcased his unique dance, a humorous Spanish- and Italian-influenced jig.
At first, his decision to leave television was hard to believe for many people. There was a rumor that Mr. Lee was moving to another broadcasting company with a different show. But Mr. Lee says he is not going to another show.
“Last year, the original deal was that I would be on Utchatsa just for four months,” Mr. Lee said. “But my role became more popular than expected. So I stayed on the show for one more month.
“I came on the show to make my name known to the public for my future career as a stage performer,” he continued. “I think my experience on television was enough.”
In July, Mr. Lee will start the “Lee Mario Show” and tour across the country. He will perform musicals and magic shows along with dancing. This winter, Mr. Lee will be in a musical, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“For the shows, I'm practicing vocalization and learning dance and magic,” Mr. Lee said.
“Television shows require a lot of ad libbing, but stage performances require that you breathe with the audience,” Mr. Lee said. “I find it a lot more charming.”
Long before Mr. Lee was on television, he had been a “hungry actor” on the stage for a long time. After graduating from college in 1993, Mr. Lee directly went to the theater town in Daehangno. It was fun to have a role in small theaters but it was certainly not a moneymaking job, he said.
“My father became so worried that he offered some money for me to start a business,” Mr. Lee said. “So I opened up a bar in the Cheongdam area.”
But the country's economy crashed after the 1997 financial crisis, and the bar closed down after a year. Mr. Lee started a trading business, importing fabrics from Italy.
“For about four years, I made quite decent money,” he said. “But I couldn’t forget my dream to become an actor. I was getting nervous waiting as I got older.”
One day, Mr. Lee met Kim Tae-gyun, a friend from college and an actor in “Cultwo,” a comedy show in Daehangno. In 2003, Mr. Lee joined Cultwo. Since he was new to the genre, his roles were very small at the beginning.
“My stage name comes from ‘Super Mario,’ a popular video game,” he said. “The name played a big role in creating the funny image of a greasy guy.”
The opportunity to be on television came last year when Jeong Chan-u, one of the actors on Cultwo, recommended Mr. Lee.
"They (the producters) were unsure of me at first,” Mr. Lee said. “So they put me in the show with other already-popular actors.”
Lee Mario's character became a big hit after his first show.
Right after his first performance was aired, his name became the number one keyword for online search engines in Korea.
Soon, he was sought after by advertisers and invitations to shows and events as a guest actor.
Mr. Lee said he made money “like a star.”
However, Mr. Lee says that he doesn't want to live like a star.
“I want to be an artist, who creates a high quality show, like ones in Paris or in Las Vegas,” he said.
by Lee Ji-young
More in Features
Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix
[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes
Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers
When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it
The traveling grandma who's 'alive and kicking it'