Comediennes become more popular on Korean televisionLooking lonely and sad, Lee Young-ae stares blankly at a television on which a comedy show is playing. A smile slowly spreads across her face as she takes a shot at mimicking the comedian on the show.
“Unjeon Hae,” meaning drive, she drawls.
It’s a much talked about scene from a TV commercial in which Lee promotes a wide-screen television set. But what’s new about Korea’s advertisement queen’s new commercial is that Lee has imitated Kim Mi-ryeo, a young comedienne.
It used to be that comediennes made fun of Lee for her extremely feminine voice. It was an almost sure-fire way for new comedians to quickly gain attention. So Lee’s 29-second commercial left the comedy industry rippling with hope that a heyday of comediennes might be approaching.
It may already be here for Kim Hyeon-jeong and Jung Ju-ri, a female comedy duo from the SBS program “Utchatsa.” For the last seven months, the two have staged skits on how to become the “queen-ka” or “hottest girl in town,” giving crazy advice on how to win a man’s heart. With exaggerated actions, they say “stretch your legs until they rip to make your legs longer,” or “make him go wild by showing your beer belly.” Most are sarcastic takes on obsession with beauty.
Viewers commented on the SBS Web site that the female humor was “refreshing” and “not offensive” as male comedians’ jokes about women were.
When the duo first proposed their idea, however, the immediate response from the male crew was “it will never work.”
“People consider comediennes just not funny enough,’” Kim said in a recent Ilgan Sports newspaper interview.
Until recently, the role of comediennes on Korean comedy shows was limited to assisting their male counterparts. There was no such rule, of course, but women’s comedy was considered “too pretty” to be viewed as funny or “too weak” when compared to the males who easily made fools of themselves by doing physical slapstick comedy.
Noh Chang-gok, the producer of MBC’s “Gag Ya,” now thanks Kim Mi-ryeo for making his new comedy show one of the most popular programs currently on television.
Instead of conventional physical comedy, the producer focused on narrative, having his comedians talk more and make subtle jokes.
“I know that it is easier to get a fast response [from the audience] by hitting, cussing and falling down,” Noh wrote in a television review. “But I wanted to create a comedy that an older audience would also consider funny.”
Kim Mi-ryeo, playing the “samonim,” or madam, which refers to rich wives, is performing just the type of comedy Noh was looking for. Kim hands her chauffeur a white envelope, representing a bribe in Korean culture, but it is actually no more than an empty envelope. One of her favorite “classic songs” is actually usually sung in cheap bars.
The show opens with Kim’s slow nasal drawl calling to her muscular young chauffeur “Kim gisa (Driver Kim).” She crosses her chubby legs and tells him to start the car, again in an exaggerated drawl . Then comes the phrase that Lee Young-ae copied in her commercial.
“Mr. Kim,” the comedienne slurred in a recent show.
“Yes, madam,” the chauffeur said turning back with a hopeful glance.
“I have something to tell you,” she says slowly.
“Yes, madam,” he says with a deep intake of breath as he approaches her.
“I...” she opens her mouth, touching his cheek with a feather scarf she is wearing. “Oh, I ...”
“Oh, I am actually stupid, did you know that?” she tells the dumbfounded chauffeur.
The tense silence is broken by audience laughter but Kim immediately goes on.
“And I just realized that recently.”
Another comedienne drawing guffaws these days is Kang Yu-mi on KBS’s “Gag Concert.” She plays the strong character of Kang-gija (Reporter Kim), being overly aggressive while she is reporting but reaching absurd conclusions. She mocks current social issues as well as journalists and anchors, whom she criticizes as being biased when reporting.
Her popularity on the show won her a role in a commercial, proof that she has become influential. With a bag of corn chips in her hand, Kang does a terse and to-the-point interview on why the chips taste so good. The piece has a humorous ending, of course.
by Lee Min-a