I was the “funny guy” in my clique of high school friends. Ever since I learned to read English, I enjoyed reading and collecting joke books. I exhausted every single joke book from the small community library in town. Riddles, jokes about animals and wildlife, reasons why I didn’t do my homework, lawyer jokes, and later on, ethnic jokes. I knew they were funny, but I wanted more. Perhaps it was my lack of physical achievements that made me obsess with a need to entertain my peers.
My return to Korea in the summer of 2001 was nothing short of a culture shock. I was in a country I thought I had learned by heart. It was the country I always rooted my identity and pride from. I wasn’t ready for the shock. I was wrong about Korea. What was worse, I was wrong about myself: I wasn’t funny! I was miserable and lonely, my social compass was spinning, and I desperately sought to adjust to a more “acceptable” form of myself. Coming full circle to securing a decent grip on the culture of my “fatherland” took five, maybe eight years. But I still wasn’t funny. At least not in Korean, anyway.
I had to continue trying.. How could I be funny in one language and culture, and not be in another language and culture? Best I could muster was slapstick and self-deprecation. Begging for laughs was clearly the only option left. Simultaneously, hearing my native Korean peers crack jokes that to me were horrendously unfunny, and generally being unable to partake in the joy of Korean TV shows and dramas, was also very discouraging. I often felt excluded and incomplete as a Korean trying to fit back in.
I was not alone in that experience, as many of my third-culture- peers shared such failures in delivering punchlines cr...
... middle of paper ...
...idiculing them just enough to make ourselves feel better.
Studies have shown that cultures that score high on the uncertainty avoidance prefer explicit, uncomplicated jokes. Uncertain avoidance was very high in Korea, and it is apparent in Korean television in general, as it leaves so little to ruminate or create secondary content from. Anecdotally, I feel that this preference for easy-to-consume humor manifested in the form of repeated delivery in comedy, and its ongoing success.
My observations on popular Korean humor end here. I tried to make more sense of what I cannot fully understand, and try to leave it at that. Much, if not all of the logic and reasonings in this report are based solely on anecdotal evidence gathered by me over the past dozen years. I hope it helps others understand Korean humor better, and maybe even appreciate it to laugh along.
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