“Saturday Night Live (SNL) Korea” finally aired its inaugural episode last weekend, and I have to admit I was more than ecstatic to see my favorite U.S. comedy show air in Korea. It did a pretty good job of living up to the “SNL” name with a lot of political/cultural parodies. Kim Joo Hyuk also did a flawless job of running the show live as the first host.
Before the show, I was skeptical of seeing much political jokes because a) Korea’s a very conservative society and b) Just recently Rep. Kang Yong Suk filed a defamation lawsuit against a KBS “Gag Concert” comedian for making political jokes on air. But “SNL Korea” came out with a good dose of political parodies, poking fun at the ruling government party and other social issues. I wouldn’t say the show had as many funny skits, but it was definitely refreshing to see so many political satire in a country that is still relatively new to the concept. Subtle political jokes ran throughout the show and I can’t wait to see what they’ll bring to the table next week!
After Kim Joo Hyuk’s introductory monologue, we move to the writing team’s office at the SNL Korea headquarters. The team leader is upset with one of the writers’ script. “Are you trying to sink this show?” He moves on to the next writer, and asks him, “Who the hell wrote about the government hearing?” The writer says he just wrote it as an experiment, but the leader gets mad again and asks if he wants to see the show shut down.
“Why the hell would you mention the Grand National Party or the Democratic Party? And…gosh, how dare you write ‘MB’ just like that (MB is the initials of South Korean president Lee Myung Bak). You think he’s your friend? He’s the president of our country and you’re calling him ‘MB’?? Remember what happened to (TV broadcaster) MBC? I mean if the president has changed, they should have changed their company name too. MB..SSI?? (“Ssi” in Korean has insulting connotations). What the hell is that? You will go to jail, I will go to jail, the management will go too! Either way, we never mention politics on our show! Grand National, Democratic – Don’t even try it! DO NOT SAY A WORD ABOUT THEM! You know how hard they work night and day? Every now and then they have to visit the outdoor markets, go on TV debates, respond to morning TV shows, it drives them crazy!”
Note: Historically, KBS has shown more of a conservative voice while MBC leans towards the liberal party. Visiting outdoor markets has almost become a regular “publicity stunt” for Korean politicians as a way to signify their link to “regular people.” Think U.S. politicians drinking beer or driving trucks, etc. to connect with the regular people.
One of the writers responds, “But SNL is known for its political satire. Don’t you think we should at least try to say something about Korean politics?” But of course the team leader just reiterates what he told him and denies any political jokes. “Do you all want to get fired?!”
He continues with his rant, “If you really want to write about that stuff, just stay at home and come back next year when the new administration gets elected.”
“What if it doesn’t change?” asks the writer.
“Why wouldn’t it?! (*gasp laugh*) Or just wait and rest another five years man! Listen, it’s the first episode of SNL Korea. WE WILL NOT TALK POLITICS. Don’t even try, ok?!”
Note: This is by far one of the most extreme political comments I’ve heard on TV regarding the current administration. Granted, the current Lee Myung Bak administration has been sliding in public support and some Korean media has already labeled him “lame duck president.” But to hear someone joke as if a change of regime is a foregone conclusion is something I never imagined to see on Korean TV.
The team leader moves on to the female writer. Again, he’s furious over the quality of her script and tells her it only has useless arguments that drag on forever. “You think this is the National Assembly??? Why do you make these people fight over and over without any fruitful results? Why not just use tear gas too?!”
Note: Korea is notorious for the frequent fights at the parliament (I’m talking real fights). I really liked this line that makes fun of it, and especially the “tear gas” part because it actually did happen last month in Korean congress (see video below).
I absolutely loved this sketch! It sets the perfect tone right off the bat and reflects SNL Korea’s true character – they’re not afraid to make political jokes and it’s only going to get worse. But this is a sketch comedy show, so don’t take it personally!
Back to the news room. It’s 18 hours before the first episode. The team leader is concerned of the low revenue streams and is looking for ways to increase ad revenue. One of the writers suggests “product placement (PPL).” He wants to place a product in the show and “indirectly” advertise it, saying it’s a pretty big business in overseas markets. But the team leader is against the idea again as he says, “Man, if things go wrong, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) will send a warning, and in the worst case, you’ll get fired and I’ll get fired. Do you realize how dangerous that is?”
He continues, “Just go see some of the TV dramas. They put on tapes and stickers over the logo on the shirt. All the cars hide their brand logo, making it look like Chinese-made cars. When actors drink, they all cover the drink’s logo with their hands. You know why they do that? It’s because you get caught man!”
The writer insists the whole idea is to place the product without making it too obvious. He says the other writer is Korea’s best at making these PPL ads, and the team leader for the first time seems interested in what he has to say. He promises it won’t be noticeable at all, to the point where the advertiser itself won’t even notice, and ensures the team leader, “I’ll make sure you make money without getting caught.”
Note: Here they take a jab at the ever-growing presence of product placement ads, or “indirect ads,” as they like to call it in Korea. It also pokes fun at the infamous KCC, best known for interfering with every menial matter in the industry (e.g. Warning HyunA for her explicit dance, or Infinity Challenge for using vulgar expressions), for often applying double standards on these issues.
We move to the warzone but Kim Joo Hyuk’s unit is at the brink of surrender. One soldier insists on surrendering but Kim Joo Hyuk is opposed to the idea. “But who’s going to take care of your family? What about your private loan debt?!” Kim Joo Hyuk gets angry and says it’s not one of those shady private loan debts, but loan with low interest rates, easy access, and credible sources! (PPL #1)
Kim Joo Hyuk later agrees to surrender, but they can’t find white cloth (to wave in surrender). Kim Joo Hyuk orders his soldiers to use their underwear but both are wearing gray-stained boxers. “What did I tell you?! You should have used Ossi-Clean detergent with enhanced washing technology!” (PPL #2)
They get attacked and one soldier is about to die. He asks Kim Joo Hyuk for a favor and talks about his favorite funeral agency with all the pricing details (PPL #3).
Another guy is about to die and he shows a picture of his girlfriend. Kim Joo Hyuk seems shocked at…the picture’s quality! “Oh my god! How is this photo so clear? Even if it’s been a long time, it looks like it was just taken now!” The injured soldier explains the price and specifics of the camera (PPL#4).
Kim Joo Hyuk drops down on his knees in pain. He picks up a hand mirror and this time starts advertising…waterproof mascara!
Weekend Update Korea:
The producer of the show, Jang Jin, hosts the “Weekend Update Korea” segment, which is basically the same format as the U.S. SNL that parodies current events. He reports that President Lee Myung Bak sent text messages to 45,000 mailmen in Korea, thanking them for working so hard despite the hard times. “And who created those hard times?” Jang Jin refutes.
It is followed by news about an office worker getting arrested for sending obscene text messages. The guy said he sent those texts just to get attention. “Hmm…so the guy we mentioned before (President Lee Myung Bak) also sent those texts to get attention??”
Kim Jong Hoon of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who’s working on the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), said that if people opposing the deal could relieve their anger and stop the controversy, he would gladly let them step over him. “A lot of people want to know the exact time and location of it.”
He reports on Rep. Kang Yong Suk (who sued a comedian on defamation charges) expressing his intention to file a lawsuit against Ahn Chul Soo. “I’m making it clear here but we will never mention anything related to Rep. Kang Yong Suk on this show. I’m sorry.” HA!
Last but not least, Ahn Chul Soo, the strongest candidate to run for Korea’s next presidency with massive support from opposition leaders, has been reported not to run for a seat in the National Assembly (typically the first position you get before getting nominated as a presidential candidate). Jang Jin says, “This is probably totally irrelevant, but I debuted as a movie director without going through the assistant director position.”
At the end of the “Weekend Update,” the female weather forecast announcer appears in overly sexy outfit, as she makes exaggerated gestures to emphasize her cleavage. It is a clear jab at the recent controversy surrounding the outfit of female TV announcers (see photo below). Compared to some of the real-life announcers, this weather forecast girl looks almost too modest!
During the quiz show segment, a congressmen couple appears, but whatever they do is in disharmony as they come from opposite parties. They keep bickering throughout the show, and even struggle to pick the simple topic for their Q&A game. The guy wants to pick “livestock” but the wife insists on “birds.” She reprimands him for trying to snatch the topic away from her (an allusion to the “snatch” term whenever a law gets passed without the opposition’s full support in Korea). As the game starts, the husband avoids every question with the simple “It’s inappropriate, no comment.” This is a common tactic some of the politicians use at parliamentary hearings. But the best part of this segment was the gay couple with Kim Joo Hyuk winning it all—the minority couple beat out the social elite and the one’s in power.
Kim Joo Hyuk did a superb job of delivering live standup comedy in a country that’s rarely seen this format work. There must have been tremendous pressure on him, but he used the stage to his advantage, making sure the crowd realizes how talented he is. I almost feel bad that I didn’t feature more of his skits in this recap (see bathroom skit above). But much kudos to Kim Joo Hyuk for setting the bar high and living up to the “SNL” brand!
As much as I loved the show, I’m a bit afraid that this might be leaning a little too much to the left of the whole political spectrum. I don’t mind seeing more parodies on the current administration, but it would be nice to have a certain level of balance. Political jokes only work as long as both sides of politics get parodied – otherwise it’s propaganda. Nonetheless, I can’t wait for the next episode! The second show’s host is going to be Gong Hyung Jin, another great actor/comedian with a lot of talent. Please let me know if I missed anything or if there’s a sketch you enjoyed the most!
Thunderstix is the Editor-in-Chief for soompi.com. You can email him at [email protected], or follow his twitter.com feed at @eugenekim222.