An Update, and a Word on Korean Humor

It’s been pretty hectic lately, what with the start of classes and all. My first week, and after today my second, have passed without too much fanfare, and I’m somewhat happy and somewhat sad to say it seems like I’m ahead of the curve in all of my classes. I tested into level one Korean, even though I’m pretty sure I could have handled level two, since I’ve been acting as a default translator for most of the class so far because the teachers only speak Korean in class. Still, it’s good practice, and a good confidence booster. My history class is interesting but a little boring (at least one person has fallen asleep in every class so far) (not me yet but I’m not overconfident). My political science class is a bit like pulling teeth because I already know all of the theory we have discussed (thanks, Transy), and my Intro to Korean Studies class, as I have discovered, is primarily a literature class. So my schedule definitely could be a bit more challenging, but should make for a fun and (mostly) interesting semester.

As for outside-of-classroom things, everything is going swimmingly. I signed up for a language exchange club, and my buddy seems like a really cool guy even though we haven’t met face-to-face. The weather is getting warmer, and I’ve been meeting some really awesome people, both in my program and not. Honestly, my problem now is that I’m already anticipating with dread the approaching farewell date.

Another issue is, of course, there is still a pretty big language barrier between me and most of the country. The result of that is that even when I’m at the apartment and speaking to my host family in English, there’s not a lot I can watch on TV. Of course there’s a CNN affiliate here, but who wants to watch English TV in a foreign country? (And, for that matter, who wants to watch the news while they’re studying abroad?) Plus, even though I can usually understand dramas because they talk about predictable things, I told my host family that I don’t really love watching dramas, so now we never watch them because they are overly thoughtful. Due to all of these factors, I have seen at least 16 thousand million episodes of Running Man and 진짜 사나이, whose rough translation is something like “A Real Man.” (Problematic, I know.) Running Man is a show about seven (?) people and a guest who play games against each other in rotating teams. 진짜 사나이 is about celebrities doing military service (required of male Korean citizens), but both are shot as comedies. These shows are hilarious, but I honestly cannot tell you why. Korean humor is, thankfully, not as reliant on wordplay as Chinese humor is or on physical comedy as much as British comedy is. Actually, Korean humor relies a lot on ugly/average-looking people making fun of really attractive people, which may be why I find it so appealing. Korean humor is also really exacerbated by the fact that Korea’s background as a Confucian society means that most people don’t do anything loud or that makes them stand out. Comedians, on the other hand, are usually the loudest people in the place, and they also are the only ones willing to do weird stuff. For example, Koreans find cross-dressing hilarious. And the way they go about it, they’re usually right, because they always take care to go way over the top. The funniest part about this to me is that most Koreans are androgynous enough anyway that instead of looking like a cross-dresser, they usually just look like a kind of mis-proportioned guy/girl. Another theme which appears a lot on comedy shows is foreigners making cultural faux pas, which is equal parts funny, relatable, and helpful to me. Oh, and for some reason, they really like to wake each other up early on comedy shows. They also use a lot of music that I’m pretty sure they don’t have the rights to. Be heard a lot of Fall Out Boy, and right now I’m watching an episode of Running Man that is using the soundtrack from the Taiwanese film 不能说的秘密 (Secret). And every comedy show is heavily edited, with cutesy visual and sound effects and often with the dialogue written out. I would guess that one episode of any comedy show will use 15-20 different fonts, so whoever has that job must have a lot of fun. I’ve also tried to watch SNL Korea, but that one’s a little hard without subtitles. Anyway, Korean comedy shows are definitely a part of the culture worth experiencing, and it’s so easy with the Internet! When you get a minute, I recommend any episode of Running Man, a lot of which are available with subtitles at

If you have any comments or recommendations, I’d love to hear them! Please leave them and any suggestions for future posts below in the comments section. 안녕히가세요!

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