Comedy contest to hit Itaewon

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Aug 26, 2014 - 21:02
  • Updated : Aug 27, 2014 - 11:13
Game for a laugh? Comics from Korea and overseas will be testing their mettle this weekend.

On Saturday, expat comedians from across Asia will compete for a small trophy decorated by a bobblehead figurine of Kim Jong-il in the Seoul International Comedy Competition.

The competition is organized by Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province-based expat Dan Wiberg, who invited comedians from across Asia to enter and will also be hosting the event.

After whittling the applicants down to 10 competitors, the result was a 50-50 split, with half of the performers based in Korea and the rest coming from China, Japan and the United States.

He got the idea after attending a small stand-up competition in Daegu.

“I thought we could do something like that in Seoul but just on a bigger scale, you know, try to get people from all over Asia,” he says.

While he thinks there might be a few competitions in Malaysia or Singapore, Wiberg says there aren’t many similar events in Asia, but that stand-ups like him were always keen to try their material at open mics when they travel.

“People traveling are always looking to try their material in different countries. It’s really exciting,” he says.

Paul Smith is one of those flying into Korea for the event. As the sole contender from outside Asia, he learned about the contest from his time in Korea, where he got into comedy while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

“It’s where I made lifelong friendships, enriched my half-Korean heritage, fell in love with a beautiful woman, then cheated on her mercilessly with comedy,” he says. “She probably will never forgive me, but comedy and I are still together and doing pretty well.”

While he says his main aim for the event is to make other comics jealous, he also has a message for expats who are serious about comedy.

“I want those comics to know that they can continue their comedy careers back home,” he said, mentioning other Stand Up Seoul alumni such as Bryan Aylward, Adam Palmeter and Albert Escobedo.

Smith himself is doing comedy in the States.

“I’m part of a great scene here in Denver,” he says. “(There’s) a lot of great talent and support in a booming comedy culture here (in the States), as well as newly legal activities that could get someone ‘Shawshank Redemption’-ed in Korea without an Andy Dufresne option.”

Jonathan Burrello also got into comedy after he arrived in Korea. He tries to give a surreal take on simple ideas to highlight things about society or morality, but his hopes for the competitions are much more basic than Smith's.
Jonathan Burrello is among the comedians performing at the Seoul International Comedy Competition on Saturday. (Joshua Bush)

"I got involved because it was another chance to talk into a microphone," he said. 

"Personally I don't care for competitions, but I do hope it gets more people watching and laughing and it gets us all a chance to see our comedy brothers from other countries perform."

Another Korea-based performer, Enda Whitney, who describes himself as a colorful storyteller, was already involved in comedy when he came. He says he got into comedy in Dublin 5 1/2 years ago when he lost a bet, but what keeps him going is “the times when you get a room leaning in for your every word and laughing at all the right times and even times they’re not supposed to.”

“Those nights let you know you have something to offer and I catch myself not even noticing I’m on stage and being more relaxed than anywhere else,” he says.

“What keeps me going is to have that reaction and feeling each and every time I’m on stage because why would I ever stop doing something that allows you to feel like that while testing your skills and intelligence all the while?”

The competition will run in three stages, with each performer getting a short slot in the first round, five getting more stage time in the second and then performances from the final three.

The winners will be decided by audience ballot and decisions from a panel of judges made up of Stand Up Seoul comedians Wilfred Lee and Jeff Sinclair along with broadcaster Chance Dorland, who has done radio and podcast work with professional comedians such as Adam Carolla, Greg Fitzsimmons and Howard Stern.

While some might wonder about the home advantage, Wiberg says he is more concerned about the freshness of comics from elsewhere giving the visitors an edge.

“I have talked about that with the judges about how they might have an advantage, they will come in and make a comment about Korea and it will be a brand new look at a joke,” he says.

“A lot of the people from Korea are worried that the judges might know the jokes they are doing but you know I have talked to the judges and they understand that, because they have done comedy as well, so they will do their best to take that into account.”

The winner will walk away with 200,000 won ($195) in prize money, with second and third prizes being 100,000 won and a 50,000 won bar tab, respectively.

There will be a warm-up show at Osan Air Base near Songtan, Gyeonggi Province, on Friday.

The actual competition starts at 9:30 p.m. at the Bull and Barrel in Itaewon. Admission is 7,000 won.

By Paul Kerry (