Comedy can be a very good social indicator of where a society stands as comedy clearly develops around certain social and cultural lines. If one were to look at the progression of American comedy the evolution of it can clearly be seen: slapstick and body humor into polite sitcoms bearing little to no social, political or religious critique in them; and from there, we slowly reach the current pinnacles of comedy after a few Lenny Bruces that have to be arrested for saying the dreaded F-word and criticizing the heart of the culture.
We reach a stage where people laugh at parodies of themselves and of others, and there no longer are any sacred cows that are left untouched beyond immense national tragedies that claimed the lives of innocents (and I consider it quite rational that these walls tend to never be breached).
It is 2009… And Korean comedy represents 1950s style variety shows. In the past decade, only two major films were ever produced that reaked completely of the sexual innuendo that inundates American culture.
Korean comedy still has not involved to the lone jester standing before the crowd and spewing stand up comedy, often strewn with the vile and the offensive for the purpose of sending shocks down us and exposing us to some very real things that people do not often talk about.
It is centered around two formats: the “talk show” format which combines a few pranksters with an endless string of celebrity guests; they joke and play odd games, and sure as always the celebrities always come out looking none worst for the wear. The jokes are based on the strange, physical antics and facial expressions of the comedians, panning over to see beautiful K-idols laughing at them, while the jokesters play countless pointless games of chance that always result in something ridiculous like a pillow fight or a hackey sack race that goes awry.
The other format did not come into being until 2000 and was only popularized in 2003 with Sachasa — it closely represents Saturday Night Live skitches, though still extremely body language heavy and lacking any hard jabs at political, religious or social figures. I will admit — it can be funny for what it is, though it reaks of a juvenile innocence. It would be kosher for any 10 year old to watch by himself, with a total lack of suggestive or controversial material.
Most comedy that is critical picks easy targets: foreigners, Korean-Americans, overbearing teachers and uncouth, atypical parodies of alcoholics or moronic youths or gangsters.
Even when the Koreans do parodies of their own idols it is all based on the absurdity of men dressed as beautiful women doing poor imitations of their dance moves, or the ugliest of the comedians taking the main role as the latest Korean male idol who has captured the hearts of the teenage girls.
In Korean comedy, the targets are often the comedians themselves. One famous comedians main schtick is “I am sorry, I am ugly.” Others often garner fame through strange facial expressions or comical reactions to events — much of the comedy starts with a lot of passionate dialog that goes into one punch line, and then the real punch line is the physical acting of those involved.
It has all become a reflection of the current social system: sex, politics and religion (the hallmark of the stand up comedian in the West) are swept under the rug and the famed idols left unscathed, while Westerners have no problem doing the most vicious of parodies to idols fallen from grace.
The sexual and political humor is left often to the internet where rampant criticism of the government can be seen, or left to young men laughing around the dinner table, liquored up, with no women present, making crude statements that would get them slapped elsewhere.
It is still a nation where elders triumph and brash, harsh words are seldom welcome in the mainstream sphere; it is a place where a woman’s sexual morality and innocence becomes valued to the point that no comedians can become overtly sexual and recount anything 10% as obscene as what American acts were doing in the 1960s.
It is a direct reflection of a socially retarded nation.
Oh, sure my criticism is harsh, but one of the hallmarks of free society is the ability to joke openly and share your thoughts on any number of topics. Whether it is berating Bush or Obama, good naturedly or with malice, or it is speaking frankly on the comical circumstances of losing your virginity or your recent bad luck in your sexual life, there is something to be said for a society that as a group can share these on a social format and not expect people to be embarrassed, ashamed or terribly offended.
A society that can laugh together can live together. A society with everything swept under the rug is just as it sounds: clean on the surface but dirty in fact.
And what a better way for youth going through the embarrassment and disappointments of first love and their secretive yearning for romance than to be able to laugh openly and feel quite less embarrassed when they hear people making light of the situation, easing the tension that bottles up.
There are lines to be drawn: some comedy is clearly for adult audiences, and others for the youth. However, when it is done right, the society benefits. I think we do live in an era in the West where obscenity is too spread out amongst many youth, but to think of a country where adults do not have a venue for what amounts to “adult humor” besides whatever they can joke with their acquaintances about, it attests to something vaguely dysfunctional.
Laughter is medicine.
If we can laugh at our politicians, we do not have to hold their indulgences so gravely.
If we can laugh at our pop stars, we do not have to overvalue them and view ourselves as somehow inferior because of our lack of good looks.
If we can laugh at sex, we do not feel isolated in our struggles and shortcomings and desires.
If we can laugh, we can cope.
When words are taboo a certain tension builds.
I remember being in the Army and exchanging jokes on race issues with all sorts of numbers of people of different backgrounds, and saying sexist jokes that would be greeted with a smile and a light hearted punch from a female. It seems to be an indication that we have come beyond the pain, and now we can laugh together.
I await the day when the people of Korea and much of Asia can jeer and mock as they please, can parody themselves and their stars, and can learn to share the medicine that relieves the tension of stuffy, bottled up lives.