Saturday Night Live Korea: Episode 1
Right off the bat:
- I think I’m going to like this show.
- Kim Joo-hyuk is brilliant.
- The format, surprisingly and unsurprisingly, works. It really does.
As I mentioned in the previous post about Saturday Night Live Korea, I’ve been looking forward to Korea’s take on the iconic American sketch comedy show because, well, I have a lot of affection for SNL and also because it’s such a departure for Korean comedy. I’d wondered if the format would translate well, because it’s an American show with an American comedic sensibility — would it work with the Korean sense of humor?
After the premiere episode on Saturday, December 3, I think the answer is a resounding yes. The show has been heaped with positive press and pulled in a strong 1% viewership rating, which is great given that (1) this is cable, and anything above 1% is considered solid, and (2) it’s on at 11 pm on Saturdays. The show topped out in the minute-by-minute ratings at 2.014%.
Among the highlights: Kim Joo-hyuk was fantastic as host, and there were a few sharp barbs in Weekend Update — the show’s not shying away from political material, and even poked fun at its fear of doing political material, for a meta-upon-meta moment. (It joked that there’s no way it would risk political retaliation by mocking it…and then mocked it.)
Props to the show’s director Jang Jin, who’s already made a name for himself as a film director (Good Morning President, Public Enemy Returns). Jang Jin wasn’t exactly funny so much as he was sharp and satirical, with a few zingers aimed at particular politicians and the president himself.
Among the references to politics was the recent kerfuffle with a congressman, Kang Yong-seok, suing a Gag Concert comedian (Choi Hyo-jong) for alleged defamation of the National Assembly. (In response, Gag Concert mocked Kang’s lawsuit in their November 27 episode.) Jang Jin said, “We will not say anything about this topic. We were wrong.” Though the joke ended there, the audience clapped at the allusion to being silenced by the politician.
Jang was asked prior to the premiere about potential ramifications of his satire, and replied, “I’m not a tvN employee in any case, so I’m prepared to be ousted honorably.”
There was also a comment on Ahn Chul-soo, who shot from nowhere to being a potential forerunner in the Seoul mayoral race, who has now stated he won’t run. Jang Jin said, “I also debuted as a director right away without being an assistant director.” Zing!
The show ran smoothly — enough to be remarkable, given that this was a first outing. It bespeaks tons of practice on the part of the 16-member cast, as well as a host who was committed and probably had the most hilarious moments of anyone. There were a few little mistakes here and there that let us know that it was in fact live, but nothing big — mostly small slips of the tongue that weren’t too noticeable.
As with the American show, I think the sketches are a mixed bag, and if you aren’t fond of the original SNL, you probably won’t like this one. But I’m amazed at how similar SNL Korea is to SNL, feeling exactly the same, and yet also feeling appropriately Korean.
But let’s take a closer look at the episode itself:
Dynamic Duo opens the show. Great energy from these guys, with an appropriate song choice as they sing about doin’ it right on Saturday Night. “We hot, we hot, we-we-we hot.” Yes, you are.
They’re doing a song from their latest (sixth) album that’s actually called “Burning Up Friday Night,” which explains why the backing track sings “Friday Night” while the guys sing “Saturday Night” over it. I’ve been enjoying the new album and they’re one of a few hip-hop groups I like, so I’m pleased to see them doing so well live.
Dynamic Duo – “불타는 금요일” (Burning Up Friday Night), a rip of their live version on SNL [ Download ]
Wow, even the announcer sounds exactly like the American announcer. It’s funny how he pronounces the Korean names with an American twang, almost, to mimic the American opening. Hee.
Intro shots of the cast are likewise just the same. I am ridiculously excited for Jang Young-nam (Hello Ghost, Vampire Prosecutor) and Jung Woong-in (Coffee House, Last Scandal of My Life) in particular.
Same similarity in the introduction of our host, Kim Joo-hyuk (Fighting Spirit, Bang-ja Chronicles, Terroir). Wow, he’s tall in real life.
Kim Joo-hyuk goes through the basic introductions and explains that he’s excited and nervous to be doing the first episode of the show, which is also his first ever live broadcast and his first MC gig.
He does the whole half-bashful, half-proud thing of saying how honored he is to be the first host, asking the audience why they think he was chosen. Someone shouts, “Because you’re old!”
He goes on to prattle on about how being asked to host requires a certain level of skill and charm… and then the screen literally minimizes, dialing his voice way down, and instead shows clips of the other people who were offered the gig and declined, citing way too much pressure. Hee. “What weirdo would take the first episode?” “No way! I can’t!” “I’ll do a supporting role.”
Kim wraps up that bit and explains how happy he is to hear that his fan club bussed in for the premiere. Cue fangirl screams: “OPPAAAAA~!”
He looks up to the stands… to see his TWO fans. Haha. Whoa, is that Shim Eun-kyung (Sunny), posing as Fan #1? (Now that’s a cute cameo.) Then the camera pans the audience…and I think I see Lee Yoon-ji (Dream High) laughing.
On to the skits!
Writers’ room, pre-premiere.
The SNL Korea writing team. Their head writer is frustrated with his team’s ideas. “You call this a parody? You think Kim Joo-hyuk will accept this and say, Oh, what an honor?!” “You’re trying to sink this show, aren’t you?” One guy has written a political sketch about President Lee Myung-bak, using names of real political parties and “MB” for the pres. “You’ll go to jail, punk, and so will I! No political talk on this show, got it?”
Head Writer tells writer minion to wait till the ruling party changes after elections next year. Minion: “But what if it doesn’t change?” That earns the first gasp-laugh from the audience, who is contemplating this daunting thought. Ha.
Next minion on the hook has written about a psych ward. Head Writer: “That’s where you came from, isn’t it?”
Head Writer storms off, telling them to rewrite. His staff thinks they were all funny sketches, and sighs at how hard Saturday Night comedy is.
Verdict: This sketch is mildly funny, but I’m more impressed that they hung a lantern on the whole political satire thing, telling us that they’re definitely going to be tackling some of that here.
Okay, this sketch is a hoot and a half. By far my favorite.
Kim Joo-hyuk the friendly shrink counsels Jang Young-nam the worried patient. She fears, “I’m a psychopath, aren’t I?”
He tells her not to worry, there are medications to help, and she cries, “Then I really am?” Turns out she’s had no real symptoms — she was just worried she was crazy. “But you must have seen the crazy in me!” HAHA. Why is she so funny? This woman, I love her so much.
She says she’s actually here about her kid, who’s waiting outside, and ushers him in by the hand. The imaginary hand. She’s literally holding on to air, miming the act of holding a hand. Doc eyes her warily and she disciplines her invisible child: “Greet the doctor properly! Who raised you with so little manners? If you’re gonna act like that just go home!”
She “sits” the kid down, then jerks after him and grabs him, as though invisikid just tried to run away. Kim Joo-hyuk nervously plays along, telling the child to sit, and then Mom lurches for the doctor. Pulling invisikid off him, she scolds, “I told you to sit, but not on the doctor’s knee!”
Nurse comes in and Doc tells her that the patient (Mom) needs immediate hospitalization…only to have Nurse talk to the invisible child and pat his head. Doc suddenly feels like the crazy one. Cleaning Lady enters, then screams when the invisikid bites her arm. Mom pulls him off and beats the kid (flailing at the air), until Doc entreats, “Stop, stop! Can’t you see he’s bleeding?” Suuuure.
Mom gets a phone call from her husband who doesn’t know she’s here. She hurries out to take the call and asks the doc to watch the kid for her, leaving him nervously eyeing the empty chair. He approaches the chair and starts talking to the boy… only to have Mom enter and address the far end of the room: “What are you doing to the poor doctor?”
Omg. Maybe you have to see this one to get the funny, but I’m crying here.
This one’s wordless, so pretty easy to get. The gist? Worst bathroom wait ever.
Also, an argument for why we should use bank lines for everything, like at the supermarket. The short is in the middling territory, but man if Kim Joo-hyuk doesn’t sell his role. He’s so into this gig, it’s great to watch.
Quiz show for married couples.
This skit starts out as a typical SNL sketch (funnymeter: meh), but gets progressively funnier. The first couple is a newlywed lawyer-prosecutor pair who get the category “fish,” and have to guess particular kinds of fish based on clues. These are given in lawyerspeak that devolves into a courtroom-style cross-examination.
The second couple is a gay fashion designer with his young hot model partner. The host: “Um, which is the husband?” Kim Joo-hyuk, wearing a ridiculously frumpy wig, falsettos, “Jagiiiiii!” Ha. Looks like he designs the pants, and boy toy wears them.
They describe insects in fashion terms. Example: a mantis is “chic, dandy, in a basic green color. With edgy, high-waisted lines!” This part is pun-happy, so the full effect may require understanding of Korean. For example: one quiz is looking for the word dragonfly (jamjari, which also means sleeping place). The clue they give each other: “We haven’t done this in five days!” Another clue is fly, and since the Korean word is pari, they guess by invoking Paris. For one last clue, Kim Joo-hyuk just lets out a girlish scream: “Aieeeeeeeeee!” Model hubby immediately guesses, “What is it, a cockroach?” Ding-ding-ding!
The third couple is an elderly pair of congressmen who get the category “birds.” The word is parrot, and the wife gives the clue: “This is easy! The ruling party is the blank of the government and the Blue House!” Omo, did they actually say that?
Gay designer-model couple is declared the winner, but the lawyer couple objects because gay marriage isn’t legal. (Ooh, a mention. Interesting.) Model husband argues that the lawyers have just gotten back from their honeymoon and haven’t filed their registration yet, so technically they’re not legal yet, either.
The fight gets Kim Joo-hyuk spitting mad, so with a roar he ditches his fey designer persona, throws off his wig, and starts to pick a fight. Pretty Model boy literally pats his boobs to calm him down. HA!
And since I know you’re all dying to know: The pretty boy is Go Kyung-pyo, a 21-year-old actor from Jungle Fish 2 and the weekend family drama Believe in Love. Of all the new faces in the cast, he probably had the most memorable opening episode.
SNL Korea writers’ room, again.
This time the problem is production budget. As in, they need some. Head Writer says usually they can rely on the host’s CF for some sponsorship and asks what Kim Joo-hyuk has in his arsenal. Answer? “But he doesn’t have any.”
What about product placement? Excessive use of this’ll get them in trouble, but one writer promises that he’s an expert at stealth ad copy — people won’t even notice!
This leads us into a war sketch…
Things look bleak and one soldier worries for his family back home, and asks his superior, “What about your family? Who will pay your private loan debt?!” Kim Joo-hyuk takes offense and says it’s not a private loan (lent by sharks at outrageous interest rates), then rattles off all the reasons why it’s a perfectly legal, desirable, and affordable loan option. HA! That’s pretty funny.
They decide to surrender, but have no white cloth. Commander orders his men to drop trou so they can use their underwear, but all they’ve got is dull gray drawers. He rebukes, “That’s why I told you to only launder your clothes with detergent with the new everwhitening technique!” HEE.
A shell hits and one man goes down. His dying words? Tell…Mom…about that great new way she can finance his funeral. Lol.
The younger soldier (hot model guy) is wounded too, and pulls out a picture of his girlfriend — isn’t she pretty? The commander looks at it and agrees, mesmerized: “How….can… a photograph be so vivid?” Camera plug!
His men dead, the commander cries until he spots a mirror on the ground — and then marvels at the wonders of his waterproof mascara.
Okay, that was a pretty solid sketch. (It was also noted by the press for being a criticism of the ever-increasing product placement in dramas.)
Kim Joo-hyuk literally crosses the soundstage after his army sketch and is greeted at the other end by Lee Han-wi, who acts the part of talk-show host. It’s an interesting meta moment, since the host persona is a fabrication, but it’s set up as a real interview: He asks Kim how he’s finding the chaos of his hosting gig. Kim Joo-hyuk gasps, “It’s insanely hard.” He talks about wanting to have fun and soften his stiff actor’s image. I think he’s done that in one fell swoop, actually.
Kim says the producers were able to collect previously unseen snippets from his various audition screen tests, dating back to his earlier career. Some are projects he’s disappointed to have lost out on, and others he thinks worked out for the best.
Oh, HAHA, so this is the joke. Kim Joo-hyuk takes famous moments from famous movies and pretends he’s auditioning. There’s one for Welcome to Dongmakgol (written by director Jang Jin) where he holds up a toy snake as a stand-in before realizing, “Wait, this… is the girl’s part?”
Then there’s The Host, whose Korean title means Monster. “I’m acting opposite Song Kang-ho? And Bae Doo-na? And this is my dialogue? [pause] Eeek-kak-kek-soooooooo!” (He was the monster.)
For Bungee Jumping of Their Own, he jumps off a stool. That should not be so funny, but it is.
For Haeundae, he’s a dead body floating in a pool. For Titanic, he’s a dead body floating in a pool in the opposite direction. (Interviewer: “Did you audition for Haeundae and Titanic in the same place?”)
For the Olympic handball movie Forever the Moment, he does tennis court eyes — an extended slo-mo movement looking from left to right. (So. Funny.) For Olympic ski jumping movie Take Off, he does the same thing, but from top to bottom. HAHA. This is actually really hilarious, if you know what the movies are about.
For Ajusshi, Kim calls a halt to the reading: “Wait. I cut my own hair? I have never once cut my hair short in my acting career, and I will not in the future. Ajusshi — what’s up with that? You should give this to — what’s his name — W… Won? Won Bin? Yeah, him.”
And then, back in the present, he bursts into tears. Interviewer asks why, and he says that of all the movies, the one he really wanted, the one he really, really thought he would get… was Avatar. Pfffffffffft.
Eeee! Weekend Update is always my favorite segment, and this will be interesting. For this, director Jang Jin takes the anchor’s seat himself.
Ooh, so you’re just diving right in with a jab at President Lee Myung-bak, eh? Bring it on, I say. Jang Jin reports on President Lee recently sending texts to several thousand postal workers, thanking them all for their quiet and steadfast service throughout these difficult conditions: “And who was it that made those difficult conditions, hmm?” The audience hoots in appreciation.
Then there’s the report of the office employee questioned by police for sending them obscene texts. He said he just wanted attention: “Ah… so was that other guy also looking for attention, then?”
Then there was a director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who responded to the heated opposition from citizens. He said that if it would relieve the people’s anger and end the criticism, “I would let you trample over me.” Jang Jin: “I’m sure you’ll all want to know the exact time and date…” Big laughs from the audience.
There’s a teenage smoking line that falls flat, and then mention of Lee Shi-young’s gaffe at last week’s Blue Dragon Film Awards. She’d mispronounced the movie title as Gojajeon (eunuch story) rather than Gojijeon (The Front Line). “I don’t know that it was such a big deal to be written about in articles. But in any case… it was a much sadder title.” Hee, I’ll say.
Kim Joo-hyuk shows up as an IT expert in a segment that goes on a bit too long, as these Weekend Update spots usually do, but which allows him to do another impressively committed character. It’s a reference to Steve Jobs, and the story’s about the future of the IT market in his absence.
Kim’s character has adopted the Steve Jobs look, and I guess the joke is in how you think it’s going to be an impression or something, and then it turns out he’s actually a small-time cell phone salesman who tries to upsell Jang Jin on a new smartphone during the segment. Haha. Jang Jin tries to get rid of this weirdo who refuses to leave and who seems a little bit crazy. (Seriously, Kim Joo-hyuk is so good.)
Then it’s time for the weather forecast, which is kind of a throwaway segment but ends up being kind of funny because she’s a die-hard Busan girl and her southern bias takes over the forecast. When she begins, Korea’s map flips upside-down and places Busan at the top (so Seoul is off near the bottom, hee), and she enthusiastically gives the weather forecast there, and for the next city, and the next, and the next. She stops at Daejeon, and doesn’t even bother to provide numbers for anything in the northern half of the country. Take that, Seoulcentrics!
With that, we get the second musical performance by Dynamic Duo, singing another track off their latest album.
Dynamic Duo – “해 뜰 때까지만” (Until the Sun Rises) [ Download ]
And the show closes, with Shim Eun-kyung joining them on the stage for the customary sign-off.
(Aw, no Jung Woong-in? Bummer. Guess I’ll have to tune in again for him. Note that SNL Korea recaps aren’t on the agenda, because of that whole time commitment thing. But I did want to weigh in and let you know what I thought, in case you’re thinking of picking this one up. Some parts are probably dependent on knowledge of Korean language, and perhaps some culture/current events, but there are definitely parts that are funny out of the box. Like the bathroom short and invisikid.)