Blackface in Korean Comedy

Gag Concert with comedian Sam.

Just as the Asian-Americans on my social media feeds were grumbling about “yellowface” on Saturday Night Live, South Korean actors wore blackface on popular comedy sketch show, ‘Gag Concert’.

To which I say “really, Korea? Chinjja?

I’ve been an obsessive Gag Concert fan ever since I first watched it on a long bus ride from Seoul to Busan. Korean comedy has a different feel to Western comedy. Gag Concert has the production values of a high school play and favours surreal, overly exaggerated slapstick humour. I like it because it parodies aspects of Korean life – from the oppressive workplace and nauseatingly cutesy dating culture, to ridiculous Korean dramas and diva-esque K-pop stars. It’s very silly but, at times, creative.

I was disappointed to hear that blackface was a punchline in one of my favourite skits, The Three Friends. It’s about a guy who’s a bit of a loser dating a super cute girl, but his three handsome, charming and rich friends always crash their dates. The humour comes from the characters’ over-the-top ways they try to impress the girl, as well as parodying Korean dating culture. The skit’s been going for some time now and has always made me laugh.

How blackface got through the writers and producers is beyond me. You’d think they’d know better.

Gag Concert actually had an African guy who starred in a skit called “Delicious Korean”, which was about teaching useful Korean words to foreigners. Sam from Africa and Saldore from France would start off the skit introducing themselves in Korean.

“Hi, I’m Saldore. I just flew in from London.”

“Hi, I’m Sam. I caught the shuttle bus here from Uijeongbu.”

I liked this because the humour came from Sam not acting like a conventional “foreigner”. Sam later went on to star in a reality show called Island Village Teacher, along with other famous Korean “foreigners” from Paraguay, America and Australia.

Korean is not an ethnically diverse country like Australia, but there are plenty of people from overseas who come to Korea to teach English, work in the military and conduct business – not to mention a booming tourist trade. There aren’t many black people in Korea, but they exist.

I do not understand why they needed to bring in an outdated and offensive style of humour to this otherwise funny and clever show. This has managed to offend people around the world and makes Koreans look embarrassingly backward. While Asians are fighting to stop Western television from making offensive stereotypes about them – this just simply shouldn’t be happening any more.

What are your thoughts on using blackface/yellowface in comedy?

Ellie Freeman (@irrellievant) is a 25-year-old radio producer and sound engineer currently living in Brisbane. She’s into cycling, live music and scoring sweet deals at local markets. Ellie is a Korean Aussie adoptee and recently reunited with her birth family in Korea. Now she’s into Korean hip hop and insane Korean sketch comedy TV shows.

Learn more about blackface in Korea from expat bloggers living in Korea:
Gusts of Popular Feeling

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3 thoughts on “Blackface in Korean Comedy”

  1. For the most part, they don’t know any better. I like your article and your appreciation for what I agree is an interesting and unique but usually shallow sense of humor. But the idea of racial sensitivity is soooo far off their radar that you can understandably be disappointed but I wouldn’t have expected much to begin with.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Alex, have you see a ‘smart’ humour when it comes to the topic of race?

      how about sharing us with some great (and awful) examples.

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