Please introduce yourself and what you do
My name is Seung Hwan Lim, that’s my real name. I go by Kevin on stage and in life in general because it just makes life easier. I came to Australia when I was four with my whole family.
What is your background?
My background is South Korean. I shouldn’t have to mention South but it seems to help.
Well otherwise it can be divisive, some people might wonder what side of the wall you’re from.
The thing is if I was North Korean I’m most likely going to be a refugee so… well I wouldn’t have gotten through Australia anyway. I grew up here. Nothing special, just a regular immigrant story really.
Fair enough. The reason why I wanted to have a chat with you, if you don’t mind me bringing up your material …
Go for it
… is that you mention on stage that the reason why you go by Kevin is because no white person can pronounce your name properly. How long have you been using Kevin and was there a particular reason that set off that change?
No, I’ve been using Kevin since I was young. It was my mum’s idea to use Kevin because she felt that since we were coming to Australia I should have an English name. I believe her thinking was that we were in a new country, let’s assimilate, and this helps that process. She thought it’d be easier for me to make friends if I said my name was Kevin instead of Seung Hwan, kids would get confused and questions would come up, maybe I’d get teased. I know a couple of kids who got teased because of their Asian name, especially the Chinese because it’s such a different dialect.
So it wasn’t your choice?
No it wasn’t my choice. Legally my name is Seung Hwan and my mum asked me if I wanted to change it to Kevin. That was a real dilemma for me because while I do identify myself as Kevin for me keeping the name Seung Hwan was a connection to my heritage, my birth country and my history. It’s where some of my cultural lessons have come from. I’ve got many culture lessons from Australia but I also have many lessons from Korea such as respecting my elders. In Korea you’re not allowed to be too much of an arrogant cunt. Korea is a part of me so I feel if I were to lose the name completely, I would feel.. well what’s your background Dan?
I’m Chilean, South American.
For me I think I’d feel… I’m dishonouring the family that was. My grandpa gave it to me.
So it’s a familial name?
Yeah. My brother is Seung Woo so in my generation of my dad’s family we both have the first part Seung. Whereas someone like my cousin is Sae Hwan. So it’s kind of like I’m being blessed by my grandpa.
I’ve got a similar thing with my own family, we have our own familial middle name.
I also know with South American’s you can have heaps of names at the end.
Well we can keep the mother’s maiden name. I don’t use it though because well… it just causes messy paperwork.
No there’s not enough boxes in the passport
And the maiden name surprises me because Chile is a very Catholic country yet it’s very acceptable to keep your mother’s maiden name.
I guess that’s the same thing in Korea during my grandparents era. It was very Buddhist, but the way they lived was Confucian. Confucian’s not so much a religion as a way of life. It’s the same now with Christianity such as the Uniting Church, Korean people still live a very Confucian way of life in respecting their elders and all that. I don’t know, Koreans love to say they’re the number one confucian country in the world but then I told to my Vietnamese friends and they’re like “you have no idea”
Well one of the things we talked about in The Two Chairs was the idea of coffee names where someone specifically has a name they choose. How do you feel about that compared to your own situation?
Well I feel like Kevin is kind of my middle name or my first name, it feels like its a part of me. I’m Kevin the Australian and Seung Hwan the Korean. I’m also Kevin Seung Hwan Lim. I’ve got an Indian mate called Pratik, whenever he orders coffee he uses Pratik and I don’t see it as a problem. If it starts to impinge on your identity then it can become a problem. If your name stopes you from making friends, if it starts to shut down your cultural side, hiding your family history and losing that uniqueness to yourself I think it’s more of a shame than anything. Australia needs culture since it has little to none otherwise.
I’d agree there’s definitely parts that need more. On that note you seem to have two very strong cultural identities. One thing we like to ask people is how Australian are you? Maybe as a percentage.
I’d say… It’s really hard because sometimes I feel myself thinking “Wow I’m really thinking like a Korean right now” then every other time I’m thinking like an Aussie. I bounce.
A range maybe?
More… Sometimes I’ll go full ocker to deal with the situation I’m in. I’d say I’m about 40% Australian and the rest Korean
And does that ratio switch?
Sometimes it’ll switch, like if I’m around neo-nazis I’m fully Australian, I don’t want to get stabbed.
Going down the comedy line as well, do you think race is a barrier or does it help in comedy?
I think it helps because I definitely have a unique experience of Australia compared to a normal white 24 year old hipster, it gives me an edge. In terms of work I can definitely get on if there’s some kind of culture night, there are not that many cultural comics so that’s definitely a plus. With television… Let’s be honest they only really let you do commercials and you have got to be a stereotype. A rice paddy, hat wearing person.
Really? Have you had an audition like that?
I haven’t had one like that but I’ve heard of it happening, plus I’ve seen it up in ads and billboards and stuff. They’d put me as a Korean in Chinese dress.
That’s a good point, I suppose they’d treat all Asians as the same.
All the same. I think a part of it is laziness. You know, he’s got slanty eyes, no one will tell the difference. To be honest most people probably won’t.
White people probably won’t. I was talking with someone on our twitter feed today and they mentioned how they were Korean but were greeted at university with “Ni hao” as her lecturer had just returned from Malaysia. I compared it to my experience as a South American where someone will say “Hola” to me, I wonder if people think ni hao is universal in that sense.
Well I get mistaken for Chinese all the time, even by Chinese visitors, and Koreans don’t recognise me as one of their own.
Do you have a mixed background?
No it’s generations and generations of Koreans. Maybe a little Mongolian since Genghis Khan messed shit up.
I read somewhere that a ridiculous percentage of humanity can trace their lineage back to Khan and his horde.
And all Asians have a big sense of national pride. They all think they’re number one. Korea shouldn’t be saying this, we’ve been dominated by every neighbour we have.
You’re the cockroaches of Asia?
We’re the Jews of Asia, that’s how I think of it. It could have been a lot of worse.
Are the any common misconceptions you’d like to break given that you have a bit of a platform as a comedian?
Common misconceptions? I deal with some right now where I’ll perform in a really bogan suburb and they’re all expecting really Asian jokes, that I’m going to sound like Ching Chong Chang. Then I’ll come on stage and shit on white people.
I do love your joke where you’re dealing with someone who keeps on telling you to do Asian stereotypes and you point out that that includes stabbing people. I like how you turn that stereotype on those people.
Well with Asians, they love complaining but I think they just need to stand up for themselves. Be a bit of a cunt and just do it. And laugh about it. Most of the time when people are asking where you’re from it comes from a place of curiosity. People have a knee jerk reaction where they say, how dare you, where do you think I come from, I was born here etc. I’m sorry mate but you do look different, it’s a fair question to ask. They’ll hear your surname and they want to learn about your heritage, this isn’t a bad thing. Spread the love, teach them about yourself and your culture
Spread the education and educate the stupid.
I used to be more up-tight about it, but nowadays I say that I am Korean, they want to talk about certain cultural things and I’m happy to do it. What else am I going to do? Just hate on them?
There’s too many of them.
Yeah there’s too many of them. The war is lost!
And what are you working on at the moment?
Well you can always follow me on Twitter. I’m kind of working on a book, not so much a racial book but more what I’m dealing with right now. As a comedian you’re always asking what your next step is and no one can tell you. You can ask an older comedian what you should do next and they have no idea, it’s just to keep going.
I’ve been meaning to ask how long have you been involved in comedy?
I’ve coming up to the end of my third year.
There’s also questions on if I include my first year cause I did two or three gigs. Another project I’m involved is I’m on TV on SBS two called standup at the Bella Union. I’ll be on that soon. They came out specifically to get ethnic comics so that’s good.
I like idea of a rainbow of comedians on a national program. Alright thanks Kevin for your time and have a great festival.