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Comedians find a new voice: Through stand-up, local comics can tell jokes they could never share on TV

Nov 02,2019
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In her recent stand-up comedy special “Glamour Warning,” comedian Park Na-rae touches upon sexual topics that have long been considered taboo for female celebrities to openly talk about. [NETFLIX ]
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From left: Yoo Byung-jae, Jung Jae-hyung
Talking openly about sex has long been considered a taboo for female celebrities in Korea, but comedian Park Na-rae challenges that long-held belief in her stand-up comedy special “Park Na-rae: Glamour Warning” that premiered on Netflix last month.

The 34-year-old comedian opens the show with some provocative lines like “My nickname in show business is Chingiz Khan because I have conquered all the men [I wanted to have.]”

The special is targeting audiences who are over 19, but Park jokingly said she would also make the show appropriate for those older than 190 years old.

“Glamour Warning” was originally designed by Netflix as a 100-minute-long live show staged in Seoul in May. Later it was edited into an hourlong show for the streaming service.

When tickets for the show were put on sale, all 2,500 seats sold out five minutes after they became available online.

Deemed a sexual comedy, Park makes the audience burst out in laughter with lines that would never make it to air on traditional broadcast television.

After the show became available on Netflix on Oct. 16, Park appeared at a press conference a week later to promote the show. “I was very concerned about how far I could go [in terms of sexual topics]. I was also afraid that I wouldn’t make the audience laugh. I think I’m so fortunate that I can keep doing this without retiring.”

Park is undeniably the most prominent figure in the country’s entertainment industry these days. It is no exaggeration to say that people are bound to see her whenever they turn on the TV. But having her own stand-up comedy special was not an easy decision for Park.

Park admitted that she was under a lot of pressure. “I feel naked because I had to make the audience laugh without any props, makeup or anyone else on stage.”

Park was reluctant at first but eventually accepted the offer from Netflix to launch her own stand-up comedy special because she has a dream of having her own show sometime in the future.

“I liked the fact that I could talk about sex, something that I can talk about freely,” said Park.

As she embarked on the project, the comedian began to seek out other stand-up comedy specials. Park said she was inspired by comedians like Ali Wong, who fearlessly talks about intimate moments with her husband, pregnancy and motherhood.

In Korea, there were some stand-up comedy events held back in the 1980s, but the genre has been dormant since then. However, it seems to be having a resurgence in recent years.

Netflix launched a couple of stand-up comedy specials last year, such as “Yoo Byung Jae: Discomfort Zone” and “Yoo Byung Jae: Black Comedy,” all featuring comedian and writer Yoo Byung-jae.

For some comedians, stand-up comedy is a breakthrough because there is simply nowhere for them to go after many of the country’s main broadcasters cut their own comedy shows.

Relatively obscure comedians Jung Jae-hyung and Lee Yong-ju created a team called Comedy Alive and began holding stand-up comedy events regularly at bars located around Gangnam District, southern Seoul, and near Hongik University in western Seoul.

“With the advent [of stand-up comedy] shows featuring big-name comedians like Yoo and Park, people are eager to learn more about stand-up comedy these days,” said Jung.

Comedian Kim Young-hee has been away from the small screen after she became embroiled in a debt scandal, but she has kept herself busy by doing stand-up comedy shows with fellow comedians.

“There are no boundaries and no censorship at stand-up comedy shows. It means that anything can be subject matter for the show,” said Jung from Comedy Alive. “The comedian can express himself [during the show] and make the audience relate to him, instead of a character he is playing. I think this is a charm of the genre.”

JDB Square, a theater run by JDB Entertainment, is one of the few places in Seoul where people can watch live stand-up comedy. The theater is located in Seogyo-dong in Mapo District, western Seoul.

Danny Cho, Korean-American comedian, is part of the stand-up comedy team at JDB Entertainment. He also helped to translate “Yoo Byung Jae: Black Comedy” for Netflix.

“We came up with some stand-up comedy shows in the hopes of presenting diverse styles to the audience,” said an official at JDB Entertainment.

Keeping pace with the trend, KBS will launch a pilot of a new comedy show “Stand-Up” sometime this month.

Park, who will host, said, “I can’t tell you dirty jokes [on the show], but I can talk about anything in life from plastic surgeries to problems that only short people can understand.”

“Glamour Warning” producer Kim Ju-hyeong said, “You need to have your own philosophies. Otherwise, you can’t really do stand-up comedy. The show makes you laugh, but it also make you think about life. This makes the show appealing to a lot of people,” he added.

The resurgence of stand-up comedy adds some variety to the stagnant local comedy scene. Some industry experts add that stand-up has the ability to take comedians to the next level.

Culture critic Kim Seon-young said, “Park has been building up her identity as a confident woman through many TV shows. Based on that, she was able to go further through “Glamour Warning.”

“If comedians build up their characters based on their philosophies [through stand-up comedy] and use those characters in their storytelling, they will no longer be consumed as marginal characters on TV,” she added.

BY MIN KYUNG-WON [estyle@joongang.co.kr]



농염’ 박나래…날갯짓 하는 스탠드업 코미디

지난 16일 넷플릭스에서 ‘박나래의 농염주의보’가 공개되자 뜨거운 반응이 쏟아졌다. 개그우먼 박나래(34)가 ‘19금(禁)’도 아닌 ‘190금(禁)’을 표방한 스탠드업 코미디쇼를 선보이면서 본격적으로 섹스 터치 코미디를 선보였다. 여성 연예인이 공개석상에서 성에 관한 이야기를 하는 것이 금기시돼온 한국 사회에서 새로운 장을 연 셈이다. 이는 지난 5월 서울에서 열린 100분짜리 공연을 62분으로 압축한 영상으로 시종일관 ‘비방용’ 발언이 이어진다.

23일 기자간담회에서 만난 박나래는 “수위도 수위지만 재미가 없다는 얘기를 들을까 봐 두려웠다”며 “은퇴하지 않고 계속 방송할 수 있게 돼서 너무 다행”이라고 말했다. 현재 고정 출연 중인 방송만 4~5개에 달하는 ‘대세 예능인’이지만 새로운 도전이 절대 쉽지만은 않았다는 얘기다. tvN ‘코미디빅리그’ 등 콩트를 주로 해왔기에 “분장이나 소품, 파트너도 없이 입담 하나로 웃겨야 하니 정말 발가벗겨진 기분”이었다고 했다.

그런데도 그가 선뜻 넷플릭스의 제안을 받아들인 것은 성이라는 “가장 편하고 재미있게 이야기할 수 있는 소재”가 있었기 때문이다. “막연히 3년 뒤쯤이면 이름을 건 쇼를 꼭 한번 해보고 싶었다”는 그는 준비 과정에서 국내외 쇼를 찾아보면서 “많이 반성했다”고 했다. 부부간 성생활은 물론 임신·출산까지 자유롭게 이야기하는 아시아계 미국인 앨리 웡(37) 등을 보며 새로운 자극을 받았다는 것. 그는 “나중에 결혼하면 꼭 ‘농염주의보’ 2탄을 만들어보고 싶다”고 밝혔다.

지난해 넷플릭스에서 유병재(31)의 ‘블랙코미디’ ‘B의 농담’ 등을 선보이면서 국내 스탠드업 코미디 움직임도 활발해지고 있다. 자니 윤·김형곤 이후 명맥이 끊긴 스탠드업 코미디를 다시 살려보고 싶다는 그의 바람이 통했는지 선후배들이 속속 뛰어들고 있다.

각각 KBS와 SBS 공채 개그맨 출신인 정재형(31)과 이용주(33)는 동료 개그맨들과 함께 판을 꾸렸다. ‘웃찾사’ 등 코미디 프로그램이 줄줄이 폐지되면서 새로운 길을 모색한 것. 지난해 ‘코미디얼라이브’를 설립한 이들은 스탠드업 공연의 특색을 살려 강남·홍대 호프집에서 매주 정기 공연을 시작했다. 대표를 맡고 있는 정재형은 “유병재·박나래 같은 유명 개그맨의 콘텐트가 잇따라 공개되면서 관심이 더 높아지고 있다”고 말했다.

후배들과 ‘코미디헤이븐쇼’ 무대에 오르던 김영희(36)는 개인 쇼 ‘한(恨)’ ‘비호(飛虎)’ 등을 선보였다. 지난해 부모 채무 논란에 휘말리면서 방송 활동은 뜸했지만 공연을 통해 비호감 캐릭터에서 벗어나 날개 단 호랑이가 되어 보겠다는 포부다. 정재형은 “스탠드업 코미디는 성역도, 검열도 없기 때문에 어떤 것도 소재가 될 수 있다”며 “캐릭터가 아닌 자신을 표현하면서 공감을 끌어내는 매력이 있다”고 말했다.

JDB엔터테인먼트가 지난해 서교동에 오픈한 JDB 스퀘어도 ‘스탠드업 홍대’ 등을 꾸준히 올리고 있다. 미국 LA에서 18년간 스탠드업 코미디를 해온 대니 초(38)를 중심으로 활력을 불어넣고 있다. 그는 유병재의 ‘블랙 코미디’ 영문 자막을 감수하며 국내 코미디업계와 연을 맺었다. JDB 관계자는 “다양한 종류의 코미디를 선보이고 싶은 마음에 기획했다”며 “지난해 옴니버스 쇼를 진행한 김대희·박영진 등이 후속 작품을 준비 중”이라고 말했다.

이러한 분위기에 발맞춰 KBS는 다음 달 파일럿 ‘스탠드업’을 선보인다. 진행을 맡은 박나래는 “성적 농담은 못 하겠지만 성형이나 단신 등 다른 인생사는 얼마든지 풀 수 있을 것”이라고 말했다. 넷플릭스 예능 ‘범인은 바로 너’에 이어 ‘농염주의보’ 연출을 맡은 김주형 PD는 “스탠드업은 나만의 철학이 있어야 가능한 포맷이다. 단순히 웃음을 주는 데 그치지 않고 그 속에 담긴 교훈도 있어 많은 분이 공감하는 것 같다”고 말했다.

플랫폼 간 경계를 허무는 동시에 예능인의 위상을 높여줄 것이라는 분석도 나온다. 김선영 대중문화평론가는 “MBC ‘라디오스타’의 안영미가 선을 넘으려고 하면 주위에서 말리는 것이 유머 코드라면, ‘농염주의보’는 박나래가 그동안 TV 예능을 통해 쌓아온 당당한 캐릭터를 제대로 펼쳐 보이면서 한 걸음 나아갔다”고 풀이했다. 이어 “철학과 세계관이 녹아 있는 캐릭터를 형성하고 이를 활용한 스토리텔링이 계속된다면 예능의 감초 역할에 머물렀던 코미디언의 위상도 한층 올라갈 것”이라고 내다봤다.

민경원 기자