Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On laughing, Mapbagi and Adult Swim

This morning in the shower I got to thinking on a somewhat strange question: Why don't I find Korean sketch comedy particularly funny? I often find myself choking with laughter while watching Korean movies (usually with the rest of the audience) and TV shows (usually at an unintentionally hilarious point in the show), but Korean sketch comedy not only leaves me cold; it angries up my blood something fierce to think about how bad it is.
Here's a case in point, the deliciously unfunny mapbagi (마빡이 - the transliteration is mine and mine alone, but the actual pronunciation is pretty close to "mop-boggy"). I recommend you watch just the first ten or fifteen seconds and then skip through the rest, because it really is like watching someone pull teeth:

Also I don't know why the guy doing mapbagi sounds like he's doing a Mexican accent. Korean doesn't sound like that usually. Mapbagi sort of means "forehead slapper", and the joke in the above clip is that the character is supposed to freak out the audience with his ugly creepiness. "Are you scared? No? You were supposed to be scared. Well I'll tell you something really scary: there's a bunch of other's just like me backstage waiting to some out." he says. As the sketch continues the first guy starts getting really tired and complains to the second guy, who says "You wrote this sketch." Big laugh. The other two guys come out, everyone's complaining about how hard it is to keep it up. Finally the last guy comes out and, repeatedly slapping himself in the front and back of the head, delivers the punch line of the sketch. "Is this all there is to this sketch?" The sketch reminds me of nothing more than the Kids in the Hall sketch about the comedy writer who forgot to write the end of the sketch he's in. That's the one where the boss realizes he's trapped in the sketch and he'll never see his wife again, so he decides to write her a letter and asks the writer what her name is, and it turns out it's Iris Picklefeather. But it's not nearly as funny.
Disturbingly the sketch got incredibly popular among people aged 4-35, but they dropped the meta aspect of the sketch and just focused on the repetitive head-slapping. Everyone imitated it for weeks. It's started to peter out, finally, leaving a bewildered nation wondering what they ever found funny about it.
Just like Adult Swim!

The major difference between the shows on Adult Swim and Korea's awful sketch shows is that the people who watch Adult Swim in order to develop an artificial non-mainstream sense of humor, while Korean sketch shows reinforce cultural unity. It's like gangs that force members to commit crime in order to join so they'll all be united by a shared shame: These shows force their audiences to pretend they find something funny in order to build a sense of unity. For any member of each group to admit that they don't think the jokes are actually funny would be like standing in a room full of naked emperors and saying "I have no clothes on."

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