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Los Angeles Comic Aims To Make It On The Korean Comedy Circuit


We want to take you right now to a comedy club in South Korea.


DANNY CHO: And I was like, you sure?


CHO: (Speaking Korean).

GREENE: That's the voice of comedian Danny Cho, switching between English and Korean. He was born and raised in the United States after his parents immigrated to Los Angeles from Korea. Danny's parents encouraged him to get a stable job. After college, he became a high-earning financial consultant here in California. But he gave all of that up to try and make a name for himself on the Korean comedy circuit. Our co-host Rachel Martin had a chance to talk to Danny about his first impressions of the comedy scene there.

CHO: The Western world, like, stand-up's has been around, you know, for almost 100 years. Here, these guys just started. So think of a bunch of people that are trying stand-up for the first time. The audience, they don't know what the heck is going on. So it was just bad. The concept of punchlines and setups and all that other technique was just not fully translated.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: So how do you walk into that scene? You want to be respectful of the people who are already there trying to make the best of it that they can. But also, you're like, dude, that is not funny, and I'm going to show you what is.

CHO: So, you know, I - after the show, I kind of introduced myself. And I was like, hey, guys, I've been doing stand-up for about 17 years now. And...

MARTIN: You're like, I'm pretty funny (laughter).

CHO: Yeah. Well, you know, it was kind of - you know, it was kind of arrogant, if I'm - from their point of view, I guess. I was trying to explain to them, like, your setup was way too long, and your punchline didn't even hit. So it's a four-minute bit with no laughter. That's - you know, what is this, a podcast? That's what I told them, you know.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CHO: I saw it as - you know what? Can I try to do stand-up? Give me a 15-minute set next week.

MARTIN: So here's Danny in this Beatles-themed bar in Seoul, a far cry from his college days at UCLA, where he'd do stand-up in between his classes in international economics.


CHO: Koreans got the biggest heads on Earth, you know what I'm saying? Huge heads.


MARTIN: Danny graduated. He got a job in finance. He was earning six figures. But there was just something missing in his life. So he quit and became a full-time comic, something his parents didn't initially approve of. He made just $60 in his first month. Five years passed. He always had this feeling that he was on the verge of a big break, but it never quite came. So eventually, Danny packed his bags and moved to Seoul. In an interview with the LA Times, he said he had to figure things all out again - a new culture he was tied to through his parents and almost entirely new material. But he made it work.


CHO: (Speaking Korean).


CHO: The difficult part for me is that everything I think about, it starts off in English in my head, right? And so then I go, wait - so will this work for a Western audience or a Korean audience? That's always going to be the fight, right? And so to be honest, I never know if it's going to work or not.

MARTIN: Do your parents think you're funny? Have they seen your stuff in Korean?

CHO: My parents, I don't think they ever found me funny.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CHO: I think they find that it's ironic that a guy who they don't think is funny is making a living doing this in a country that they left, you know.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.

CHO: They're like, why are you going back? They don't fully understand the move. I mean, I'm personally like - all I want to do is make sure that they don't worry. You know, every athlete when they get their first big contract, what they do - they buy their mom a house, right? So that's kind of, like, what I want to do, right? So that's the move.

MARTIN: I'm sure she's listening. She's like, where's that new house?

CHO: I'm glad this is all in English because she don't speak English so...


MARTIN: Danny Cho, American stand-up doing comedy in South Korea. Thanks so much, Danny. We appreciate it.

CHO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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