Korean Man: Oh where you from?
Disappointed Korean Man: Oh? Not America?
Me: No Ireland, in Europe?
Disappointed Korean Man: Oh ok. Bye. Your friend? American?
I guess the first thing I noticed about being an Irish man in Seoul is that we are not the novelty to the natives that we have found ourselves to be in most of the rest of the world. To be honest, I like it. While most strangers here have such good intentions and just want to hear you try stumble through a few words in their native tongue. I love, however, having many American friends and co workers. When I drop the heart breaking “I’m Irish” to a Korean in order to brush off the awkward hug or stroke of the arm or face by an older gentleman on to the American and still be thankful I am indeed an Irish man in South Korea.
This is also an indication of just how friendly and safe Seoul can be, as well as a wonderful source of entertainment for me. Like most of the westerners out here I am indeed an English teacher and have enjoyed a wonderful professional and social experience here in Seoul thus far. Apart from Hongdae Park , Itaewon,the wonderful film festivals, the museums, temples, parks, sports stadiums , Korean Islands and a trip to an abandoned Insane Asylum that I have been lucky enough to experience in my first seven months, I am elated to share the other passion in my life that I have continued to pursue in Seoul city while working as an English Teacher.
The passion is Stand Up Comedy and yes, there is a great number of comedy nights for English speaking audiences all over the city. I’ll give you some names and locations as you read on.
How or why did I find this scene you might ask? Well back in 2009 in a little University Town called Maynooth, I lost a bet that would bring me to instances in my life that I would have never believed possible, now I can certainly add being on stage in Seoul as one of those instances. The bet was lost and I was committed to an open mic spot at the Ha Penny Comedy club in Dublin. The word spread among my friends that after jumping out of a plane that day( a skydive for charity which brought me to a child centered community project in Lima, Peru), Whitney would be doing a 7 minute debut comedy set in the city. Whether he was funny or not, his possible humiliation would be hilarity enough for it to be worth the five Euro cover charge. The nerves over powered the excitement as it was almost time to get up on stage as a comedian for the first time. The room full of strangers would have induced quite enough panic, but the kicker was that people I would have to see on a regular or even daily basis were enough to make me sick to the point that I could not speak. “Ladies and Gentleman please welcome on to the stage…. Enda Whitney.”
This was the flashback I had as my name was uttered over the microphone at Stand Up Seoul at the Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon. It didn’t matter that over the four years between the two that I had toured every inch of Ireland, played the Kilkenny Cat’s Laughs, Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and even managed to keep the bread buttered from paid performances and opening my own comedy club, I was getting up in front of people I worked with again, people who I would see on a daily basis and I had told stories of my comedy road trips to. “All the way from Ireland, just to tell you a few jokes, Enda Whitney!!!”
“With David O ‘ Doherty and my good friend Chris White at The Edinburgh Fringe.”
As the mic was thrust into my trembling hand on that first night , what I soon noticed as I began to talk while feel out the room and hearing that first induced unanimous laughter, the adrenaline and passion washes away the nerves on stage. The satisfaction of making a room fill with laughter with your simple take on life is a passion that will never die, no matter where I am in the world.
I simply suggest that if you enjoy to laugh or think you would like to get up there and make people laugh that Seoul has a wonderfully diverse set of comedians from all over the English speaking world but from what I see not enough Irish, in fact I think I’m currently the only one.
Not all the open mic clubs are strictly for comedy. For example there is also Bar Carmen in Noksapyeong where anyone is invited to display their talent, whether it be playing the accordion, spoken word or burping the Korean alphabet. If you’re not sure that you want to perform , why not go check out these nights? See what a relaxed and friendly, enjoyable atmosphere there is to enjoy. You will meet great people from all walks of life and see some wonderful venues. The audiences are kind, almost too kind but perfect for people new to the stage. It really is a magnificent platform to try out whatever it is you want to try out.
For me personally, it has brought me to another level of comedy and confidence for myself and has laid an even stronger foundation for me to go and strive to hit the stages with nothing but the love for what it is, maybe even surpass what I have achieved in the past. I have traveled from Edgeworthstown in the County Longford, which had a population of 2000 people give or take on the day I was born to playing clubs that have the diversity of 22 million people.This means I’m reaching audiences that I would have never thought possible beyond the stages of Edinburgh.
So if you’re happy in your nappy(dyper) living in Seoul and want to shout about it or just want to vent about the little things about Korea that grind your gears, maybe you just need free therapy because a cocktail of pills that would take down an Elephant doesn’t solve everything, then get up and let her rip in one of the many inviting venues and at worst you will meet some really great people. Here is the list of when and where you can find the laughter. Best way to get involved is just to show up at any of the given nights and talk to the M.C or any of the performers. They’ll all point you in the right direction.
Tony’s Aussie Bar and Grill is on every Wednesday in Itaewon from 9 to 11pm.
Bull and Barrel is on every Thursday in Itaewon from 9 to 11pm
Stand Up Seoul is on the first Thursday of every month in The Rocky Mountain Tavern in
Itaewon from 9 to 11.30pm.
Barrel of Laughs Comedy Club in the Bull and Barrel in Itaewon on the last Saturday of every month from 10 to 11.30.
COMB: 210 pub near Seohyun Station.
Bar Carmen is on the last Sunday of every month in Noksapyeong.