South Korean Comedy's Misogyny Machine

South Korean Comedy's Misogyny Machine

Haeryun Kang
Haeryun Kang

“Ugly and fat” is one of her most marketable characteristics. She talks openly about her weight and invites guffaws for saying that even her tongue is fat. She makes passes at sexy male celebrities, which people think is funny, because — duh — it’s a fat and ugly woman flirting with handsome men.

Lee Guk-joo is one of the most popular comedians in South Korea. She makes a lucrative living by selling her appearance. Unlike many other female stars, who vie for the seat of Aphrodite by enhancing their looks through plastic surgery, Lee fights her battles at the opposite end of the beauty spectrum.

She’s the opposite of South Korea’s conventional ideals about femininity: Loud, big and roughhousing. She eats a lot, and talks a lot about eating.

Lee is the highlight of a segment on the stand-up show, “Comedy Big League.” She is the fat girlfriend that the male protagonist — who is cheating on her with a prettier, skinnier woman — wants to shake off, but can’t. The core of the humor is in the man’s revulsion, and Lee’s obliviousness. “Hey, you’re gonna burst soon,” the man says in one episode, criticizing her body. (Source: YouTube) 

Lee now finds herself at the heart of a raging debate about “sexual harassment by female celebrities.” She’s one of a group of female stars — predominantly comedians — who have landed in hot water, for flirting with handsome male celebrities beyond what many see as the bounds of social acceptability. Lee Se-young, for example, had to drop out of SNL Korea last year for touching the members of a K-pop male group close to their… members.

It’s pretty obvious who Lee Se-young is in this video. (Source: YouTube)

So what injustice has Lee done? The comic recently instagrammed a screenshot of comments from trolls defaming her appearance. The trollers were responding to Lee’s affectionate gestures exchanged with a male star on the reality show We Got Married. “I’ll never do it with a pig like that,” one commenter wrote. “Kissing a pig’s head~” another said mockingly.

Lee’s post has now been deleted. (Source: Screen-capture of Instagram)

Lee retaliated with the hashtags, “You guys must be super hot.” “I’ll never do it with you even if you give me 10 billion won.” “I’m screen-capturing everything.” Her retaliatory tags prompted On Si-u, an unknown male actor, to post a comment that has now gone viral: “Are you upset that commenters are mocking you? What about those male celebrities you sexually harassed in public? That could’ve landed you with at least ten lawsuits. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

This comment has also been deleted. (Source: Screen-capture of Facebook)

His comments are valid, in that there are clear double standards about sexual harassment for men and women. Many things that Lee — and other female comedians — have done on air would’ve incited outrage if the genders had been reversed.

Lee’s critics say there’s a double standard about sexual harassment for male and female celebrities. (Source: tvN)

But On’s criticism misses the larger machinery of misogyny at work: Lee Guk-joo is part of the comedic machine that makes jokes (and money) at the expense of her own “ugly” looks. She must talk about her fat. She must highlight her love of eating.

The alleged sexual harassment is part of this oft-scripted machine, and almost exclusively reserved for the less beautiful female comedians. They must flirt with the men and incite disgusted responses from them. This disgust is supposed to be funny because, again, these women are fat, ugly, or both — so who would want them? What are they thinking, going after guys like that?

Cover Image: (Source: MBC)

Haeryun Kang wrote this radar report. 

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