The Wild and Free: Comediennes Dominating the Screen
Updated: Mar 27, 2021
To be a k-comedienne means to live life as a multi-hyphenate: they act, dance, sing, host, entertain, write their own sketches, do improv—all while having complete willingness to use their own personal lives as material for their craft.
On top of this, they must have a handful of idiosyncratic hobbies, talents, and skills that they can show off in talk shows. They cut their teeth through rigorous live comedy shows like Comedy Big League or SNL Korea where they do some VERY physical comedy (those slaps are real!) until the network gods decide they are ready for more mainstream variety shows. And once they do, you realize why it takes the networks this long to unleash them: it’s simply because they’re so much better than their counterparts.
Armed with brazen wit, sharp-edged comedy, and subverted tropes, they're ready to take their places as the goddesses of k-variety.
Traditionally, female comedians tend to play a supporting role to the antics of the male comedian. Not so for Ahn Young-mi. The rising star of SNL Korea birthed some of the most memorable, cringey, awkward, saliva-and-snot-filled sketches—and usually with famous stars (see how she put a Shinee member’s mucus all over her face). Not afraid to use her body and physicality for a laugh, she is known for her “breast dance.” Her inability to be grossed out even got her to volunteer to be on toilet duty in Gamsung Camping. This same body of work earned her a seat behind the desk of Radio Star, and she became the host of the long-running talk show. Almost immediately, she turned the show around and added some much-needed freshness and vibrancy. She is also technically an idol—being a member of Celeb Five, an idol group composed of female comediennes.
Ahn Young-mi has been quite vocal about her love story with her long-distance husband, who was originally a caller on her radio show (successful fan alert!). She is not afraid to display some audio PDA, to the secondhand embarrassment of her co-stars. During an awards speech, she even announced that her husband has just arrived in the country and that they needed to make a baby quick (and started taking off her clothes as she walked off the stage).
In any art form, there always has to be someone who pushes the limits to see how far the art form can go. Ahn Young-mi pushes both breasts and boundaries of comedy.
WATCH HER ON: Radio Star, Gamsung Camping
No one works harder in k-variety than self-proclaimed beautiful comedienne Park Na-Rae. She hosts multiple shows in multiple networks—with concepts ranging from stand-up to comedy sketches to game shows to real estate shows to dating shows to cooking shows to showcasing her personal life. All these are on top of her very own Netflix special Park Na-rae: Glamour Warning, an R-rated raunchy hour that would put Western comics to shame. Her hard work and tenacity finally earned her a daesang (grand prize) in 2019, only the second female to win an entertainment daesang after Lee Young-ja’s win in 2018.
Full of charm and larger than life, Park Na-rae is the symbol of maximalism. Her infamous Narae Bar, a bar she has set up in her own home, is a frequent night spot for celebrities. Narae Bar is a culmination of her skills and talents: she has a penchant for interior design (watch her recreate Bali in her living room), she cooks extremely well (dishes best paired with alcohol, of course), she can line up shots like a pro, and she can dance the infamous Corgi Twerk. Moreover she is a professional DJ and has played in many music festivals.
She is also known to be quite flirtatious and openly pursues any man she fancies (look up her pursuit of Choong Jae in I Live Alone and of Yang Se-chan in real life). Her life is an open book—you can see glimpses of it in I Live Alone and uncensored stories (that probably can’t be released on Korean TV) in her Netflix special. Her experience in dating has led her to Park and Jang’s LOL, a dating agency concept show with her best friend Jang Do-yeon.
Within the last three years, no face has been more prominent on Korean television and more representative of the new generation of female comediennes than Park Na-rae.
WATCH HER ON: I Live Alone, Video Star, Amazing Saturday, The House Detox, Gamsung Camping and more
Considered to be the most beautiful gag-woman in South Korea, Jang Do-yeon proves that you can actually have it all. Despite being an introvert, her phone number is reportedly sought after by singers and actors. She was cast in two fake-couple shows: We Got Married and In-Laws In Practice which showed a very pure and shy side to her. And then, there's the side of her that does comedy.
Honing her skills in Comedy Big League, she was known for her signature pelvic slice. She is also known for walking down real red carpet and fashion show events to parody model poses (Gong Yoo is a fan of this bit). Paired with her best friend Park Na-rae, who debuted at the same time, she engaged in physical comedy routines that took advantage of their height difference (a staggering 25cm/9in.). Her partnership with Yang Se-chan at Comedy Big League, where they play a will-they-won’t-they couple (with LOTS of kissing scenes!), also draws in a lot of laughs.
Off-stage, Jang Do-yeon is extremely introverted and starts her day by reading a physical newspaper, writing in her diary, and taking care of her hedgehog Chu. The yin to Park Na-rae’s yang, Jang Do-yeon shows her quiet I’d-rather-do-nothing life on I Live Alone. Given her affable nature, she is becoming one of the most requested hosts (Lee Dong-wook personally requested her when he put up his own talk show). With quick wit and the natural instinct to ensure the comfort of her guests, she is sure to have a long and successful career in show business.
WATCH HER ON: I Live Alone, Telegna, Girls High School Mystery Class, Dogs Are Incredible, Don’t Be The First One and more
If asked what two words would best describe Kim Sook, it would definitely have to be diligent and versatile. In fact, because of her diligence and versatility, she has amassed a plethora of skills outside of comedy. Known as "Crush Sook" and "God Sook" because of her skills, Kim Sook can definitely boast that she is an expert woodworker (enough to build a house!), licensed bus/truck driver, real estate expert, and a qualified social worker. Truly, this lady has the skills to pay the bills (incidentally, another nickname of hers is "Breadwinner Sook").
There is no doubt that Kim Sook is a comedienne that enjoys defying social norms for women. With her husky voice, baggy clothes, and tactless mouth, she continues to show people that female comics can dish it just as well as—if not better than—male comics. Kim Sook's favorite trick? Reversing gender stereotypes. She is fond of changing the pronouns of the usual sexist comments heard on television: "Men should dress appropriately!" "A man should smile more!" She loves doing this so much that it has been a well-received and longstanding couple skit with her gag husband (not in real life), Yoon Jong-soo.
Dependable and street-smart, her ability to ad-lib on the spot has made her a favorite bit actor for k-dramas. She has hilariously appeared on dramas such as My Horrible Boss (2016), Hit the Top (2017), and Crash Landing on You (2019).
Kim Sook's hard work and dedication has landed her numerous awards, most recently bagging the daesang (grand prize) at last year's KBS Entertainment Awards.
WATCH HER ON: Problem Child in the House, Boss in the Mirror, Video Star, and Late Night Ghost Talk (VIU PH)
There are only a few people that have Google and YouTube (Korea) sending them multiple speaking invites: Song Eun-i just happens to be one of the few. Branded as an "icon" in the industry, she has admittedly thrown out boxes and boxes of speaking engagement invites from companies. What is it about her that makes her a sought-after inspirational speaker? Her passion and vision.
Song Eun-i started her career as a comic during the early '90s, back when the term "Variety Show" wasn't even a thing! Along with fellow female comic Lee Young-ja, Song Eun-i slummed it out in the highly aggressive and male dominated gag-comedy scene. Her hard work would eventually bring her to a new genre of life comedy called "Variety". She would continue to work hard and hone her career. Song Eun-i's adaptability and quick-wit got her numerous gigs as a main host or cast member on different broadcast stations. However, during the mid-2000s, with the popularity of a new variety concept called "Family Variety" (showing the daily life of married comics), Song Eun-i's single status suddenly halted her career.
Her concern for fellow comic, Kim Sook, and her own need to continue practicing comedy led her to make VIVO TV, one of the earliest celebrity-run channels on YouTube. VIVO TV not only showed her comedy routines, but also gave her the opportunity to show off her hosting skills with different talk programs and podcasts. Eventually, Song Eun-i decided to incorporate VIVO TV and name it Content Lab VIVO. Furthermore, she also established and continues to head (as CEO) Media Lab Seesaw. Through these companies, she helps struggling comics show-off their skills and sustain their livelihood.
Song Eun-i's passion for comedy and connection made it possible for her to go beyond her comfort zone. While most comics would bide their time and wait for big broadcast stations, she saw an opportunity on a different platform...and ran with it, leading us to her success of debuting her own girl group (Celeb Five—a parody group!), becoming a content powerhouse, and a 13-award win streak with only one loss (to her own program, no less). We can't wait for her to continue "winging it".
WATCH HER ON: Long Live Independence, Money Road, Problem Child in the House, Omniscient Interfering View, VIVO TV (YouTube)
Hong Jin-kyung is an interesting addition to this list—primarily because she's the only one who did not originally debut as a comedienne. At 16 years old, she made her modeling debut at a televised modeling contest. She has since then branched out into variety programs and k-dramas.
In 1994, Hong Jin-kyung started her career as a comedienne on a show named Happy Saturday. From a highly glamorized fashion industry, Hong Jin-kyung was pushed into the highly chaotic comedy spotlight. With the help of Lee Young-ja, she was able to find her own sense of humor and identity. In 2014, at the peak of her career in the variety program, Off to School, Hong Jin-kyung was faced with another challenge: ovarian cancer. She halted all her engagements and focused on her health all the while undergoing fertility treatment as well, eventually winning her fight with cancer.
She reached another peak when she joined the cast of Sister's Slam Dunk (2016, 2017), a variety show that focused on fulfilling the cast members' unfinished or unsaid wishes. Through the program, viewers were able to see Hong Jin-kyung's natural charm, wit, and humor, so much so, that she has inspired many GIFs and memes! It's also interesting to note that she has been in a couple of highly successful dramas such as My Love from the Stars (2013) and Legend of the Blue Sea (2016).
While she may not yet have any award nor nomination to her name, Hong Jin-kyung is most proud of being a mother and a multimillionaire CEO (bet you weren't expecting that!) of THE KIMCHI company. This just goes to show everyone, that a Lady Boss just don't quit.
WATCH HER ON: Friday Joy Package, Sisters' Slam Dunk (1 & 2) (VIU PH)
What can be said about Lee Young-ja? Considered as the top senior female comedian in the industry, Lee Youn-ja's career is best marked by 16 awards won in the span of 30 years. A feat, considering comedy/variety is a male-dominated industry. Even more amazing is when you realize that three of those are daesang (grand prize) awards—a first for a female in the industry.
Lee Young-ja's presence on the small screen is a sure-fire way to make people of all ages laugh. Known as the quintessential blabbermouth eonnie / noona (big sister), she's best known for her sweet tone (reminiscent of an auntie) and sharp but humorous comments. Which is why she has amassed more than 30 variety show programs under her belt.
Going beyond her career as a comic, Lee Young-ja's struggle with her appearance and weight has been highly publicized—and criticized. The year 2018 saw Lee Young-ja's career peak again after re-debuting with a slimmer figure—admittedly due to cosmetic surgery. This caused mixed reactions to the public AND also highlighted that even comics were also expected to appear slim and restrained. Since then, Lee Young-ja has settled into her body more, a comfort she shows when filming binge-eating and cooking variety programs.
WATCH HER ON: Omniscient Interfering View, LANlife, and Stars' Top Recipe at Fun-staurant (VIU PH)