Annals: Could you tell us about your life at Yonsei?
My family was anything but affluent, so most memories I have of college are about making money. Then, President Jeon Du-hwan had banned private tutoring, making me look for other parttime jobs. To make a living, I became the first paid designated driver in history. The first to do so, indeed! (chuckles) Well, I was the first to do a lot of things. After class, I would navigate the streets and wait calls from customers.
Do you think humorous thinking helped you come up with the job of paid designated driving?
Sure, of course! A key component of humor is creativity. And creativity is putting together two things that originally do not match. For example, the combination of "kiss" and "chocolates" gave birth to the Hershey Kisses. That was how it went for paid designated driving as well. I knew how to drive, and I needed to earn money. I was, however, only free during the nighttime. "Driving" and "nighttime" suddenly made a strange mix that seemed to be a brilliant idea. I went for it without hesitation.
How has studying theology affected your perspective towards humor?
Only because I studied theology could I grasp the meaning of true happiness and also the key to it: humor. Religion, the final thing many people turn to, gives us clues to attaining happiness. I believe, however, that humor is more important than religion. Whereas major religions tend to instill a sense of guilt into our minds, the Jesus and the Buddha as I know and respect actually tried to make us happy. So I see them in the context of humor rather than religion. Then I realize that they never intended to torture their followers with guilt; they only wanted us to become happy. That is why I am glad I studied theology.
What led you to become a humor lecturer?
I was an introvert as a child. Naturally, from an early age, I consciously tried to talk in ways that would appeal to girls, and humor helped a lot. Then came the time when I had to decide what to do for a living. I knew I had to specialize in what only I could do. Entertainment, rhetoric, and creativity were my fortes, but the competition in the markets for each talent was already too intense. So by combining my three talents, I pioneered a new field: humor. Back then, it was unthinkable to ask CEOs and professors to be funny. I dug into that niche. Of course I felt afraid to be the first in a field, but all I had in mind back then was to make this work, whatever it took.
Why did you decide to found a Humor Center?
It's been slightly over a month since I founded the Center. I have been lecturing for decades now, but the inspiration I could give was too limited. That was when I decided to establish a center dedicated to spreading humor, and invite participants from previous lectures and readers of my books to practice what they learned; We can laugh heartily while we are happy, but to be able to be laugh when we feel depressed, we need a lot of practice.
These days, entertainment programs have taken over the channels, but people are far from living happy lives. What do you think is the reason for this?
Modern Korean society has been changing in a rapid pace. People are forced to keep up with the successive waves of changes, which have taken their toll in the form of stress. That, in my opinion, drives people to seek more relaxation from their daily lives. They turn to programs like "Gag Concert" to relieve their pent-up pressure because some point later, they have to return to their daily routine. But their laughs are artificially induced, not drawn out from their hearts.
What is the ideal humor you pursue?
In my opinion, the comedy used in entertainment programs like Muhandojeon is not true humor. Entertainment
programs rely solely on techniques. True humor is not just technique, however, but rather the combination of the wisdom in your head, the confidence in your gut, and the warmness in your heart. I think the ancient Greek thinker, Socrates, embodied this by enjoying even the pains of life. When his angered wife splashed a basin of water on him, he casually said, "After thunder comes rain; such is the principle of nature!" Similarly, do not try to classify everything into "good" and "bad" in selfrighteous narrow-mindedness. There are both sides to everything we experience in our lives.
What was your most rewarding moment as a humor lecturer?
There was a teacher who was distressed because his students kept calling him "fried dumpling," not out of fondness but out of disrespect. Apparently his name sounded similar to the word. One day he ran out of patience
and punished them severely, but that just provoked the kids to become more persistent. So I advised him to take it
easy. Though vulgar, all they were trying to do was to have some fun. So the next time the teacher was teased, he admitted, "Yeah, I'm a fried dumpling. But you know what? Fried dumplings are full in the inside. All of you should try to cultivate your inner character to become like fried dumplings." The kids, taken back at the change in attitude, stopped calling him by his nickname and gradually came to respect him.
Any last words for Yonseians?
I recognize that many of you are uncertain about your future. You may have lots of issues that concern you. But
carpe diem! I can assure you that if you laugh and smile, things to laugh and smile about will happen. Have confidence in yourselves! Even in job interviews, rather than considering yourselves at the mercy of the companies, flip things around and think that you are doing a favor for whatever company you are applying to. You are all students of a top-class university, right? Act like one. And most importantly, realize your dreams by becoming a humorous person.