MY MEETING with the comedian Lee Yoon-seok ('90 Korean Lang. & Lit.) all
started off with a reply e-mail from the man himself. My excitement was obvious,
but needless to say, butterflies were forming in my stomach every second. What
would I, an amateur journalist, say to an entertainer who probably is
interviewed every week? Thankfully, Lee had a friendly and down to earth nature
and I was able to relax and ask my many questions at ease.
To Lee, life at Yonsei Univ. was a normal yet enjoyable time.
Allegedly a shy and lonely person, Lee met his best friends in the "Garbage
Club" formed at a rock cafe called "Free Bird" by several students; all die-hard
fans of heavy rock music. The club's main activity was drinking and listening to
heavy rock music; just like the name, there was no true purpose. Still, Lee
speaks fondly of the club, emphasizing that what they had back then still exists
to this day. Lee also enjoyed his studies at school. He chose to study Korean
Lang. & Lit. and dreamt of becoming a school teacher just like his older
sister, but later on hoped to work in the broadcasting area. Surprisingly he had
absolutely no intentions of becoming a comedian or an entertainer of any sort.
Back in 1993, Lee and two friends from the Garbage Club decided
to participate in a comedy contest for university students. In what I can only
assume as fate, Lee was the only member of the group that actually turned up.
Unabashed, Lee performed on stage, attracting the interest of some producers.
This event is indeed a historical one, as who knew that Lee would meet his best
friend and colleague for the years to come at this place? Seo Kyung-seok, who
back then was a student from Seoul National Univ., was put into a duo with Lee
as they were "elites" from prestigious universities. Lee modestly states that
that was the only reason, but I think the producers predicted the star-power of
At the moment, he does not perform comedy, but rather works as a
presenter on many variety shows. The most popular would have to be "The Great
Challenge", the show where Lee got his nickname "National Weakling". As for his
private life, I expected glamorous meetings, parties and interviews but Lee was
more down to earth than I anticipated. Between shooting television shows, he
reads many books and enjoys listening to his favorite death-metal rock music.
Also, as a timid person who enjoys spending time alone, the burden of constantly
being under the public eye is extremely stressful for him. "To have complete
strangers coming up to you and saying 'Seo Kyung-seok is presenting another
show-why aren't you doing anything?" is rather distressing." To escape from this
strain, Lee chose an interesting method-studying.
He started studying for his master's degree in Journalism and
Broadcasting at Choongang Univ. back in 1999 and is now writing his doctorate
for his Ph.D. Currently he is also teaching a course about the media and society
at Choongang Univ. "In the past I had special lecture sessions at several
universities, but this is the first time that I am teaching a full semester
course. I just hope that I can teach the students something." Lee says that as a
person working in the entertainment scene, the greatest merit of his lectures is
that he can provide students first hand access to the world of media.
Along with teaching, does Lee have any other plans for the
future? My personal wish is that he returns to pure comedy performances. My
favorite recollection of Lee performing was the "Hurricane Blue" skit where he
and fellow comedian Kim Jin-su lip-synced many rock performances in a hilarious
manner. Lee does speak fondly of that time but also adds that it took much work
to perform one song. " We even had to memorize the parts where the artists
stopped to breathe." He still hopes that one day he will get the chance to
perform again on stage as it is always the comedian's dream.
Yoon-seok was a lot different from what I had anticipated. Rather than the funny
man one can see on television, Lee is a serious and thoughtful person. Yet
seeing the comic expression that he spontaneously made when asked for a photo
shoot, made me admire his professionalism. When I see him on television this
Sunday, I will surely not just see him as a "National Weakling", but as a man
whose wish is to make people laugh.