He is fluent in Arabic, speaks perfect English, a little French and Vietnamese, but he is Korean. Wonho Chung is a multicultural entertainer who shines in stand-up comedy in the Middle East.
Chung was born in Jeddah, raised in Jordan, where he also studied, and from a Vietnamese mother and South Korean father. He spent his life studying piano music, opera, and musical theater, and specialized in voice production as well as projection, but he is a marketing undergraduate.
Jordan did not offer any promising career in the entertainment business, which is what Chung wanted to spend his life doing, so he moved to Dubai to follow his dream. “I was first employed in a public relations company, but I thought it wasn’t the job for me, so in 2005 I joined MBC working specifically for MBC 2, the movie channel, as a promotions producer,” he said.
“In 2007, by freak of nature, I was headhunted by Show Time, which is now OSN, to become a part of the Axis of Evil comedy tour. This happened by accident when one of the directors met me in a shop when I was joking with the salesperson to get a discount. He later called me with the offer,” Chung added.
Chung never thought he would start a career in stand-up comedy, but it all worked out. “I studied theater and voice, and I never thought I would start my career in comedy, although I must say it was easy for me to stand in front of the audience, because I had done it before in school and college,” he said.
“It’s a little more difficult than memorizing your line or your song, because in stand-up comedy you have to make people laugh every third sentence. It’s your life that is depending on that laugh, and you have to work hard to get it.”
Five years later, Chung is now a full-time freelance artist and entertainer. “I do everything from stand-up comedy, hosting, to TV presenting and singing for a living, and I guess I’m one of the very few in Dubai who’s a pure, full-time entertainer, because it is an expensive city and it’s hard to only rely on this for an income. I’m very fortunate to do what I love for a living,” he said.
According to the comedian, one can easily say his love for music is genetic. “My father used to be a singer back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and we come from a very musical family. On my father’s side, everyone plays instruments and has amazing voices.”
Chung always had singing in the back of his mind. It had been his dream since he was four, but he got preoccupied with his passion in the entertainment business. “I realized that what I do on stage is so close to singing that I said to myself I would continue doing this, and it would open doors for me to achieve my goal,” he said, stressing that he would continue to push himself as an entertainer. “I don’t want to put myself in a certain category, because I know I’m capable of doing it, and above all, I love doing the whole thing.”
As for music, Chung recently met with Hassan El-Shafie, a well-known Egyptian music producer. They became good friends and decided to work together. “I will be collaborating with him, and hopefully we will introduce a new genre to the Arabic music scene, because for now there is only pop, classic and Gulf music. We want to make more,” he said.
“We don’t have the diversity they have in the West, but we have all the tools, and this is what we want to work on. We want to also make it the way it’s supposed to be,” he added.
Chung said that Saudi YouTube is a platform of talent, with very exciting and professional channels. “All those Saudis who have their own YouTube channels are very unique, because they have their own perspective or their take on the Saudi society, or even the Saudi mentality,” he said. “I believe that Arabic talk shows are not edgy, and they are always on the safe side. However, YouTube has given the opportunity for people to say what they want to say, and this is very important for a show to succeed.”
Chung is always updating himself in the entertainment business by watching shows and reading books. “I’ve read many books about stand-up comedy, so I’m not just a passive learner; I do it on stage and I buy books and meet people and learn more,” he said.
“One of the key things I learned about stand-up comedy is your prospective. If you don’t have a prospective about something you’ll never succeed.”
In 2010, Chung was approached by the Korean Tourism Organization, a government entity that works on promoting Korea as a tourism destination, to inform him that the government wanted to appoint him as an honorary ambassador for tourism to Korea in the Middle East. “I was very honored and proud. Mind you, I’ve never been to Korea, but they flew me in and decided to film a documentary with a Middle East-based broadcaster to help shoot this documentary and put it on TV. It will be sponsored by the Korean Tourism Organization,” he said. “Of course I got into a plane with no hesitation and got the chance to explore my own country for the first time. I had the best homecoming any human being could ever have, and I loved every part of it.”
Chung has always wanted to break into films and acted his first full-feature comedy film that was in the cinema on Feb. 30. It is coming to the GCC in January.
“My role got really good reviews. I played the president of a Korean company for which the star works. So, I fly from Korea to attend a meeting in Cairo and something really funny happens to both of us,” he said. “The role was very well received, to the extent that less than a month following its release I got a phone call from a producer asking me to get ready for film number two,” he added.
Chung is looking forward to do more films. “I’m shooting a movie in early 2013 with Emirati director Ali Moustafa, which will be shot between the UAE and Beirut,” he said. “As I know now, I have at least two films coming this year, and if Egypt goes well and the turnover is very high, I might do a film or two in Egypt as well.”
Chung is also hosting an online show in 2013. “The show will be on Yahoo! Maktoob, and if it doesn’t go well I will still continue it on YouTube,” he said. “I’m in discussion with a network to front a TV show for them, and aside from that I will still do stand-up comedy, public and private events, awards and anything that fits my work experience.