Won Ho Chung: The Korean Arab Who Has Broken Cultural Barriers

Posted by Kait Bolongaro & filed under Diversity, Identity, Pop Culture.

Esther Frid holds "El Atardecer de la Vida," a book she wrote about the stories of seven senior Latin American women living in Canada

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Photo courtesy of todayshottopic.com

Would you believe me if I told you that one of the most popular comedians in the Middle East is of Korean descent? What if I said that he performs his entire show in Arabic? It’s hard to fathom, but his name is Won Ho Chung.

Chung made his debut in 2007 as part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. The group poked fun at Arab and Iranian cultural traditions and its creators decided to add a North Korean part to the routine. Chung was scouted while shopping at a Puma store in Dubai, basically falling into his new gig as comedy superstar.

In the 1970s, Chung was born in Jidda to a Korean physiotherapist and his Vietnamese wife. The family later moved to Amman, Jordan, where he and his sisters studied. Since he grew up surrounded by Arab cultures, he has a genuine understanding that many outsiders lack.

Chung’s awareness of cultural nuances has been crucial for his success. Audience members are surprised at Chung’s ease in the Arabic language and way of life. It also isn’t easy being a comedian in the Middle East. Many subjects that are usual fodder for comedians, such as sex, religion, and politics, are highly taboo, making it a tight ropewalk to balance humour and local sensitivity.

I love that it is impossible to place Chung in any specific cultural box. He is Korean and Vietnamese, but he was born in Saudi Arabia and carries a Jordanian passport. He speaks English and Arabic as a native speaker, and he is fluent in Korean. So is he Korean or Arab or both or neither? I would like to hear his answer.

The world is too complicated to be divided into different groups. While we like to pretend globalization is a new phenomenon, it has been happening forever. We are all mixed in some ways and it is rare that a person comes from only one national or linguistic group. People don’t belong in boxes, so let’s stop placing our own expectations on other people’s identities, and let them define who they are for themselves.


Kait Bolongaro loves to write about cultures and how people occupy them. She aspires to be a culture journalist and photographer and to continue to discover new lands and adventures, starting with a Masters of Journalism in Denmark in the fall. To follow her on her crazy journeys, check out her blog or on twitter.



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