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An Interview with Jung Jaehwan, Former Top Stand-up Comedian Turned SKKU Professor

Jung Jaehwan, a professor of history at our university started his career as a stand-up comedian and TV presenter. He has appeared in a number of TV programs from music programs, advertisements, comedy broadcastings to dramas. At the age of 40, he was determined to enter the history department at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) to study in-depth knowledge of the history of Hangeul. The only motivation that triggered him to change his life path was his eagerness to learn more about Hangeul and its history. From this interview, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) would like to share Professor Jung Jaehwan’s life story as he changed his path from TV presenter to educator with a PhD.

Jung Jaehwan: Broadcaster and Stand-up Comedian

Q1. Please introduce yourself to the Kingos.

I started my career as a comedian and broadcaster when I was 19 years old. I was a very passionate person who wanted to make people happy and give them lots of laughter. I tried my best to become famous. However, it was very difficult to be recognized by the public no matter how much effort I put in. After seven to eight years of being an obscure comedian, I began to be noticed by people and I appeared in a number of diverse TV programs. At the age of forty I entered the department of history at SKKU because I was eager to learn about the history of Hangeul. After graduating from university, I achieved a doctor’s degree at SKKU and these days I am teaching students here.

Q2. I have heard that you started your career as a stand-up comedian from the age of nineteen. What was your motivation for deciding to start that career at such a young age?

Actually I started my career with my closest friend from high school. He originally played in a band called “Alligators” during high school and they were quite famous. When the band was dissolved, he suggested to me to organize a duo together and that was the momentum for how I started my career as a stand-up comedian. Our name was “Double Feature” and it was organized when we were 19 years old. The reason why we chose our name as Double Feature was because we had the same height and we wanted to show people diverse things in one clip. After organizing the duo, we started working as comedians and the first program I joined was The Starry Night with Lee Su-man, a famous singer, on MBC.

Professor Jung Jaehwan as a Presenter on the TV Program, Cinema Date (m.blog.naver.com/themusia)

Q3. How could you overcome the hardships you struggled with at a young age and endure quite a long period of obscurity as a stand-up comedian?

After I joined Starry Night, I thought I could be famous in the short-term. I thought people would easily recognize me as I was on quite a famous program. However, that was totally my confidence out of nowhere. It was really hard to be famous even though I tried my best. I spent all-day long making original gags that could give laughter to people. Still for about seven to eight years, I was totally an obscure comedian. The key as to how I could endure for that long period of time was my confidence and trust in myself that I could be successful one day. In my twenties, my only goal was to become a famous comedian so I was able to overcome the hardship and I spent a lot of time reading books and developing an original gag style.

Jung Jaehwan, as a Professor and Educator

Q4. What was your core motivation for entering the history department of SKKU at the age of forty?

My core motivation and the only motivation that triggered me to enter the university was my passion toward Hangeul. I really wanted to have a chance to study Hangeul and the history of it under professors who dedicated their whole life to studying Hangeul. I wanted to gain more in-depth knowledge through a professional education in the university. I think that is the only motivation that led me to decide to enter SKKU even though I was quite old to get into the university.

Q5. I have heard that you were very into Hangeul from your broadcaster and comedian years, was there some motive to have an interest in Hangeul?

When I was doing a TV program as a presenter, I was once criticized by the audience that I pronounced Bateul as Batseul. The audience said that it was unbelievable that a person who cannot use a prolonged sound rule correctly is working as a presenter on TV program. I never noticed that I was making mistakes on my Korean pronunciations, so when I received that criticism from the audience I was very ashamed. That criticism made me study the basic pronunciation of Korean and also the grammar. As I started learning Korean and Hangeul, I naturally gained more interest in it so I decided to enter university. At first, I thought studying more in-depth knowledge of Korean at university could be the cornerstone of becoming a better broadcaster. However, as I studied Hangeul and its history more and more I realized that there are so many more things I have to learn and naturally I could not spend more time on TV programs to focus more on my research and studying.

Q6. What is the biggest difference and common feature between being presenter and a professor?

First, about the common feature between presenter and professor is that both of them are jobs dealing with communicating with people. When I was working as a comedian and presenter, I had to communicate with the audience and had to give them a lot of laughter. Also, currently when I am teaching students in SKKU I have to communicate with them and need to give them the knowledge that they should know. Also, both of the jobs have a similarity in that the job is very active and fun. While I was working as a comedian, I had to make a lot of movements and had to talk a lot and also right now while I am giving lectures to students, I have to talk a lot and walk around in front of the lecture room. One of the biggest differences between the two jobs is that as a professor, I do not need to make students laugh. I do not have any pressure to give people laughter anymore.

Q7. I have heard you are currently joining diverse activities such as “Hangeul Cultural Action”. Please tell me some of the activities you are doing and how you started the activity.

I initially organized a Hangeul Cultural Action organization with a professor in the department of politics and diplomacy at Hanlim University. He asked me to join him organizing an association that works for the preservation of Hangeul. After I received that offer, I spent a few days deciding whether I should join him and establish an organization or not. After quite a long period of thinking thoroughly, I decided to join with him. The two of us established the Hangeul Cultural Action association in 2000 and we gathered many other members who were interested in preserving Hangeul. We did quite a lot of activities such as leading a movement to make Hangeul Proclamation Day as a national holiday and making the movement to preserve Hangeul from loanwords and foreign language. Currently, I am teaching Hangeul and Korean history to migrant women and it has been for more than four years.

Professor Jung Jaehwan, the Hangeul Protector (nongmin.com)
Celebrating Hangeul Proclamation Day with the Citizens (nongmin.com)

The Future of Professor Jung Jaehwan

Q8. Among several kinds of fields such as teaching students as a professor, researching more on your papers, or doing a Hangeul organization activity, what do you want to focus more on your future life?

For the near future, I want to spend more time on teaching students in SKKU and will continue to vigorously participate in the Hangeul Cultural Action association. These days, something that is on my mind is being a teacher in Suwon in the long-term. After I retire from teaching students at SKKU and from the association, maybe at the age of 65 or 70, I want to make a small space that I could use as my teaching room in Suwon. I want to teach young children about Hangeul and maybe Korean history and I also want to have conversations with the elderly who live in Suwon, too. I want to spend the rest of my life sharing my knowledge with others and communicating with them. I want to be remembered as a person who lived life to the full to society.

Q9. Please give some advice for the Kingos.

The only advice I want to give to my school juniors is, please go for anything that you are into. I think there are many students who feel their career might not suit them well. However, I want to tell them that if the job is what you like and is something that you are into, then you can endure any struggles or hardships. If the career you have chosen is not really what you are interested in, it will be very difficult to overcome hardships. Therefore, I want to tell the Kingos to find your interest and once you have found it, just go for it.

함여민  12345hym@naver.com

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