When you think of Arab stand-up comedians, Wonho Chung is not the sort of name that usually springs to mind. Yet the Dubai-based Korean, who quite by chance found himself touring with the popular Arab-American comedy group Axis of Evil in 2007, believes he has established himself as an in-demand Arabic comedian.
His performance tonight at the First Group Theatre in Madinat Jumeirah will be an hour of comedy, mainly in Arabic, which he says he speaks better than Korean.
Dressed head to toe in a black suit and bow tie, Chung headed into the Madinat Theatre for a lighting check on the Tuesday before the show.
"Marhaba," he said, speaking in effortless, fluent Arabic tinged with a Jordanian accent. There is no doubt that Chung is passionate about inspiring a new generation of comedians because the current comedy scene, he feels, leans towards a more "western influence".
"I consider myself Arabic and one should lead by example. We need more stand-up comedians to perform in Arabic because when you really think about it, there aren't that many," he said. "Why not get inspired by your culture and language? It's what differentiates you. English stand-up is, of course, great, but if you can do both, even better."
It has been almost a year and a half since his last solo performance and the majority of the material for tonight's performance will be fresh. That is not to say, however, that the comedian, who was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Jordan, has taken himself off the radar. Quite the contrary. Since performing with Axis of Evil in November 2007 as the "Korean" they were searching for, Chung made his debut television appearance for ShowComedy's award-winning nine-part documentary, 3 Guys and Wonho. He then hosted Friday Night Live with the Axis of Evil comedian Aron Kader, which featured a pool of international talent under the banner Minorities Rule. During Showtime's Friday Night Live - New World Order, Chung performed alongside comedians such as Sugar Sammy, Ronnie Khalil and Ron Josol.
He has presented the Dubai International Film Festival awards ceremony and currently hosts the weekly programme Showmemore, with a mix of high-profile celebrities on top of the charity and corporate events.
"I didn't think anything like that was going to happen and for it to have had such a ripple effect is amazing," he said.
Ahead of each performance, he admits that nerves take over for only a second.
"I do get nervous but your body develops ways to counteract that and the audience always feels what you are projecting. However, you should never get too confident anyway," he said.
Those interested in attending should not shy away from sitting in the front row, as Chung is not the type of comedian to pick on the crowd. "Unless they say something to me first," he joked. "Stand-up is still fairly new here and we are from a more conservative culture, which I respect."
As a "storyteller", Chung's style of comedy appeals to both a young and older crowd. "I share my stories in a funny way so I am more of a storyteller and sometimes I remember things that happened to me while on stage."
Being able to speak five languages - English, Arabic, Vietnamese (where his mother is from), French and Korean - is what makes him more approachable, and of course, his ability to have a tiny bit of fun with people.
Having studied musical theatre and opera, Chung has also ventured into the music world.
"I recently recorded a song with the UK-based Lebanese recording artist Ramzi, called Laylitna (Our Night) which topped the Arabic charts, and we are now working on the video, which will be shot in Dubai and London," he said. Branching out into music has been a dream, he said, since he was four years old.
"I'm very serious about music because I feel there are other aspects of my personality that I would like to offer, that is unique," he said.
A solo album is also in the works with various genres, such as Korean pop, being considered.
"Artists such as Snoop Dogg and Wil.i.am are interested in venturing into KPop because it's a US$4 billion [Dh15bn] industry that also has its eyes on the Middle East," said Chung.
In the meantime, he stays connected to his thousands of followers on Twitter.
"Social media is important because fans who enjoy your work want to capture a part of the real you and sites such as Twitter and Facebook allow for that," he said.
Wonho Chung's show tonight at the First Group Theatre in Madinat Jumeirah is priced at Dh195 for tickets, and Dh250 for stalls. For more information, visit www.madinattheatre.com. To follow him on Twitter, @wonhochung
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