BUSAN, South Korea — First, Busan eFM (90.5FM) is Busan’s only all-English radio station. From what I can surmise from the few times I’ve listened to the station, is that the programs are intended for Korean people who want to learn English. Fair enough.
The hosts are cheerful if not a bit bland and the subject matter covered on the several shows that run throughout the week is quite similar – wacky things in the news, what’s going on in Korea (festivals, events, etc.) and music that breaks down to about 70-30 Western pop to K pop. Generally, not something I would even listen to back home.
So, when I was asked to write a review about a new show run solely by expats I was wary of what to expect. That first Sunday I tuned in at 9 p.m. to listen to ‘The Mind’s I’, my expectations weren’t exactly high. I was, however, pleasantly surprised.
I suppose two Americans on the radio trying to be funny could be a real train wreck. However, I think Busan eFM picked the right two guys for the job and they pull off some truly good radio.
The show is done by local funny men Gus Swanda and Chris Tharp – two alumni from the infamous Bobopalooza performance that have spent a lifetime honing their craft either doing stand up or on-stage comedy sketches.
Writer/actor/comedian/musician, Chris Tharp’s stand up and theatrical background come out in the crazy characters that play nicely against Gus’ goofy, dead-panned one-liners.
The show, which is produced by one of eFM’s most popular DJs, Chad Kirton, is an hour of sketches, parodies and funny-as-hell interviews. One thing it isn’t though, is your typical English radio in Korea. In fact, the pair barely mention Korea or the aspects of being a foreigner in Korea. You could listen to this show in America, Canada, Australia or the UK and laugh right along with the rest of us.
Gus, the show’s creator and host, intended it that way.
“I used to host a show on eFM over a year ago, and it was kind of a nightmare. It wasn’t the right show for me. They didn’t want me to be funny. That’s like asking Michael Jordan to play baseball or something,” says Gus. “Also, it wasn’t a show that my friends or family back home could listen to. So I wanted this show to be something that everyone back home could listen and relate to, and most importantly laugh at. By the way, I don’t care if people laugh with me or at me, as long as they laugh.”
Something else that needs explaining. This show is unapologetic (even when they apologize) in its subject matter, language and sound effects. In one sketch, two guys watching a cock fight spend five minutes talking about…you guessed it… cock. In another episode (making a pun on the way Asian people say ‘city’) Gus spends twenty minutes interviewing people at the station in a quest to find out why the station only plays ‘Shitty music’… as opposed to country music. There was a talk show for lesbians called “Lez Talk”, and my personal favorite, “North Korean Jeopardy.”
I asked Gus about where his ideas come from:
“Other people. I’m not talking about plagiarism. I get a lot of ideas from conversations I have with people. For example, I was talking with my friend in the States about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and he mentioned that the drum circle people in OWS were angry about having to give up their tips. So I wrote a sketch where the drum circle guys were acting like the Wall Street bankers…if the bankers were high on drugs. Also, I’m totally addicted to television and movies. So there are a lot of things in pop culture to draw from.”
He describes the show as “the funniest thing you’ll never hear.” So I asked him why no one really knows about the show.
“Because of an evil plot by the Rand Corporation. And the fact that it’s a show intended for Westerners on a station that has mostly Korean listeners. We do have Korean fans. But their English skill is much higher than your average Korean person. Plus, there are a lot of cultural references that some Korean people might not get.”
Yet, the most important reason that many people haven’t tuned into the show, or Busan eFM for that matter is much simpler: “Most foreigners in Busan don’t have a radio, and get their entertainment mostly from the Internet.”
So to remedy this, The Mind’s I will be available on the Haps website and downloadable to your smart phone. And next month, the show will be available on iTunes. Or you could get a CD from Gus the next time you bump into him. (He offered me four)
There was just one thing left to explain, and I needed Gus to explain it. How does he get away with saying the things he says on the radio without troubling the show's monitors?
“If you listen closely, we don’t say anything bad. There are a lot of double-entendres and puns, but nothing that we couldn’t air back home.”
If you say so, Gus.