Kings of Ktown: Three Korean American comics prepare to take over Hollywood

June 26, 2015
"Kings of Ktown" comedians Danny Cho, Walter Hong and PK will perform a one-hour special at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood July 2.

“Kings of Ktown” comedians Danny Cho, Walter Hong and PK will perform a one-hour special at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood July 2.

By Tae Hong

A trio of comedians calling themselves the Kings of Koreatown (but only between Western and Vermont Avenues, they’ll remind you) will perform a one-hour special at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood July 2.

Kings? A tall name. Who are these guys?

Fortunately for Paul (Kim, popularly known as PK around these parts, the founder of Kollaboration), Danny (Cho, who recently penned a film set in the area) and Walter (Hong, a K-Town radio show host), most neighborhood insiders wouldn’t put up a dispute when it comes to rights to the title.

It’s a weekday night at Cafe Bleu, one of the area’s best-loved bars, and to an outsider, these guys may as well own the joint. A steady stream of people come in and out, and one in three stop by to say hello, to offer a head nod.

“I come here maybe twice a week, not as much anymore. Maybe 1.35 times. Maybe 1.7?” Hong grins, gesturing toward the back. “I’ve got a table over there.”

They’re comics, Korean Americans who swear by the history of this fast-growing, increasingly hip area. And now they want to gather an audience, talk about their individual and shared experiences, turn on the laugh machine — as K-Town reps.

“The three of us have hung out in Koreatown a lot for a long time,” Kim says. “We’re Korean American, but we’re also very in tune with Korea. We live here.”

Each has a long-held connection to K-Town: Kim is a Los Angeles native whose roots in this community run deep, beginning with his role in founding the Asian American community’s largest talent platform, Kollaboration, and LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), a non-profit organization to help North Korean refugees.

Hong’s both a comedy and Koreatown vet who began hosting a radio show with PK, “Walter & PK Show,” on the local Radio Korea before moving on to YTN to “The Sneakers & Stilettos Show.”

And Cho, whose credits include small roles in both film and television, is also a screenwriter who was behind both the hit web series “K-Town Cowboys,” and the identically named feature film that premiered earlier this year.

This tour, though, is about the comedy, which is what the trio does best. From hundreds of sets at the popular comedy club Laugh Factory in town to tours around the U.S., it’s those moments on stage, mic in hand, that they’re happiest.

Making people laugh hasn’t always been easy — Kim and Cho had their first tastes of experiencing the thrill of being put on the spot in front of a group of expectant people in 2000; for Hong, it was 1996.

“The first joke I ever told on stage was about Will Smith getting jjigae with it,” Kim laughs. “I could just feel [the reaction]. I heard the groans. It look me a long time to recover from that.”

Long before that, he’d tested jokes everywhere he went, from Kollaboration to church, where he led praise as a kid with aspirations of going where comics like Eddie Murphy and Johnny Carson had gone.

On the other side of town, Cho had just graduated from high school. Spurred by a dare from his friends, he went on stage at an open mic night in South Central, had a minor spat with a woman in the front row who insisted on calling him Chinese, and had people responding positively to his “upgraded yo-mama jokes.”

A few years before that, Hong was an aspiring actor who simply wanted to see if he could be funny on a stage. Those were the days comics would line up for hours on end at the Laugh Factory for a chance to make it to the mic. At Comedy Store, Hong filled the 2 a.m. spot. But stand-up comedy was a on-and-off gig, and it would be years until he invested in the job full-time.

On a map, Koreatown is very much a neat square, bordered by Western and Vermont Avenues in the east and west and by 3rd St. and Olympic Blvd. north to south. Through the years, this square been at the center of Kim, Cho and Hong’s journeys, whether it acted as a place to make connections, discover new ideas, meet with friends or rest.

That is, they say, what differentiates them from others — Korean comics who treat the area less as a KBBQ destination and more as a home.

Hong points to the mid-2000s, when a group of Korean American comics — Steve Byrne, Ken Jeong, Kevin Shea, Bobby Lee — stopped at Wiltern theater during their “Kims of Comedy” tour.

“They didn’t sell out because there’s a disconnect, through no fault of their own,” he says. “I’m sure the promoters thought, ‘Oh, you guys will sell out in Koreatown, because you’re all Korean.’ But no one knew who they were. It’s not because they weren’t good. With us, being from K-Town, everyone knowing that we hang out there, we eat here, we drink here. There’s more of a connection.”

Cho agrees. “I feel like us three are the only Korean American comedians that are more in tune with Korean culture. I’m not crapping on anybody. I love all those guys, they’re all great. But we have a better connection to this area. We feel like [the tour] would be something that showcases this area better with people that represent it in a real way,” he says.

For Kim, it’s about showcasing talent from the area to a wider audience.

“When people drive past Koreatown and see guys drinking, hanging out, we’re not 3D to them,” he says. “We’re two-dimensional. But if we do the shows, then they’re like, ‘Oh, OK. These are those guys. They’re the kids of these immigrants. They’re real people with stories.’ So those stories need to be told.”

There’s a bigger picture, too — the trio’s as conscious as any in the role they play in advancing the viewpoints and influence of Asian Americans in media as media figures.

Cho says he recently drove out an hour to go to an audition for the part of a Chinese delivery boy.

“It still happens and it’s always going to happen, unless there is a movement of people, Asian Americans, who begin supporting their own motherf–king people,” Cho says. “There’s no reason Tyler Perry should be making movies except for the fact that his movies make money. We don’t. That goes across the board for musicians, that goes across the board for comedians.”

He laments about the lack of what he calls the “Asian mafia” in the entertainment business.

“When I look at the state of our people in this business, I see the Jew mafia, the gay mafia, the black mafia, but I don’t see an Asian mafia,” Cho says. “We’re just working for somebody’s mafia. So what I want, and what I will continue to do, is create the best I can so we can create our own mafia, so I don’t have to need the Chinese delivery boy role.”

The goal for the one-hour comedy special, which will be filmed live, is to digitally distribute it on popular Internet platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Vimeo and iTunes. The K-Town Kings have kicked off a crowdfunding effort on FanBacked.

The special will be directed by “K-Town Cowboys” Director Daniel “DPD” Park and hosted by Dumbfoundead, a Koreatown rapper who has worked with Korean artists Epik High, Jay Park and Wax.

Visit Kings of Ktown’s FanBacked campaign, and check out their page at kingsofktown.com.

The Laugh Factory in Hollywood is located at 8001 W. Sunset Blvd.

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