Sam Hammington, Jenny Cho report for LA Korean Festival host duties

October 1, 2015
(Park Sang-hyuk / Korea Times)

Paired with Arirang TV radio host and Los Angeles native Jenny Cho, right, Sam Hammington made his first appearance at the opening ceremony inside Seoul International Park in Koreatown Thursday. (Park Sang-hyuk / Korea Times)

By Tae Hong

South Korea’s favorite Australian comic, Sam Hammington, arrived this week in Los Angeles to bring his brand of laughter as the host of the 42nd Los Angeles Korean Festival.

Paired with Arirang TV radio host and Los Angeles native Jenny Cho, Hammington will make his first appearance today at the opening ceremony inside Seoul International Park in Koreatown.

If you’re even a casual fan of Korean television, you’re well-acquainted with Hammington — after a breakout turn on the MBC military-camp reality show “Real Men” two years ago, the comedian’s taken turns in dozens of other variety programs, become the face of a handful of products and made cameos on both TV dramas and films.

Of course, that’s only been in the last two years. Hammington has been in Korea for 13.

As he tells the Korea Times hours before picking up the microphone, Seoul — and its traditions, its culture and its people — is now as much of a home as Melbourne.

“At first, because I was a foreigner, I felt Korea didn’t necessarily fit with me, that I was stifled,” Hammington said. “But now I understand the way Korea does things, and I’ve learned its culture and history. In the beginning I wondered why Koreans moved so quickly and why they had such short tempers. Now, when I go back to Australia, when things move too slowly I get frustrated.”

“If you asked me now whether I could go back to live in Australia, I would tell you I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been 13 years since I’ve lived there. My family, my friends, they’re mostly in Korea. Right now, I think it’s right that I’m working in Korea.”

Eventually, though, the 38-year-old has his eyes set on a comic career in America, where he hopes to one day land on TV or in movies. He’s already received a few calls from Australia, where he said he recently auditioned for a film role.

“Coming to America, that’s something I want to try,” Hammington said. “I speak English. It’s stupid not to try.”

He visited Koreatown in New York last year and found himself being asked to pose for photos with a few Korean fans who recognized him.

“What’s funny is, we were taking the photos and two [American] women in the back were looking at us going, ‘Who is that? Is he famous? Should we take pictures too?’” He laughed.

Still, for the time being, it’s the thousands of festival goers and fans that need Hammington’s attention. A curiosity about Koreatown — the things he’d heard about the neighborhood from friends — brought him here.

“As a foreigner living in Korea, I felt like I could find a connection to the Koreans and Korean Americans here who have probably experienced a lot of what I’ve been through [living overseas], even though I’m not Korean,” he said.

His co-host, Cho, is a second-generation Korean American, UC Davis grad and former Miss Korea winner who ended up in Korea as a presenter working for KBS World radio and EBS. She currently hosts “The Jenny Jo Show” on Arirang TV radio.

Los Angeles is home to Cho. She studied traditional Korean dance here for more than a decade and remembers attending local festivals as a kid.

For Hammington, the gig is both an honor and a chance to show locals, who have until now only seen him through a screen, what he’s all about.

Although Jenny is Korean and he’s not, he said, he will be the one speaking Korean as MC, while she handles the English comments.

“When I host events, I don’t stick to a written script. It doesn’t feel natural,” Hammington said.

Cho said returning here as an MC for such a big-scale event means a lot to her.

“It’s incredible that our parents, the immigrant generation, have held this festival for 42 years,” she said. “I’m so proud.”

The Los Angeles Korean Festival kicks off today, with an opening ceremony at 7:20 p.m., and runs until Sunday. An annual tradition, the event offers hundreds of vendor and promotional booths, contests, cultural demonstrations, performances, exhibits, concerts and a Saturday parade that marches down the center of the neighborhood on Olympic Boulevard.

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