[OP-ED] Danny Oppa's Top 5 - Korean-American Stand-Up Comedians

Danny Cho, March 18, 2016, 6 p.m.

Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Louis CK, and Jerry Seinfeld are all superstar stand-up comedians that have become household names. All of them are considered legends in the stand-up world, and deservedly so. Kevin Hart and Russell Peters are comedians that are selling out stadiums all over the world. Whether you find them funny or not, at the very least, you know who they are.

Unfortunately, there are many talented Korean-American stand-up comedians that don’t seem to get the same type of love that a lot of comedians get these days. I feel it is my duty to enlighten you with my top 5 Korean-American stand-up comedians!

Margaret Cho

I want to put Margaret Cho on the list first because she is a pioneer, not only for Asian Americans comedians, but also for female comedians.

Hailing from San Francisco, Margaret started in comedy while in high school, where she was involved in an improvisational comedy group. After high school, she began honing her stand-up by performing at clubs, colleges, and TV gigs. All that work seemed to pay off as she won the American Comedy Award for Best Female Comedian in 1994.

Also in 1994, ABC developed a sitcom based on Margaret Cho’s stand-up called 'All American Girl'. Unfortunately, the sitcom was cancelled after one season due to low ratings.

This didn’t stop Margaret in her tracks though. Over the years, Margaret has made appearances in movies as well as TV shows. She even toured heavily as a stand-up comedian. Not to mention, she wrote a couple of books as well.

Margaret is truly a pioneer for all minorities, especially Korean-Americans, and she should be applauded for paving the way for many other Korean-American comedians like myself.


Henry Cho

Another old school Korean-American stand-up comedian is Henry Cho. Henry was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee and started stand-up comedy in 1986!

A lot of Cho’s material is based off his childhood experiences as an Asian in the South. He even speaks with a Southern accent, so that’s a bit different from most Asians you’ve met.

From the late 1980s on, Henry has made numerous TV appearances including 'The Arsenio Hall Show', 'Bob Hope's Young Comedians Special', 'MTV's 1/2 Hour Comedy Hour', and 'VH-1's Stand-Up Spotlight'. His other TV credits include guest roles on various sitcoms such as 'Designing Women', 'Lenny', 'The New WKRP in Cincinnati', and also a starring role in the TV movie 'Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation'. In 1994, after he moved back to Tennessee, Cho got a call from NBC to host a revamped version of 'Friday Night Videos' simply titled 'Friday Night'. He commuted to L.A. weekly for two years. Most recently, he has appeared on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' and 'The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson'. He was also the keynote speaker for the 59th Annual Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner.

In 2006, he had his own Comedy Central special entitled 'Henry Cho: What's That Clickin' Noise?'

Henry’s material is pretty clean compared to the other comedians on this list. Henry, like Margaret, deserves to be on the list because he is a pioneer for AsianAmerican stand-up comedians. Could you imagine a Korean-American comedian telling jokes in the South in the 80s? I can’t imagine how hard it was for him. 

Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee deserves to be on this list because he might be the wildest out of all Korean-American comedians I know. Not to mention, I have a special place in my heart for him because he is the one that convinced me to quit my consulting job. He got me my first agent, and he even put me on many episodes of 'MADTV'.

Bobby started stand-up in 1994 in San Diego. After much hustling and opening for many big-named comedians, Bobby finally joined the cast of MADTV in 2001. He stayed on the show for 8 years until its cancellation in 2009. In 2002, Bobby performed on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'. Over the years, Bobby has been in countless movies and TV shows. On a side note, he was also featured on the bonus episode of the 'Ktown Cowboys' webseries.

Bobby was one of the 4 members of the 'Kims of Comedy', a comedy tour featuring 4 stand-up comedians of Korean descent. The 'Kims of Comedy' toured the country and even taped their show for distribution. In my opinion, the 'Kims of Comedy' was a collection of the best Korean-American stand-up comedians at the time.

Currently, you can see him on Judd Appatow’s show 'Love' on Netflix. Bobby also still travels extensively as a stand-up comic. Oh, and for all you Kpop fans, Bobby was featured in a Wonder Girls MV called '2 Different Tears', and let's just say it's... out of this world.


Steve Byrne

Raised in Pittsburgh by an Irish father and Korean mother, Steve Byrne got his first start in stand-up in 1997 at the Stand Up New York Comedy Club. Steve worked hard in the New York stand-up circuit and even made a documentary called '13 or Bust'. The show documents Steve trying to beat an unofficial record of stand-up gigs in NYC in one night. Steve did 13 stand-up sets in one night! The most I’ve ever done was 3 sets, and I was wiped out. It goes to show how dedicated he is to stand-up.

Steve was also a part of the 'Kims of Comedy' just like Bobby Lee (above).

Steve is currently working on his 4th stand-up special. His prior three specials ('Steve Byrne: Champion', Steve Byrne: The Byrne Identity', and 'Steve Byrne: Happy Hour') are all highly rated and can be found on Netflix.

Aside from his stand-up, Steve has made numerous appearances on TV and in movies. He even had his own sitcom 'Sullivan and Son’ (executive produced by Vince Vaughn) that aired on TBS for 3 seasons.

Steve is constantly touring the world with his stand-up, so go check him out if he is in a town near you. Steve also has a role in my upcoming movie 'Ktown Cowboys' so make sure to check that out, too!

Kevin Shea

Another member of the 'Kims of Comedy' tour rounds out this list. Kevin Shea is an adopted Korean-American whose material I’m a huge fan of. Starting his stand-up career in San Francisco, Kevin has slowly become one of my favorite comedians to watch live. Even though he doesn’t have the credits like the people mentioned above, Kevin’s stand-up is undoubtedly funny.

Kevin has a handful of TV appearances under his belt, from the 'Jimmy Kimmel Show', HBO’s 'Down n Dirty with Jim Norton', to 'The Arsenio Hall Show', Kevin has been honing his craft and is well respected by many of his peers.

He also won the 'NBC Stand-Up for Diversity' showcase a few years back and has performed in many prestigious comedy festivals like the 'Montreal Comedy Festival' and HBO’s 'Las Vegas Comedy festival'. Kevin and I recently shot our own comedy specials, so be on the look out for Kevin Shea! 

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