The Comedian

Translated by: 
Stella Kim


The man I love is on TV. He is a comedian. Like a professional pool player who carefully plans his shot, he waits for the right moment between sentences and makes people freeze in place. Slow speech and lackadaisical movement. Then, words spoken out of nowhere that baffle the audience for a moment, followed by erupting laughter as realisation dawns on them.

It took a long time for people to appreciate his jokes.

I met him when he was still unknown to the world. It was in a bar that resonated with the pitter-patter of raindrops on the tin roof. A small, grubby bar with rather expensive snacks, if I remember correctly. The comedian sat watching the falling rain and occasionally jotting something in his notebook. I hadn’t read a single poem since I’d closed my textbooks for the last time, and I merely assumed that he was a poet. But actually, what he’d written down in that bar was a catchphrase that later became his trademark and even featured in a commercial.

At the time, I was bored out of my mind at work. I’d first turned up at what would become my workplace after coming across a help-wanted ad. When I arrived, the person who was to become my boss simply pointed to a corner in the office, where there was a phone on a desk enclosed by a glass partition that reminded me of a fish tank. The only reason he hired me was because he believed customers wouldn’t trust a business where the owner himself answered the phone. There were only three or four calls a day. I sat confined behind the glass partition and grew bigger and bigger with all kinds of thoughts and daydreams, like rising muffin dough in a paper cupcake liner.

I went to a different fish-tank on paydays – a small bar whose tin walls had holes for windows and where artists and musicians floated around like tropical fish. I was a girl trying hard to make it seem as if I belonged. Me – an unlit light bulb with no electricity running through it. A nineteen-year-old frozen in place like something affixed to a wall. Then, at last, someone offered me a hand.

‘The zoo, you want to go?’

I can’t remember his first words or the topic of the conversation we’d just had, but I vividly remember the shape of his open mouth when he uttered those six words (and paused at the comma). That day, I went on to spend a considerable amount of my pay on drinks and was released from the wall. I was the first person to hear the words that have now become his slogan. I’d kept this memory until now for my vanity.

The zoo was a strangely shaped fish tank. Captives of different species sat in the cages – half still with pride, and the other half without. In the primate house, we gaped at the deep wrinkles on orangutans. One that had sat motionless like a piece of old furniture suddenly began to bang its head against the wall. Startled, I jumped back from the glass, and the comedian let out the laugh that is now famous.


Terrified, I answered in my head. There was something marvellous about the orangutan’s struggle as it continued to bang its head, sending vibrations across the glass pane. I’d never thrown my body against something. I had always feared that one day the fish tank that encased me would shatter and I would be spilled out, fragile and old.

The comedian liked to crush the coarse grains of brown sugar in his mouth, and he liked to take his pet fish for walks. They never lived very long. As if he were buying new flowers when the old ones withered, he threw out his pet fish when they died and went to buy new ones. On those afternoons, he always came to see me.

The image of a twenty-seven-year-old man, holding a plastic bag and waiting for me, is still vivid in my memory. Fish swam leisurely in the transparent bag. We either walked or took the subway. The fish added tension to our otherwise ordinary dates. Our pace naturally slowed to keep the water from churning about, and I liked that. When we ran out of things to say, we gazed at the fish in silence. It was strangely addictive to watch their supple movements, and I’d even asked him once what type of fish it was.

‘Well, they sell them at E Mart for about seventy won each,’ he replied and scratched one of his small ears, which had helices bent slightly inwards. Pricked-up ears would be more appropriate for a giraffe, I thought. If I had to pick an animal that he resembled, apart from the ears, it would definitely be a giraffe. A giraffe with a face neither young nor old at the end of its long neck. Because of its long neck and legs, the tall creature ambled and glided slowly; it could never become agile. It was the same for the comedian when he was carrying his fish.

‘I think I love you,’ he whispered to me one day, as if nibbling on the leaves at the tip of a tall tree. My face reddened like a flamingo.

That was the summer of the year I turned twenty.

It is now summer for the thirty-nine-year-old me as well.

When the days of his anonymity were over, he asked me to take care of his fish. I cleaned the tank, put it on top of my vintage TV and pressed the power button on my remote control.

And there he was. It was a quiz show where twenty or so celebrities competed for the viewers’ entertainment. I saw him, half hidden behind another celebrity. As soon as I spotted his small ears and slowly blinking eyes, I almost felt tears come to mine.

In his first appearance, he sat without uttering a word. Then abruptly he stood up and left the set. Upon his return, the bewildered host asked him what happened, and he answered unperturbed, ‘I had to pee.’

Then he slowly blinked. Laughter gushed out from the audience like a strong stream of piss.

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