Story by: Wilfred Lee, Photos by: Hannah Green
Growing up enjoying the beautiful beaches of Tampa Bay, Florida, Dan Wiberg came across an Internet ad to teach in Asia in 2009 and has been in Korea ever since. Since breaking into comedy, he has parlayed his stand-up skills into being an opening act for such comedians as Tom Rhodes, Glenn Wool, Ben Kronberg and Danny Cho. Wiberg does a weekly Top 5 Internet review with NetSideBar.com, and is the creator of the Seoul International Comedy Competition, an unprecedented event that kicked off in August. He and Chance Dorland run the “Chance & Dan Do Korea” podcast, which presents a live monthly show in Itaewon, Seoul. He also played Hitler for a Korean TV history show.
Artist’s Journey’s Wilfred Lee sat down with Wiberg to talk about breaking into comedy, meeting one’s idols and the perks of being fearless about the “dark stuff.”
Artist’s Journey: How did you get into comedy?
Dan Wiberg: As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved comedy. Well, at least funny things. I think I always wanted to give stand-up a try, but never really had the opportunity or confidence to do it. After moving to Korea I heard there was comedy going on in Seoul, and the Stand Up Seoul group actually came down to Bundang, where I was living at the time, to put on a show. It definitely got me motivated to finally give stand-up a try. I got some advice from a couple of the comics and eventually gave it a shot at an open mic at Tony’s in Itaewon.
What’s your writing process like?
Most of the jokes I come up with are usually random thoughts I have. Some of it comes as a kind of response to something I hear or read, or during a chat with someone. I’ve found that a lot of the new material I write is based off my past jokes, whether it’s planned or not, so it’s sort of always evolving — or devolving, depending on if you like my jokes or not.
What has it been like to perform comedy in Korea?
It’s been really exciting and has changed my life. I’ve met some really awesome and unique people that I never would’ve met if it weren’t for comedy. Having the opportunity to travel around Korea with a bunch of my funny-ass, bastard friends just to tell jokes to a room full of strangers will be some of the greatest moments of my life. I’ve had the chance to perform with some great professional comics, like Tom Rhodes, who has always been a favorite of mine. Talking about all this, I wish I would have started doing stand-up a long time ago, like the moment I first considered it.
What is the comedy scene like in Korea?
I think I started right when the scene took off. That definitely had nothing to do with me, but I think that because of Stand Up Seoul having regular shows and touring, it gave people like me the chance to get on stage. Stand Up Seoul has their monthly comic showcase on the first Thursday of the month at Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon. I remember when I first started, they had a sign-up list and were asking people in the crowd if anyone wanted to get up and try some jokes. Now there are so many comics in Seoul that only a few get to perform each month. It really shows the growth of the comedy scene, not just in Seoul. Busan has a big comedy scene as well, and those guys and Stand Up Seoul have done a lot together to really make comedy in Korea what it is now. With pros coming to Korea multiple times a year, I only see comedy in Korea getting more and more popular, maybe to the point where it’s a normal stop for all pros on an Asian tour.
What was the best show you’ve performed so far?
I’d have to say the first time I opened for Tom Rhodes. That was huge. Sharing the stage with a comedian like Tom was something really special. I can’t thank Stand Up Seoul enough for giving me the opportunity to do that. That was a pretty unique weekend, anyway. I broke up with my (now) soon-to-be wife, got in a drunken bar fight, then opened for Tom Rhodes the following night. I have the video of that performance, and watching it now I can see how much I have improved at just being comfortable and confident on stage. I don’t think it was the best performance I’ve had to date, but it was definitely the biggest comedy milestone for me.
Who influences you in your comedy and why?
I’m 33 going on 70. There are a lot of older comics I still enjoy, like Richard Pryor, Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield, but I think the ones who have influenced me the most as a comedian are Dave Attell, Norm Macdonald and Dave Chappelle. Attell (has been) my favorite comic, probably ever since I saw him live in Tampa in 2007. His album “Skanks for the Memories” is one of the greatest things in history — dare I say, greater than the Bible? His material is dark but so damn funny, and his crowd work is incredible. He seems to want the crowd to shout out random things during shows.
Norm Macdonald I like because of the way he tells jokes and speaks to people. He’s a great joke writer, and also really dark.
Dave Chappelle’s “Killin’ Them Softly” album came out at the perfect time in my life. His material, mannerisms and voices are really great and I think the album played a big part in my mindset of comedy. He hit everything: race, death, drugs, whatever. All the dark stuff.
Seoul International Comedy Competition
Chance & Dan Do Korea