The best TV talk show I’ve ever seen? Sure, I enjoyed Mock the Week, back when Frankie Boyle was ripping everyone and everything to shreds. I laughed hard at Dave Letterman’s attempts to make guests feel as awkward as possible (to lesser extent, Conan O’Brien sometimes does the similar shtick). Graham Norton had me cracking up many times. There’s also Polish Kuba Wojewódzki show, where the titular host is joined by guests for the no holds barred chat. It was kind of fresh and unusual at the time over here, but I feel it became just crass with no subtlety, and the guy got way too political, instead of staying a goofball. Then, the hope was gone with Letterman’s retiring (he’s back though!!!!), and all that could be heard was the fake-ass giggle of Jimmy Fallon. I sought relief and laughter in the world of Korean variety shows, Running Man and New Journey to the West standing out as genuinely hilarious shows. But the truly unrivaled show came in the form of Knowing Brother aka Knowing Bros aka Ask Us Anything.
The program featuring a ragtag group of comedians, ex-sportsmen and singers was off to a rough start, with the formula of the show changing several times, few members coming and going and bad ratings. The cancellation was imminent, yet then the miracle occurred – the idea for new format emerged – a Brother School, with the cast and the guests wearing student uniforms on the set arranged as a classroom. In the first part the cast would guess the answers to questions asked by the guests, then in the second part usually some sort of a loosely-scripted comedic skit would follow (most of the time it’s ad-libbed). Following few outrageously funny guest appearances the show picked up new steam and became pretty popular.
The rowdy bunch of characters which make up the cast, are what makes Knowing Brother so endearing to watch.
The class ‘leader’, Kang Ho-dong, is a popular Korean television host and comedian, who surprisingly enough used to be a champion in sirreum, Korean wrestling. His menacing appearance and behavior is accompanied by silly aegyo outbursts.
Lee Soo-geun, Ho-dong’s ‘right-hand man’ and a close friend who appeared with him on many other shows as well, is a brilliant comedian, who happened to be investigated and charged for gambling few years ago (it made him disappear for 2 years from the public). He returned to show business in 2015, and honestly, he’s one of the funniest people ever. He has perfect comedic timing, he’s a genius at improv, and what makes him amazing are the genuine hearty laughs he brings out. The guy is pretty short, and that makes a perfect combo with the large former wrestler Ho-dong – they have Tom and Jerry kind of relationship, notably in earlier episodes in the show.
Kim Hee Chul, a member of famous Kpop boy-band Super Junior, proves time and time again that he’s a one of a kind psycho, pulling out the most outrageous comments about the guest stars. While common sense isn’t his strongest side, he astounds everyone with his knowledge about Korean pop culture and guesses song names upon hearing single notes. The running jokes include his sexual orientation/or even him being a woman, even though he acts like a player and total womanizer around female guests.
Min Kyun-hoon is a singer and vocalist of the ballad rock band Buzz, and together with Hee-chul they’re the youngest members of the cast. He loves women, and although he doesn’t talk that much, when he does, you know it’s gotta be hilarious, as it’s either completely silly or it shows his thick-headedness. Sometimes it seems that he’s a total bonehead (he sings with his head, that’s for certain). As Buzz isn’t a Kpop boy-band, Kyun-hoon cares a lot less about his public image and so he talks much more freely about what’s on his mind.
Seo Jang-hoon is another sportsman-turned-entertainer, as he used to play basketball (center position). He talks a lot and complains a lot – he also possesses an uncanny skill in answering the guests’ questions – I imagine he’s got the largest number of right answers among the cast. In few words, he’s a rich giant (2.07 m) divorcee – the rest of the guys constantly bring up his divorce, height and wealth, and make fun of him.
Lee Sang Min is a Korean hip-hop/pop legend – a former member of a group Roo’ra, which was immensely popular in the 90s, having sold millions of records. He also works as music producer. Everyone pokes fun at his debt. For a while he was staying quiet and his thing was making a pleasant face, but now he got way more talkative, and it turns out that he’s had an incredibly interesting life.
Finally, there’s Kim Young-chul, and at times you may start to wonder how he ended up here, being unfunny as he is. Seriously, you wonder if his terrible jokes and the persona are only a facade, or is it really that bad. I did warm up to Young-chul though, as he’s kind-hearted, and he did make few wisecracks here and there.
125 episodes of Knowing Brother aired by this point and I enjoyed thoroughly most of them, but I’d like to list some of my favorite guests here (the list could be twice as long, but I wasn’t bothered).
Best KPOP girl groups episodes:
E21 and E84 – Red Velvet – RV’s first appearance on the show was around the time KB has begun to really shine. Despite huge age difference, Joy, Wendy, Seulgi and Yeri (Irene was missing here) fitted well in the classroom full of old dudes (the Bros were shocked they’re even older than some of the parents of the girls) and as the cast later noted, they were unnecessarily worried, as RV was a hit, and the skit at end was hilarious. The second time Red Velvet came to the show was a bit different as the girls acted slightly more mature, but it was pretty much the same level of funny, as the cast continued to be as immature as it gets.
E27 and E76 – Twice – E27 was a mix of the awkward and ridiculous – Jeongyeon sharing the name of Seo Jang Hoon’s ex-wife, Kim Hee Chul & Momo’s display of ‘don’t urge me/’joreujima’, Min Kyun-hoon’s flying kick, the misery of Tzuyu, and Kang Ho Dong’s chicken fight. The other episode was during Twice’s Signal promotion. The girls show how airheaded and silly they are, and the Brothers work on that. Soo-geun’s guesses to the band’s questions really stand out here. Also, Sana is love and Nayeon’s laugh is godly.
E32 – Sistar – one of the episodes I go back to most often. It’s a perfect example of Soo-geun/Hee Chul tandem trying to one-up each other with more savage remarks. The Brothers also prove their love for old music, and Hyorin comments that they’re like a jukebox machine.
Best KPOP boy groups episodes:
E46 – INFINITE – first boy group on the show, and because of the testosterone overdose, the Bros and Kyun-hoon in particular weren’t pleased. Sung-jong’s football skills are something else though.
E50 – Shinee – I didn’t expect laughing my ass off over a boy band episode, but Shinee were great. The tension runs high as the Bros clash with them in different games, which Soo-geun and Ho-dong fix to their liking. It happened in the INFINITE episode as well, but Minho’s intense gaze is just too much, which happens to contrast with Taemin’s ‘I don’t give a damn’ smile. Soo-geun/Taemin bromance was born.
E85 – EXO – Christian D.O. who’s good at applying protective screens on phones, Sehun’s junk, and Baekhyun, Hee Chul and Kyun-hoon’s singing Sweet Dream. Lee Soo-geun was carrying the episode, with EXO members constantly cracking up.
E100 – Super Junior – a rare occasion where Hee Chul is actually the guest on the show. Also a rare occasion Dong-hae is in a variety program, and he immediately wins everyone’s hearts. SuJu have been around for a long time, and they’re all pretty funny. Yesung/Ho-dong relation is so wacky.
E22 Jun Hyoseong (Secret) and Kyungri (Nine Muses) – an episode full of risqué talk and sexual innuendos. I believe it was all in good nature, but we live in times when it’s considered offensive and derogating, so I guess E22 was one of the reasons for disciplinary action against the show later on.
E29 – Irene (Red Velvet) and Jonghyun (Shinee) – last December’s news about Jonghyun was very saddening, for me mainly in the context of Knowing Bros (and as a fellow human being, really) and his contribution to this show. It often seems to be the case that those smiling the most can suffer deep inside a lot. Irene and Jongyun introduce ‘Jonghyun’s game’, which involves guessing song names based on first letters of the song, properly intonated. The bit later went on to become the staple of the show, many other bands using it for their appearances.
E58- Rain and Hani – the biggest guest to star on KB at that time, Rain, the Hallyu pioneer and EXID’s Hani secure huge ratings and bring in their best game. Kim Tae Hee’s name comes up more often than Rain would like, Hani shows her astounding foot talent and sirreum matches are the culmination of the episode.
E19 – Kang Ye-won – she seems shocked at Bros’ behavior and witty back talking, and her reactions make the episode all the more hilarious. Lee Soo-geun’s comedy skit in the second part is just legendary.
E20 – Shin So-yul – the only time the guest becomes the teacher for the episode, and Shin So-yul plays the part so amazingly. Following Kang Kyun-sung’s (literally) insane appearance two episodes prior, Hee Chul the psycho is emerging. Kyun-hoon traditionally gets bamboozled out of his reward for winning in a game, Ho Dong does a lot of slapstick, and Soo-Geunie gets to wear a wedding dress 🙂
E30 – Jeon Hye-bin – a sort of rehabilitation episode. Hye-bin turns out to be such an interesting person and among laughter and jokes, she brings out some sincerity, tears, and reflection from the Brothers.
E66 – Kim Hee-Sun – the self-proclaimed ultimate Korean beauty. I’d say not my age group, but she’s definitely a gorgeous woman. The cast is charmed by her, yet at the same time they never stop poking fun at her for being just too silly. She defeats everyone in ‘pinned to the wall confession’ game, shows her weird and impressive small toe trick, but gets mocked for the complete lack of rhythm. The Undertaker visits the show as well!
E72 – Park Sung-woong, Chae Jung-an – two incredibly curious guests. I mean, sometimes the questions are very lackluster, and the guesses made by the cast are what’s the most entertaining. However, especially the questions asked by Sung-woong and the actual answers to them were so interesting. Both him and Jung-an are very charismatic, a bit old-school, and despite Hee Chul’s constant teasing and quoting ‘New World’ lines, they were such good sports.
E101 – Han Hye-jin, Lee Si-eon – Han Hye-jin is a well-known model, while Lee Si-eon did a lot of great supporting characters, e.g. Reply 1997. Both of them were amazing, but the ones who stole the spotlight in the end were Hee Chul and Soo-geun – the former with his new skit persona, ‘Cherry’, a fashion designer, and the latter with his fondness for streaking and belly waves.
E39 – Sung Hoon, Kim Jin-kyung
E45 – Lee Si-young
E65 – Oh Ji-ho, Seo Ye-ji
E99 – Lee Ha-nui
E117 – Boom, Ahn So-hee