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The Ongals: Babbling Comedy
- Murray Robertson
- 10 July 2017
The awesome foursome from Korea bring their unique K-comedy to the Fringe
The Ongals are four grown men from South Korea who dress up and behave like toddlers. In a show that combines magic, circus skills and beatboxing, the foursome entertain audiences of all ages and all nationalities. Thanks to their unique fusion of physical comedy and musical accompaniment, the group beak down barriers in an energetic comedy show that has something for the whole family. This year they return to the Fringe for a full run through August before embarking on a five-week Christmas show at London's Soho Theatre.
What's the history of the Ongals?
The Ongals began performing in June 2007 when they appeared on the KBS Comedy Programme, one of the most popular in South Korea. Since then, we have performed for 10 years, in 40 cities in 19 countries, in over 2,500 shows.
Where does the name come from?
Have you ever seen a brother interpret a younger sibling's words to their mother? Have you ever seen toddlers chatting with each other? Babbling may be the official language of the world! We decided on the team name 'Ongals' when we were discussing how we could create a good show without a language barrier. 'Ongals' is a Korean word for babbling when young children, who can't speak yet, tend to frequently repeat basic words.
How did the four Ongals come together?
The group was formed through a series of auditions on the KBS Comedy Programme in South Korea, where performers come together to perform. Many comedians, magicians, and beatboxers who want to collaborate get to work together, and we formed the group from there.
How old are the Ongals?
They are toddlers aged 24 months to 36 months. The characters can't speak well or in full sentences yet, so they deliver their opinions and emotions through the way they act and express themselves in the performance.
What is K-comedy?
K-pop is often used to describe the modern form of South Korean pop music. The Ongals team is the only group that uses 'K-comedy' to represent Korea in comedy. In Korea, comedy is very much formatted to be broadcast on TV so it is very rare to have a team representing Korea abroad.
The show features magic, circus and beatboxing – do each of the Ongals specialise in one area of expertise or are they all-round performers?
Everyone has been performing as a comedy actor on TV. The beatboxer in our group is a Korean beatbox champion! And our jugglers participate in the European Juggling Convention with jugglers from around the world so we do have some performers who specialise in certain areas.
How are the shows created?
When we first performed on the TV programme, we rehearsed for a very long time. At first, there was some dialogue in our act. But we felt there was still a language barrier, even when performing to an audience of people from the same country as we are! Comedy has no universal language and we wanted to create an accessible show for all audiences, so we introduced juggling, beatboxing, and magic, that international audiences would also enjoy.
What other performers have influenced the Ongals?
All performers who perform non-verbally. Although each Ongals member has different role models, we always enjoy watching others and learning from them.
How do the responses from different international audiences vary?
At first I felt their responses were a bit different, but now I think they're almost the same. Today, audiences can communicate and interact with people from different countries all at once without difficulty.
What next for the Ongals?
After the Fringe, we're doing our first long run at London's West End. We hope to perform in London continuously – that's our target!