Column Feature

An Athlete’s 7-Step Guide to Getting On an Asian Game Show

If you’re reading this after watching the latest episode of popular Korean variety entertainment show Running Man featuring Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and enviously thought “Pillsbury Throwboy over there probably made thousands for one hour of unscripted television nonsense and a game of human bowling. How can I cash in like him?”

Just sittin’ here gettin’ paid.

Well, I’m here to tell you too have a chance at appearing in an Asian game show, which is a fantastic opportunity to make easy TV money while having fun and boost your personal #brand. Shows like Running Man are now watched globally with a fast-rising viewership. There’s no better time to tap into the Asian market than now.

With social media and YouTube, whatever happens in Asia no longer stays in Asia. American media, too, will now gobble up the recent crazy antic you performed in an Asian variety show in less than 24 hours after your show airs.

And now, with my seven simple rules, you, non-Asian professional athlete, can star in an Asian game show.

1) Have an Asian teammate

I’m sorry to burst your bubble from the start, but Asian game shows will not have you on unless you have an Asian teammate that will star on the show with you. (Unless you are a global superstar like David Beckham.) All these shows are made for and marketed primarily to their countrymen, after all. But if you do happen to have an Asian teammate, make sure to befriend him, hold him close, and never let go.

He's with me.
He’s with me.

2) Be good at your sport (or a specialist)

As it takes money to make money, it takes #brand to make more #brand. No Asian show is going to invite over some chump athlete. Not really rocket science here.

But you don’t have to be an superstar like Thierry Henry to make it. Heck, you just need to be really, really good at one thing.

Take, for instance, Hakan Calhanoglu, a Bayer Leverkusen soccer player and Korean star Son Heung-Min’s teammate. He’s an above average player, but he’s considered one of the best free kick takers in the world at the age of 21. While Calhanoglu remains an Asian game show virgin, I think he could be a possible guest to an Asian game show. I like to imagine him taking free kicks on a sinking dinghy surrounded by flames in a Japanese game show.

So, Hakan, call up your agent and Heung-Min. And you’re welcome.

3) Pick a character trait, and play it up

Director Akira Kurosawa advised his actors and actresses to pick one idiosyncrasy for their character and repeatedly play it throughout the film. Athletes, barring a few exceptions, aren’t good actors, but I’m sure they can play an exaggerated persona of their real selves. Pick one trait about yourself (short temper, big smiles, clumsiness, dimwittedness, etc.) and play it up. Become a stereotype of yourself.

Take, for instance, former Manchester United fullback Patrice Evra. He was the first foreigner to be on Running Man because he was best friends with Korean soccer legend Ji-Sung Park. (See Rule #1) But the real reason was he is a happy-go-lucky guy who had fun and gave his all. He just remained himself and came out looking very likeable, gregarious, and outrageous, which ultimately made for good television.

The check cleared?
The check cleared?

4) Become the weirdness

When you are on television, you are going to stick out like a sore thumb. You don’t understand the language, the humor, and the crazy games you are about to play. So screw embarrassing yourself and just have a good time and make a fool of yourself. Don’t be like Cristiano Ronaldo who was awkward as hell on Japanese television. (You deserve a Ballon D’Oh! for that, Cristiano.) If the host offers you a Shake Weight for your mouth, you shake it like your life depends on it.

5) Fly to Asia

Sure, these networks can fly their television crew out to wherever the athlete is, like a Japanese game show flying to Barcelona to film Lionel Messi do crazy things with a soccer ball. (Not that Messi is the most sociable, telegenic guy.) But chances are they will want you to visit and do crazy things in their home turf, so don’t bank on them flying out to Pittsburgh or Leverkusen. So fly over the Pacific, you crazy diamond!

But I'm Messi.
But I’m Messi.

6) Emphasis on facial expressions

This is especially important for Japanese shows. It’s commonplace for Japanese shows to have a box on the corner filming the reactions of panelists live as they play a taped segment. Unlike American television where viewers watch the shows that rarely break the fourth wall and let viewers decide what they find funny, Japanese shows perpetually break the fourth wall and directs viewers to what they should be laughing at. That’s also why Japanese and Korean shows constantly have audiences emote collective reactions like “ehhhhhhh” or “ohhhhhhh.”

As the non-Asian guest, the cameras will be on you. In the same vein as Rule #3, make sure your surprise looks are Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”-esque, your laughs are loud and crisp, and try to time the ehhhhhhh’s or ohhhhhhh’s correctly. There’s no place for subtlety here.

Ohhhhhh face.
Ohhhhhhh face.

7) Be competitive

Whether you are playing supernatural baseball or playing soccer against 55 kids, give it your all. It’s a competition after all, so channel in your inner fire and show the world who’s the boss. Nobody tunes in to see someone do a half-assed job, whether it be on the baseball diamond or in a Japanese TV studio.

SEUNG Y. LEE | @sngyn92

Seung Y. Lee is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, California. A UC Berkeley alumnus, he has previously worked at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Seung is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow. You can find him watching Tottenham Hotspur matches alone on weekend mornings.

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