Known as the “Nation’s MC,” “Grasshoper,” “God-Yoo,” or simply, “Yoo-nim,” Joo Jae-suk is perhaps the most recognized entertainer in South Korea. From his multiple hosting roles on popular shows like Infinite Challenge and Running Man, the gagman has made himself a household name over the course of his two-decade career.
It is no surprise that for the 2014 broadcast season, Yoo Jae-suk was honored with the Grand Award at the MBC Entertainment Awards. What was surprising was that he was also awarded the Daesung at the KBS Entertainment Awards after nine years without acknowledgement from the network. In 2014 Yoo was everywhere, so much so that even rival-network KBS couldn’t ignore his successes. These accolades were only further highlighted by the immense success of Infinite Challenge‘s “90’s Special Concert” (TOTOGO). Despite a few bumps along the way, 2014 ended on a high note for both the Grasshopper and Infinite Challenge.
Getting his start with humble guest spots on various variety programs, Yoo Jae-suk won his first Daesang for the short-lived Happy Together Friends. However, his hosting role on the popular game-style show X-Man was what truly catapulted him into domestic fame. Since, Yoo Jae-suk has added an impressive array of television programs to his roster, including Infinite Challenge, Running Man, Family Outing, Come to Play, and Happy Together 3.
Arguably, his most domestically successful program has been Infinite Challenge, which has aired almost every Saturday night since 2005 and is currently in it’s fourth season. Infinite Challenge is the contemporary pinnacle of Korean variety entertainment, combining challenges, skits, segments, social issues and humor to create a Saturday night broadcast with mass appeal. In addition to Yoo Jae-suk as the main host, the cast is also comprised of: Park Myeong-su, Ha Ha, Jeong Jun-ha, and Jeong Hyeong-don. Having worked together for years, the comedic chemistry of the cast is hard to beat.
Infinite Challenge had uncharacteristically tumultuous 2014 as cast members Gil and Noh Hong-chul were both caught drinking and driving and subsequently resigned from the MBC broadcast. The scandals had little impact on ratings though, and when award season arrived Yoo Jae-suk as well as Infinite Challenge were acknowledged heavily: Yoo Jae-suk won the Daesang, fellow cast member Ha Ha took home the PD Award, while High Excellence went to Jeong Jun-ha. Overall, the broadcast won the Viewers Choice Award.
In addition to Infinite Challenge, Yoo Jae-suk is also one of the hosts of Korea’s most popular exported variety show, Running Man. Despite Running Man‘s ratings struggle over the past year, the Grasshopper continues to give memorable performances, due to his commitment to the broadcast and its missions. For a man who’s pushing 45, he manages to keep up with more physically fit cast members and guests. What he may lack in physical prowess he makes up for with both strategy and unfailing humor.
While some of his peers, like Kang Ho Dong, opt for more laid back studio variety shows these days, Yoo Jae-suk is keen on participating in highly active — and in many respects, time consuming — broadcasts. In late 2014 it was revealed that Yoo Jae-suk at times endures 30 hour filming schedules for Infinite Challenge. When one takes into account that Infinite Challenge is one of his many active schedules, they realize exactly how committed Yoo Jae-suk is to his craft.
There is no real secret to his success aside from hard work, dedication, and natural ability. Jae-suk is known for his dedication to each broadcast he takes part in, whether he is a lead or not. He is able to differentiate his style for each broadcast while still maintaining a familiarity with the viewers. He also is incredibly polite, even when teasing some of his closest friends like Ha Ha. Perhaps Yoo Jae-suk’s greatest feature as an MC is that he is willing to take a step back and let others take the lead. He knows when to jump in with a quick quip — or intervene to save the mood — but he is also completely comfortable allowing fellow hosts and guests to shine. Even in horribly scripted situations, there is something undeniably earnest in Yoo Jae-suk’s performances.
Korean television is saturated with Yoo Jae-suk, whether it be through CFs, as a host or a as guest, he is quite literally everywhere. Yet, audiences never tire of him. Yoo Jae-suk is able to execute a wide breadth of comedic styles from pure wit to physical comedy and bring true variety to variety television (his impressions are still questionable, but that might be their charm). Through all these forms of humor though, one thing is clearly conveyed, and that is Yoo Jae-suk’s sincere appreciation for comedy and the joy of making others laugh. There is something so effortless in his humor that it rarely, if ever, feels forced.
It feels wrong to say that 2014 was the year of Yoo Jae-suk, because the man has dominated weekend variety for the better half of the past decade. As an enterainer, Yoo Jae-suk is truly one of a kind. Though his career is in its second decade, and his schedule is incomprehensibly busy, Yoo Jae-suk is living proof that if you love what you do and remain modest, you will find success.