Ongals: meet the Korean clown babies baffling audiences of all ages


My three-year-old son, Gregor, thinks farting is the funniest thing. He let one go while sat on my lap on the bus en route to the Ongals’ show and dissolved into giggles. My daughter, aged seven, is considerably more mature: she likes bums. When we arrived at Soho theatre, the first thing she noticed was the poster for Wild Bore, the performance art/theatre show deconstructing the art of criticism. Its poster features three naked female backsides, and Cora was transfixed by it. Why?, she wanted to know. How!? So I felt pretty pleased as we entered the auditorium for Babbling Comedy, a slapstick comedy from South Korea reportedly heavy on the farting and backsides gags. A surefire success, right?

Well, yes – and, I am happy to report, not primarily for bum-related reasons. OK, so on reviewing the show afterwards, both kids decided their favourite moment was when the pink big baby shoved a bicycle pump up the yellow big baby’s bottom and inflated the balloon sticking out of his mouth. But toilet humour is only a small component of what makes Babbling Comedy an endearing family show. It’s a circus-meets-slapstick hour, performed by grown men in candy-coloured romper-suits, non-verbal if you discount their frenetic gurgling and babbling. (“Ongali” is Korean for “goo goo gah gah”, apparently.) If you don’t like juggling, hold out for the beatboxing. There’s something here for everyone.



Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

The audience when we attended was majority grownup, so the Ongals’ fanbase clearly isn’t restricted to children. My kids seemed more intrigued than delighted and watched the spectacle with pretty beady eyes. Maybe that’s because the trio on stage aren’t your typical innocent/gormless clowns. They boss the audience around; they’re four parts joy to one part threat. If I were a kid, I’d keep my distance too.

There’s no plot: it’s just about whatever our unnamed man-babies pull out of a toybox upstage. A balloon pump, which you know about. A toilet seat, which becomes a giant magnet. A whip, which can lash a cigarillo out of an audience volunteer’s mouth from five yards. (Or can it?) The whole show becomes a contest between our toddling hosts to see whose audacious feats can win the biggest cheer from the crowd. First among equals, cheers-wise, is powder-blue big-baby, juggler extraordinaire with balls, batons and finally machetes. All these virtuosic feats are tightly surrounded by comedy, as when the riskiness of the whip trick is signalled by one Ongal “accidentally” dismembering a shop-window dummy.

Finally, a fourth Ongal appears, bringing his beatboxing tricks with him. My wee boy clambers on to my lap. He doesn’t like loud noises, so watches the final 10 minutes with my fingers in his ears. We watch a neat fusion of juggling and beatboxing to finish with, each baton synced with a different sound. One of them is a farting noise, which brings our night out full-circle. Men pretending to be babies is entertaining enough, but nothing in Babbling Comedy is quite as fascinating to Cora as that Wild Bore image. On the way out, she grabs a flyer and clutches it all the way home.



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