Whether it’s to tide over withdrawal symptoms after binge-watching the latest drama craze, or simply to add some laughter to a recurring ‘worst week ever’, I find myself returning to variety shows as my staple source of entertainment.
And I’m not just talking about any ol’ variety show – for some reason, the Asians just have it down pat. Ranging from old-time favourites to newer additions, here are eight Asian variety shows that will win you over with their unique concepts and cast antics that are absolutely hilarious.
No, Running Man is not on this list.
1. Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! ( ガキの使い)
Running till this day since its pilot episode in 1989, you have probably seen clips of this popular Japanese variety show on your Facebook feed somewhere along the way.
One of its most popular segments — Batsu Games, involves its cast members having to deal with extreme punishments after losing bets or competitions on the show. The ‘No Laughing Batsu Game’ for example sees them enduring many ridiculous situations while trying not to laugh.
You have got to watch the show to find out what kind of absurd punishments are meted out. No spoilers but let me give you a small clue — lots of slapping is involved.
2. Ningen Kansatsu Baraeti Monitaringu (ニンゲン観察バラエティ モニタリング)
You may have seen some crazy pranks on Facebook and YouTube but no one does these better than the Japanese. Each week, weird situations are presented to unsuspecting members of the public with the show’s cast monitoring them and observing their reactions.
What’s especially ridiculous is the absurdity of some situations; does a magic door that makes people disappear even sound plausible?? You’d be surprised at the number of people who actually fell for it.
3. Mecha-Mecha Iketeru! (めちゃ²イケてるッ!)
Another long-running favourite in Japan, Mecha-Mecha Iketeru consists of many segments in which the cast interacts with the guests through different games. Of course, there are penalties involved and you really have to give it up to the Japanese for their crazy punishment ideas.
Mechaggington, one of the more regular segments of the show, sees the cast playing a simple rhythm game that may result in the loser being hoisted into a train carriage full of oversized men. If that’s not a creative punishment, I don’t know what is.
4. Hot Door Night (綜藝大熱門)
Hosted by one of Taiwan’s ‘Variety Kings’ Jacky Wu, this show takes on a different theme each week. From ludicrous impersonations of Big Bang to surprise outdoor ‘hidden camera’ pranks on unsuspecting guests, the chemistry between Jacky and his co-hosts guarantees laughter for the whole family.
Also, you can always expect some crude humour while watching Taiwanese shows, which I feel is a style that’s unique to them and something you don’t see often in Korean shows for example.
5. Happy Camp (快乐大本营)
Happy Camp is one of China’s longest-running variety shows, having been in production since 1997. With a viewership in the ballpark of tens of millions, popular celebrities often appear as guests to promote their movies, books or album releases.
Occasionally, celebrities from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are invited as well. On such episodes, these foreign guests are often made to play ridiculous games that result in hilarious situations exacerbated by the language barrier.
6. 1 Night 2 Days (1박 2일)
In the third season since it first stared airing in 2007, 1 Night 2 Days has undergone several changes to its cast. However, its concept of a ‘real wild road variety’ has never changed. Each week, the members travel to places of interest in South Korea to promote them to viewers.
The highlights of every episode are definitely the ‘luck or not’ (복불복) games, which decide whether the members get to eat and also if they get to sleep indoors or outdoors. Seeing the hilarious ways in which they desperately fight for food is something that will have you laughing uncontrollably every single time.
7. Knowing Bros (아는 형님)
Despite airing on cable TV, Knowing Bros has been steadily winning the hearts of its viewers with an ‘all-star’ cast. Each week, popular K-POP idol groups or celebrities guest star on the show as newly-transferred students.
I especially love the segment ‘Guess About Me’, where the cast has to correctly guess the answers to questions that have been prepared by the guests beforehand. As a fan, I can tell you this will not be your usual Q&A – many savage moments await.
8. Infinity Challenge (무한도전)
Although Running Man tends to reign supreme among the international audience, Infinity Challenge is South Korea’s favourite variety show of all time. If you have yet to watch an episode, I strongly recommend doing so now. You can literally pick any episode and it’s guaranteed to be funny.
True to its name, the challenges that the members embark on are often silly or impossible to complete. My favourite segment from this program is its biennial music project where musicians partner up with each member to co-produce a song, which will culminate in an ‘Infinity Challenge Song Festival’.
The songs are all pretty amazing and you will be surprised at how well some of the members sing and dance.
Having been a fan of Running Man since it first aired, I must admit that the show’s quality and humour has been sadly decreasing over the years. Instead of clinging on to the past, why not give these other Asian variety shows a chance to win you over?