Kim Jong-un impersonators: A life of luxury

With his extreme crew cut, chubby cheeks and a penchant for black button-up shirts and shiny brogues, Kim Jong-un is one of the world’s most recognisable dictators – and one of the most memed and mocked .

It’s good work if you can get it. One impersonator, who asked to be identified as Howard, hung out with pop star Katy Perry at this year’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Another, who goes only by Jeremy, boasted of snogging up to 40 women when he went – in character – to Hong Kong’s rugby sevens tournament in March. He was also snapped downing beer in the crowd.

Howard is keen to stress that his character, whom he calls “Kim Jong-um”, was the world’s first professional Kim lookalike, predating his rival Jeremy.

Howard markets himself as “the closest thing you will get to the Dear Leader without going to North Korea” and speaks frankly about the fact that he’s happy to “lend the character to projects that make extra money”.

“It started in 2013 on April Fools day, I uploaded some pictures of me with a Kim Jong-un-esque haircut… Two weeks later I got a call asking me to go to Israel to shoot a burger commercial ,” says Howard, speaking on the phone from Hong Kong.


But it’s not just about the commercial gigs, he says. “Kim Jong-um” attended Russia’s Victory Day celebrations this year when the real Kim, who was on the Kremlin’s guest list with a cast of other well-known autocrats, failed to show.

Most Muscovites in the crowds got the joke and lined up for selfies, Howard says. But others were taken in, with one bystander apparently asking, in all seriousness, why he was “alone without his entourage”.

Howard has also used his character to raise the profile of a number of political protests, including the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, the pro-democracy movement which sprung up in 2014 .

He has also lent his face to protests organised by a group called North Korea Defector Concerns, rallying against China’s forcible repatriation of North Koreans, a situation he has called “unacceptable and extremely unethical”.

But the only North Koreans to come face-to-face with his character were those at the consulate in Hong Kong, which he visited as a part of a media stunt. “They were pissed off and called security,” he says.

Minyong Kim from South Korea has also adopted the look. He too first dressed up for fun before realising it could make for an interesting part-time vocation.

Arguably his most impressive stunt was when he joined forces with Barack Obama impersonator Reggie Brown to croon a rendition of Eric Carmen’s 1970s classic All By Myself on the streets of Seoul.

He has since moved to the US to study where he has become “ the most selfied guy on campus ”, he told News Gazette.

Some might regard dressing up as a man accused of lauding over prison camps and millions of malnourished citizens as insensitive, but Howard insists his intention has never been to glorify the North Korean leader.

Unlike Howard, Minyong has batted away any requests to lend himself to anything political. He explains that Liberty in North Korea , a US-based campaign group, “asked for my help but I will not do any political action – either agreeing or disagreeing [the] North Korean [government],” he told the Guardian via email.

Minyong says he has never tried to meet North Koreans in character as he knows they wouldn’t appreciate it, but “South Koreans know what I am doing, and many people think it is fun… just parody,” he says.

Generally the American public appreciate it too, but “some extreme right [wing] conservatives act aggressively – they think I’m am being un-patriotic,” he adds.

When News Gazette asked about Kim Jong-un himself he said: “I don’t think he really cares about me because he is the ‘dear leader’ of North Korea and I am just a normal citizen.”

Very few people Howard comes across have been annoyed or disgusted, he says. “A few have quietly taken me aside toask ‘you know who he is right?’”

Fun though it might be for now, neither Howard nor Minyong are in it for the long haul. Howard says he has dreams to expand his music career, while Minyong insists it’s just a stop gap.

“I do this impersonating to make college students laugh and remove stress from daily lives… [but] I have my own dream and career plan and Kim Jong-un impersonating is not major part of my life.” Besides, his girlfriend has said she finds the whole thing abhorrent . – © Guardian News & Media 2015

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Banning protests at the Olympics ignores the games’ history

It is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee was quickly out of the blocks with new guidelines regarding athlete...

North Korea hails ‘historic’ Kim-Trump summit

Kim and Trump shook hands over the concrete slabs dividing North and South before Trump walked a few paces into Pyongyang's territory

Nuclear stalemate one year after Trump-Kim summit — analysts

In Singapore, Kim signed a vaguely-worded deal on denuclearisation, touted by Trump as a historic breakthrough

North Korea slams ‘war maniac’ Bolton

North Korea has sought to raise the pressure and carried out two short-range missile tests earlier this month

Kim, Putin vow to seek closer ties at first talks

The two leaders shook hands and shared smiles as they met and gave brief statements before heading in for the talks

Trump ‘walks’ as North Korea talks end abruptly without deal

The much-anticipated second meeting between the two leaders was supposed to build on their historic first summit in Singapore
Advertising

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday