Thursday, December 28, 2006


The police had detained Tharp—a sometime Seattle theater artist who was part of an infamous company called Piece of Meat and has been teaching English in Pusan, South Korea, for the past two and a half years—over a sketch comedy he helped produce. Called Babo-palooza (babo is Korean for "fool"), the show sold out two nights in a 60-seat theater with bits about drunken English teachers, overzealous customs agents, and some doggerel about dog-meat soup, called boshintang: "I will not eat this boshintang. I will not eat it, Kang-Jae Wang." It was, Tharp said, a silly evening that gently mocked both Koreans and Westerners.

Less than two weeks later, police came to the university where Tharp works and detained him and another performer for questioning, fingerprinting, and a drug test. "Luckily, we were all clean," he said. "In Korea, failing a piss test is the same as possession: You go to jail for a few months and get deported." At the station, he remembered selling one of his interrogators a ticket: Two undercover detectives had attended the show. The police said that the performance violated the expatriates' work visas, but most of the questioning was about the content: why it was called Babo-palooza, what the jokes meant, what the performers were "trying to say."