Masks are big business in the world of reality television. After the massive success of The Masked Singer in the U.S. (and in the United Kingdom and Australia), Fox greenlit the equally bonkers spinoff The Masked Dancer earlier this year. And now Netflix is about to premiere what is basically its own version of The Masklorette — “or as I like to call it, The Masked Swingers,” quips Masked Singer judge Ken Jeong — a cosplaying blind-dating show called Sexy Beasts.
“That show is so wild, I'm surprised I'm not hosting it,” Jeong tells Yahoo Entertainment. But Jeong actually has his own brilliant idea for a new take on the Masked craze.
“I did bring up to the creator and executive producer of The Masked Singer, doing The Masked Comedian, because I think that could be a fun show,” says Jeong. (Imagine The Gong Show’s Unknown Comic, but with a budget for costumes much more impressive than brown paper bags with poked-out eyeholes.) “Just like singing, a lot of doing stand-up comedy is visual: You're performing, you're adding a facial expression, or you're doing something physical. But what if you don't have that, and it’s just based on your jokes? I think there's a world where The Masked Comedian could exist. I would love to be on it — and I'm sure I would get that wrong too. I'm sure I'd have a lot of close friends on that show. I would love to see if I would get things more correct, but I'd probably would be just as bad.”
Yes, Jeong is famous, or infamous, for his absurdly incorrect Masked Singer guesses; there’s little chance of him ever stealing his two-time Golden Ear-winning costar Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg’s thunder. His catchphrase on the show is “I KNOW EXACTLY WHO THIS IS,” and yet he rarely does. Reality TV skeptics might assume that he’s deliberately guessing wrong for comic effect or to throw viewers off the scent, but he insists, “The great thing about The Masked Singer is, it's authentic. ... I'm really not that good at the gameplay!” And he’s still chagrined that he didn’t guess that Season 1’s Poodle was a fellow comedian and a good pal; that’s the reveal he still ranks as his biggest personal shocker.
“First season, it was Margaret Cho as the Poodle,” says Jeong. “Margaret Cho is one of my dear friends, and she helped me get my start in standup comedy. One of my very first gigs many years ago was being her opening act at the college that I went to, at Duke, and she really has given me advice and has given me guidance throughout my career. And she's such a pioneer in Asian-American comedy that I actually wrote a part for her on my show, Dr. Ken, where she played my sister. I know her very well and love her so much. And I had no idea who she was. And when she was revealed, if you watch the episode, I'm not only shocked, but embarrassed. And Margaret said — and it was very, very genuine — she said, ‘I'm really shocked that you did not guess it was me. … I really thought Ken would guess that it was me.’ And to this day, I'm still embarrassed by it. And whenever I see her, it is still fresh in my mind where I just can't live that down. … I'm a very talkative guy, and I'm still speechless by that.”
Cho’s unmasking may have been the one that surprised Jeong the most, but there’s one bad guess that was even more humiliating for him. “I guessed someone was Mariah Carey — and it turned out to be Wendy Williams!” he says, cracking into fits of laughter recalling the night the Lips was eliminated after a tone-deaf disco performance. “But we had a feature where we had to write down just first-instinct guess, and we were running out of time. And since [host] Nick Cannon was talking, I just was like, ‘Oh, well, he was married to Mariah Carey.’ I don't know why, but I just wrote that down in a panic. … I had a bit of an anxiety attack, just a little bit. I was kind of panicked and wrote down ‘Mariah Carey.’
“And then, when Wendy was eliminated, they read out the first guess that comes to mind, and it was ‘Mariah Carey’! … They literally cut out a lot where Nick couldn't stop laughing. And I was like, ‘OK, all right, just get to it.’ If you saw the uncut version, oh my goodness, I couldn't live that down.”
The Masked Singer Season 6, wrong guesses and all, airs on Fox this fall; hopefully The Masked Comedian will get the greenlight soon after that. However, for viewers who need a mask fix in the interim, Netflix's Sexy Beasts premieres July 21.
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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Luiz Saenz