BBC's Robert Kelly laments online fame as his home-office comedy becomes internet hit

An academic who became a global internet sensation when his children interrupted a live television interview lamented the perils of online fame Wednesday, telling reporters: "I'm so through with this."

Robert Kelly, a professor at South Korea's Pusan National University, was sharing his insights with the BBC last Friday on the downfall of impeached president Park Guen-Hye when his daughter Marion waltzed into his home office, followed by his toddler son James, who wheeled in on his baby walker.

Kelly's wife Kim Jung-A, who was watching the interview on television from their living room, flew in seconds later, flinging her arms in a desperate attempt to retrieve the young intruders, before returning on all fours to reach out and close the door.

The interview — described as a "perfect piece of physical comedy" by the BBC — spread like wildfire, watched more than 160 million times on the broadcaster's Youtube page as of Wednesday.

Robert Kelly with his wife and kids. AP

Robert Kelly with his wife and kids. AP

Then the humour turned into extensive online commentary on how Kelly handled the situation, their home life, and a wider debate on newspaper opinion pages over perceived racism after some posters questioned whether the woman in the video was his wife or a nanny.

Major international news outlets including CNN, The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal have covered the gatecrashing, which was also parodied by the Jimmy Fallon Show. Kelly, who specialises in East Asian affairs, said he and his family had been "buried under phone calls, messages and Twitter".

"I'm so through with this that I'm not even reading the websites anymore. There are also think pieces on this too that I have given up trying to read," he told a press conference in Busan organised by his university -- which his wife and children also attended.

'Know me for my work'

US-born Kelly, who studied at Ohio State University, teaches US foreign policy at the institution where he is an associate professor, and has research interests in international politics and political theory.

He has written a number of academic papers, and regularly contributes to publications such as Newsweek or appears as a political commentator on international broadcasters.

"I hope that at some point, people know me for my work," he said. "I mean, this wouldn't be the first line in my obituary."

Asked if, with hindsight, he would have refused the BBC permission to upload the footage to its Facebook page, he said: "If I could have prevented the recording altogether from going on the Internet, yes."

The video triggered accusations of discrimination in South Korea and elsewhere after some online posters overseas immediately assumed that Kelly's wife was a nanny.

"The babysitter is currently searching for new employment as of now," said a user on Twitter.

Another tweeted: "Nanny got fired after this."

But Kelly's wife Kim shrugged off the discriminatory comments, urging viewers to take the video more light-heartedly, and expressed hopes that it could bring about change.

"There are a lot of multicultural families in the world and I hope that this could be an opportunity to change people's perception," said Kim.

The family were now looking to move on from their instant fame and return to their daily lives, said Kelly.

A Wikipedia page was created for him on Saturday, as the video began to spread, but the online encyclopedia has marked it for possible deletion amid questions over his significance.

One contributor wrote: "Just because he is interviewed by journalists (with or without his family) does not make him notable."

You can see the exact moment professor Robert Kelly knows his live interview has imploded.

As Kelly speaks from his home office via Skype with BBC about the just-ousted South Korean president, his eyes dart left as he watches on his computer screen as his young daughter parades into the room behind him. Her jaunty entrance resembles the exuberant march of the Munchkins celebrating the Wicked Witch's death in the The Wizard of Oz.

Here's a post-mortem of a the interview disaster put together by AP:

The toddler

Just as Kelly, a political science professor at Pusan National University in the port city of Busan, says "... the question is, How do democracies respond to those scandals," the unlocked door to his home office pops open and in prances Marion, 4, wearing a yellow sweater and glasses, her hair in pigtails.

Her walk — elbows raised like chicken wings, head thrown back and rocking side to side, knees high — suggests a drum major leading a marching band down Main Street.

Clearly, all is right with her world.

Dad — not so much.

Kelly keeps facing forward, but his eyes shift to the left at Skype's picture-within-picture on his computer screen. The BBC presenter, James Menendez, points out the obvious: "I think one of your children has just walked in."

When she arrives at his elbow, Kelly continues to face the camera but attempts to use his left arm to push her, gently but firmly, back.

Just as Menendez attempts to ask whether the removal from office of President Park Geun-hye will influence relations between the rival Koreas more trouble looms in the doorway.

The baby

James, 9-months-old, at the helm of a rolling walker, stops briefly and surveys the scene.

A decision quickly settled in favor of forward motion, James propels his walker into the room, legs churning, arms lifted high, like one of those "dancing" air-balloons that shimmy in front of used car shops.

Sister, rejected by dad, leans back onto a bed with books piled on it. Some of the books tumble to the floor.

Kelly attempts to soldier on with the interview. "I would be surprised if they do," he says to anyone still focused on his analysis of whether inter-Korean relations will change.

James coos and gurgles as he nears pops and sis.


In a flash, the next entrant to a scene the Marx Brothers would have appreciated slides sideways into the room on her socks, banging the door into a bookcase.

Kelly's wife, Jung-a Kim, momentarily fixes her eyes on the computer screen before shifting with laser-like focus on the escaped children.

She turns on a dime and drops down. As her knees bang on the floor, Kelly closes his eyes for much longer than a typical blink. "Pardon me," he says.

Kim gets her right hand on the baby's walker, her left hand on her daughter and, with a double-yanking motion, begins to back out of the room, still crouched down. More books bang onto the floor.

"My apologies," Kelly says, bowing his head and laughing nervously.

The presenter attempts another question — "What does this mean for the region?" — just as mom lets go of the baby walker, keeping the squirming daughter still in her grip, opens the door and backs out, dragging both kids with her.

Kelly again closes his eyes for a long beat. Another "My apologies." Some voices of childlike complaint from the hallway. "Sorry," Kelly murmurs.

Mom then appears again, on her knees. She stretches out and pulls the door closed, causing a map on the wall to billow slightly. As one of the children lets loose a cry of anger and frustration from the other room, Kelly attempts to continue his answer: "South Korea's policy toward North Korea ..."

The aftermath

Menendez said in a follow-up interview that the moment made the Kellys "the most famous family in the world," but the professor says it's been a bit overwhelming. He turned off his phone for a while and stopped posting on social media.

"We understand why people find it enjoyable," Kelly told Menendez, Kim and their children by his side in the same room as the first video. "It's sort of catching a regular family off guard."

Kim said it has been "a little bit stressful."

Kelly said the family was "pretty uncomfortable" with online comments that assumed Kim was the nanny.

He also addressed another online theory — that the reason he didn't help corral the kids himself was because he wasn't wearing any pants or was in his pajama bottoms.

"Yes," he said, laughing, "I was wearing pants."

With inputs from AP and AFP

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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2017 12:46:16 IST

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