"I hate going to the Philippines, like, against my will," Pinoy standup comic Rex Navarrete tells the mostly-Filipino crowd at the Irvine Improv club Tuesday night, recalling teen summers in San Francisco he was forced to trade in for drugged plane rides back to the motherland. . .where he stayed with his superstitious aunt in her provincial fortress of a home, just a seven hour jeepney ride from the airport.
The place is a little more than half full, with folks picking at their spicy chicken strips and calamari, trying not to choke as they bowl over with laughter. Some fondly remember the weirdness of home; others unfamiliar with the culture sit wide-eyed next to their Pinay girlfriends with "He's kidding, right? Right?!" looks on their faces.
But Navarrete preaches the truth - we freaking Flips really do have relatives who send SPAM (ahem, "special ham"), Toblerone, broken appliances and down blankets our family on the archipelago will never need back to the Philippines in large cardboard boxes. We're no stranger to that strange wealthy and wacky Imelda-esque "tita" (auntie) who lives behind 20 foot walls lined with broken glass at the top so the street kids won't climb over. Y'know, that same tita who believes evil "dwende" (dwarves) live in the backyard and the woods beyond it, and that "Kapres" (smoking giants) live in trees, and that one shouldn't climb the roof at night lest the "mananangals" (flying vampire-like old biddies without legs) steal the unborn child within you.
For all his quips about the Phils, you can tell Navarrete loves the place. He waxes poetic about corporeal punishment, and the father who need only walk into the room, touch his belt and grunt for the misbehaving young Navarrete to shit his pants knowing what was coming next.
Born and raised in Manila, the hour-long show was a treat for this kid, but Navarrete's spiel is for everyone. I was pleased to see several white boys clutching their sides and shaking their heads when Rex talked about Pinoy boys keeping their "panty" on in the shower after gym class.
I will admit I was mildly disappointed that he didn't launch into his famous "Maritess and the Superfriends" bit, wherein Navarrete channels a Pinay domestic worker from Zamboanga who answers an "earn in dollars" ad and somehow ends up a housemaid for Superman, Aquaman (who flips out when he catches her cooking "daing" - a popular but smelly Filipino fish dish), Batman ("He's a gay! I think he's bakla! Oh, I don't know.") and the rest.
Fortunately, someone thought to animate the first chapter of that story and slap it up on YouTube:
Maritess would eventually leave the Superfriends after seeing an ad for a similar job at Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters. But oh the tragedy, she thought it was for Xavier - a well-known school for Chinese boys in the Philippines. Poor poppet.
Anyway, here are a few more clips from last night's show, edited in the wee hours of the morn for y'all:
Also at the Improv last night were Comedy Central comedians Kevin Kataoka and Dan Gabriel. Both amazingly funny gents, though Kataoka saddened me offstage when I asked him if the writers' strikes were affecting his job any. He said he hadn't done standup in a while, but with the strikes going on, he's gone back to make some dough. It's a tough town.