Curtain Calls

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Originally slated for publishing in an issue of Statement that never came. (updated  to include the latest addition to the growing list of stars joining the role call in the biggest show 'up there')

Public Static takes a look at the legacy of the comedians who up to their last moments refused to go quietly into the night.

On and off screen

Cipriano CermeƱo II, more popularly known as the albino bisayan comedian Redford White, has been one of the enduring icons of Philippine comedy for almost three decades. Since his debut as a skinny Filipino version of a famous Saturday morning cartoon character in the movie Hee-Man: Master of None, Redford White has starred in dozens of movies and almost as many TV shows. His trademark of croaky, high-pitched whines and facial expressions that could be recognized for miles a way were guaranteed sources of laughter, even in this age of sophisticated humor.

Little known to many, Cipriano was in fact a quiet, timid man off the camera who used his onscreen character very professionally. Outside the set, his friends see him as a serious mild-mannered man who, as coworker Eric Quizon describes him, "a man who believed in his craft and valued his work." During his final days, many friends from the industry who visited Redford were surprised to see him laughing as heartily as he did on camera. True to his calling, Cipriano left with a good laugh from him and those around him.

Through thick and Thin

For many years, Palito has appeared in a lot of comedy films and is one of the most recognizable actors when it comes to comedy. Known as Reynaldo Alfredo R. Hipolito, Sr. in real life, Palito started doing comedy as early as the 60's up to the mid 70's when there was a general decline in comedy. Palito hit the peak of his career during the boom of comedy films in the mid 80s. It was during this time that he starred in a number of major roles in movies, most of them cheekily named, like Rambuto and James Bone. Palito is the textbook example of slapstick self-deprecating style of humor that is pervasive in the humor industry even today. Later in his life, Palito laid low from the movie industry and starred in independent movies such as M.O.N.A.Y. (Mistaeyks obda neyson adres Yata) as lately as 2007. He also continued to routinely play with his band Palito n d Gang every Tuesday on one of Pagcor's smaller casinos in Manila. He also occassionaly appeared in the local music scenes such as this year's Muziklaban. After coming home late one night last April, Palito was rushed to the hospital due to stomach pains and died five days later due to lung complications from his long history of smoking. 

Timeless Comedy 

Perhaps it is impossible to discuss Pinoy-branded comedy without being able to refer to what we Filipinos collectively call the Comedy King, Rodolfo "Dolphy" Quizon Sr. With a career spanning seven decades, with more movies, acts, and awards than any comedian in the country, or quite possibly the world, Dolphy has not only managed to establish the image of the genre of comedy in the Philippines - he has also managed to become its enduring avatar. Unlike other comedians, Dolphy remained active well through his twilight years, taking his brand of comedy beyond just work but as a mantra of living. With his span of presence, all current generations of Filipinos will be able to attest to his legacy of laughs, and sharp-witted words. Three years ago, Dolphy was diagnosed with pulmonary disease - one which caused him to go back and forth the hospital many times, and understandably reduce his participation onscreen, until his demise this year.

From a long vanishing list

Cipriano, Quizon, and Reynaldo are not alone. They join an ever growing list of comedians who have passed on and left a legacy of films and shows that helped define the preferred humor of an entire generation. Rene Requiestas, Cachupoy, Pugo, Panchito, Pablito Sarmiento, Jr. (Babalu), Ricardo Castro (of the Reycard Duet fame), Tommy Angeles (Mang TOmas of Home Along d' Riles) are just a few of the more recognizable names of the comedians that have departed since the glory days of the 80s and early 90s. Looking back, very few people from the heydey of self-styled pinoy comedy movies are still in the limelight today, including Joey De Leon, Andrew E, Jimmy Santos, and Vic Sotto. It's a sad affair to see the lot of these people go, who despite all the criticisms of the straightforwardness of their schtick, have left and undeniable mark that lingers on even with the movies today. 

Legacy of Laughs

Together with the comedians of their time, these actors worked with prevailing themes of underdogs going against the norms of society. The protagonists serve as the butt of most of the jokes and almost always live a laughably dismal life. Through the course of the movies, the heroes are given a chance to redeem themselves, beat the bad guys, and learn a lesson or two at the end. Albeit formulaic, these movies proved to be simple, easy to relate to, easy to digest, and at the end of the day, entertaining for the majority of the audience. Brevity is the soul of wit, and the simplicity of the plots prove to be it's most brilliant factor.

The typical comedy movie serves as a container of the Filipino way of thinking when it comes to humor. The sometimes somewhat brutal side of showing ugly people getting beat up over and over again, the blunt insults, the slapstick, probably painful situations the characters are consistently exposed to, and the self-deprecative attitude show a culture of making fun of what's otherwise unbearable. The cruel but honest sense of humor is invoked and elaborate in these films. It might sound too much to the uninitiated - but it does work.

There is depth, however, for those who meant to look. An article made by Benito Vergara on comedy movies of the 80s raised various points generally tackled by the movies. One common recurring theme in these movies, according to Mr. Vergara, is the apparent lampooning of western icons from Rocky Balboa in Rocky Tu-log, to Rambo in Palito's Rambuto. The iconic movie Istarsan starring Joey de Leon and the late Rene Requestas proved to be one of the most successful movies that worked with this trope - and in this way, the common crowd can find a more relatable version of the more famous originals, and brings them closer to what might be seen as a higher status for them.

For all the rhymes and reasons of the workings of comedy movies, bottomline is for the most of us, they were funny and they still are funny, even after some jokes have lost their relevance. As part of the generation that grew up looking at these movies for entertainment, nostalgia or not, they were completely entertaining. 

The Next Generation

The fading of stars from the last generation, however does not mean the fall of the industry as a whole, much like the folding of the comic industry in the 70s, the slack of comedy movies (or all Filipino movies in general) from the previous decade created a craving for Filipinos to see one of their favorite genres back in the big screen. The past few years have shown an increase of comedy films produced, and possibly even more in the coming years. This new wave of Pinoy comedy films are spearheaded by both the remaining golden actors from the past and the new artists, most of whome who have been shaped by those talented few, those unforgetabble silverscreen clowns, whose lifelong arts have left their mark in film history - how to make the Filipino forget their problems even for a short while and for what it's worth, 

Laugh the good laugh.


Anonymous said...

I guess you have to add another one on this list, Jet.


I know. I updated the article just today. :(

Anonymous said...

hi! i really like your writing. what article by Benito Vergara were you referring to and do you still have a copy of it?


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