I love Augie T. Not just because he makes me laugh, but because he devotes so much of his time and energy to nurturing local comedy. He generously gives up-and-coming comedians their first big break by having them open his shows. Last Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's McCoy Studio Theater, Maui's Brad Starks did the honors - and a very funny 15 minutes - before Augie took the stage.
It's a common practice, I know. But Augie's support of the art goes beyond giving a boost to aspiring stars; he also helps to maintain the luster of long-standing luminaries. Earlier this year, his Na Alii of Comedy Tour brought together four living legends of local humor: Frank DeLima, Andy Bumatai, Mel Cabang and Ed Kaahea. They played to packed houses across the state, including the MACC's Castle Theater.
Now, Augie's probably the busiest - and possibly the funniest - guy in Hawaii show biz today, with barely time to breathe between gigs here and on the West Coast. Yet he spent a great deal of time and effort (and probably money) to pull off this unprecedented gathering of comic minds. The logistics must have been a nightmare, and the tour itself . . . well, can you imagine taking charge of those four jokers? Like herding cockroaches, I bet. No disrespect intended. Anyway, he could have just continued to pay tribute in his own act to those who influenced and inspired him, but he wanted to give them more than credit. And he gave us, the fans, a delightful gift.
I left that Na Alii show last March feeling utterly, thoroughly happy. It was great to see the elder statesmen of da kine comedy in top form. The high lasted for days, and then it spawned a nostalgic longing for even older elders. Kent Bowman, Sterling Mossman, Lucky Luck . . . the original pioneers of pidgin humor. Thank goodness for YouTube and the handful of fans who've uploaded some classic moments from those early days. I love YouTube almost as much as I love Augie.
When, as a child, I first heard Bowman's Senator K. K. Kaumanua, I thought he was a real politician. "You no can say something nice about somebody, talk stink about everybody." Hmm. Still sounds like a real politician.
One of the planks of his platform was the Kaumanua Space Program: Never mind the moon, we going put one man on the sun. Yeah, we know the sun is one hot ball of gaseous materials that can burn up the spaceship instantly. That's why "us guys going go nighttime."
Bowman was also known and loved for his pidgin versions of fairy tales and for his more grown-up stand-up act. The first naughty jokes I learned came from his "No Talk Stink!" album. The phrase "get cookie?" still makes me giggle.
Sterling Mossman also recorded several popular albums, but his included music. Besides being a natural comedian, Mossman was a singer, dancer, actor, radio show host . . . and by day, a Honolulu Police Department detective. "The Hula Cop" held court at Waikiki's Barefoot Bar throughout the 1950s and '60s, and even performed at top nightspots in New York City and Miami. He's credited with the classic line about the early missionaries teaching islanders to bow their heads in prayer. "And when the Hawaiians raised their heads, their land was gone."
I never saw Mossman perform, but I do have faint memories of a grinning Lucky Luck peddling Leonard's Bakery sweet bread and Lucky Lager beer. His TV show was called "Lucky's Luau" and featured many great musicians of the day, but all I can remember are the commercials. Though he was actually a transplanted Texan, he became an icon of pidgin humor.
Mossman, Bowman and Luck opened the door back in the '50s. Rap Reiplinger and James Grant Benton burst through it in the '70s, along with the above-mentioned all-stars of Augie's tour. Almost 40 years later, Na Alii are like the Rolling Stones of local comedy, still rocking and as sharp as they've ever been.
Augie's returning to the McCoy on Aug. 24 for another Summer of LOL show, with guest star Jose Dynamite. He's promised another Na Alii show in the near future. In the meantime, I'll have to rely on YouTube for my nostalgic funny fix.
Hey, that gives me an idea. We should combine our comedic concepts - Augie's Na Alii with my Death Comedy Jam. We'll just show clips of deceased comedians, call it Comedy Heaven or something like that. Touring with an iPad and a big screen has got to be easier than wrangling four outrageous funnymen. Although, as Augie says, traveling with those guys has definite benefits - they get senior discount everywhere they go.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.