Quick, what's the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you hear the name Willie K? Awesome? Multitalented? Guitar hero? "O Holy Night"? In a recent informal poll, those were the answers I heard most often. Well, those and a particular one-word answer that we can't print in this newspaper. Willie himself has used that word to describe himself; gleefully, I might add.
Not one person said "comedy impresario." That may change after next month, when Willie presents "A Pair of Queens and a Pair of Jacks" at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's McCoy Studio Theater. It's Willie's first time producing a stand-up comedy showcase, and if all goes well, it won't be the last.
I have the honor of being, along with KPOA's Morning Goddess, Alaka'i Paleka, one of the Queens. According to the poster, I'm the Queen of Clubs. I think Willie bestowed me with that title because I love to dance the night away. Or maybe he's counting on my alter ego Tita to double as bouncer. Either way, I just might throw a little rubbah slippah tap dance into my set.
Alaka'i, appropriately, is the Queen of Hearts. Everyone loves her, and with good reason. Her sense of humor is as sharp as her heart is soft. We haven't worked together in a long time, so I'm eagerly anticipating this reunion. I think we may have shortchanged her in the billing, though. I'm pretty sure goddess supersedes queen.
Jack of Diamonds Francis Taua is a real gem in local theater. We've done a couple of shows together for Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA) and I've enjoyed his wit, both onstage and backstage. Here, too, we may have erred in the billing. For as anyone who saw him in the Maui OnStage production of "La Cage Aux Folles" or MAPA's "Lesser Ahi" and "Fresher Ahi" can attest, Francis is a pretty mean queen. In the Ahi plays, he played not just one, but three characters in drag. He also, with Derek Nakagawa, co-authored the delightful Ahi trilogy (Part 3 coming next year!).
Come to think of it, I also had a couple of gender-reversed roles in "Fresher Ahi" - the scrappy mixed martial arts wannabe Roland "Bang Bang" Macadangdang and a fabulously flamboyant drag queen named Jody. Confused? Try being a woman playing a man playing a woman.
Honolulu funnyman Rodney Villanueva rounds out our hand as the Jack of Spades. As Willie says, he'll bury you in your seat. He and I have never shared a stage before, but I have seen him perform and, yes, he's hilarious.
As producer, Willie isn't planning to do a set himself, but I know he'll get plenty of laughs as he introduces each of us. The man is a natural humorist. If he had never picked up an ukulele or guitar and had never found the song in his voice (unthinkable, I know), he would still be one of Hawaii's top entertainers, as Willie K, comedian.
Ten years ago, when I did my first "Tita Out" show at the MACC, Willie did me the honor of appearing as my musical guest. In between singing mellow Hawaiian classics, he riffed on the folks you'd find at a good old-fashioned backyard beer bust, deftly weaving dead-on characterizations into chicken-skin musical moments. He told me then that he'd always loved comedy, and wanted to do more of it someday.
A few months after my husband passed away in 2007, I began the therapeutic process of writing a comedy show on the subject of death. Willie was one of several Maui entertainers who joined me in "Kathy Collins' Death Comedy Jam." I told each of them that they could do anything they wanted, as long as it had to do with death and it was funny. Steve Grimes wrote and performed a delightful ditty called "Dying to Know," Eric Gilliom cracked us up with a skit about an angry son at his unloving father's graveside, Dr. Nat danced with me as the Grim Reaper in a routine we called "Death Visits the Strip Club." Willie took his ukulele on stage but never strummed a note. Instead, he mesmerized us with a 15-minute monologue on how we react to the deaths of loved ones. I will never forget his descriptions of his father's and his best friend's funerals, filled with honesty, poignancy, and pee-in-your-pants punch lines. He ended his set with one verse of "Amazing Grace," a cappella. He was, indeed, amazing.
I hope we can deal you in for "A Pair of Queens and a Pair of Jacks" on Thursday, Aug. 28. I'd love to see a full house to our two pair.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.