In preparing for Thursday night's comedy show at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, I decided to take an academic approach, rather than my usual reliance on instinct. I suppose Robin Williams' suicide and the subsequent abundance of armchair analysts prompted my sudden desire for introspection and contemplation.
In the news media and in casual conversation, everyone was quoting statistics and studies about the dark side of comedy and the proverbial sad clown, laughing on the outside, crying on the inside. More than a few friends asked if I, as a comedian, agreed with the theory that comic brilliance is a byproduct of a tortured soul or, at the least, major depression.
I seriously pondered that for a week. It depressed me. If a tragic life were a prerequisite for success in comedy, I'd be in trouble. I had a wonderful childhood and, all things considered, I'm happy with the way I've turned out. My friends say I'm crazy sometimes, but they mean it in a good way, I'm sure.
So I changed my focus from "what makes someone funny?" to "what's funny?" Of course, this required a lot of research. OK, maybe Comedy Central and my favorite stand-up DVDs don't count as research, but they did put me in the right frame of mind.
In Thursday's show, "A Pair of Queens and a Pair of Jacks," I'll be sharing the stage with three hilarious entertainers. Four, if you count our host, Willie K. Alaka'i Paleka, Francis Tau'a and Rodney Villanueva are bound to deliver extra scoops of local-style humor. I plan to let my alter ego, Tita, do most of my talking.
Writing Tita's monologue got me thinking about the rules and the roots of local comedy. Ethnic jokes, while politically incorrect in most of the world, are the basis for Hawaii humor. In his nightclub act, Frank De Lima used to explain that ethnic humor is necessary to island life; with so many of us sharing such a small space, we have to laugh at each other to keep from killing each other. We laugh at ourselves, too; that's the pono way.
While De Lima delivered da message at The Noodle Shop in Waikiki, Rap Reiplinger left his Booga Booga cohorts, James Grant Benton and Ed Ka'ahea, for a solo career. Local humor was in its heyday during the 1970s. Andy Bumatai burst onto the scene and even replaced Rap as a Boogaman for a while. Mel Cabang was cracking up the over-21 crowd. And then there was Billy Sage's classic comic masterpiece, the "Honk If You Love George" LP, in which Billy quietly and effectively imitated then-Gov. George Ariyoshi and a host of other local characters. Those of you with better memories than I probably know that "Honk" was released in 1982 or '83, but I had to include it here, because it's just so darned funny.
Decades before Aunty Marialani had her cooking show ("not too sweet, not too rancid . . .") and Lucille left her old man in the middle of mango season ("But wow . . . laulau"), Lucky Luck was entertaining local TV and radio audiences with his amazingly authentic pidgin - considering he was a Mainland transplant who just happened to look like a kama'aina. I have very foggy, black-and-white memories of Lucky Luck doing commercials for Leonard's Bakery and Lucky Lager beer during his "Lucky's Luau" TV show.
My recollections of Kent "K.K. Kaumanua" Bowman are clearer, because my parents owned a copy of his album, "No Talk Stink!" I remember feeling rather naughty and just a little guilty for laughing at his slightly blue jokes. I won't repeat them here, but if you Google "Kent Bowman" you can listen to clips online. His story of Manuel and mother's milk still makes me giggle. And blush, just a little.
I think I was still a teenager when I heard my all-time favorite Andy Bumatai joke. He was talking about the Kikkoman Shoyu label that warned consumers to refill the bottle only with Kikkoman brand shoyu. "What, da oddah kind no fit?!"
My favorite Rap routine? That's like picking my favorite dance song. There are so many, too many, to choose from. From Fate Yanagi to Date-a-Tita, Room Service to Japanese Roll Call, they're all funny. And after weeks of examination and deliberation, I still don't know why. They just are.
So, with the big show less than 48 hours away, I'm back to relying on my instincts. But perhaps all this "research" was not for naught. Thursday's audience may be too young - or too old - to remember punch lines of the past. Maybe I could cockaroach couple, t'ree jokes from Mistah Bowman. Now how did that mother's milk thing 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.