Thursday, February 25, 2016

Jon Santos FTW

Elsewhere — meaning in the UK and US — stand-up comedians can reach celebrity, even rockstar status and fill up theaters, music halls, and, if they’re truly great, stadiums. To elicit laughter is one thing, but to make an idea linger in the audience’ minds (and on the side, charm) is quite another. The best comedians do both.

In the Philippines, Jon Santos ranks high on the list of successful, not to mention enduring comedians, regularly holding live performances that draw a loyal crowd. He is appreciated for comedy with class and intelligence — far from the usual fare dished out at comedy clubs. Jon’s a master at impersonation, wordplay, and making connections where we didn’t find any.

His latest offering is the political comedy HuGot Your Vote! WTF: Wala Talagang Forever (Sa Malacañang), where the most controversial individuals vying for a seat at the government are put on the hot seat — that is, parodied by Jon.

He brings his act a little closer to the south, in a new venue: the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Grand Ballroom at Resorts World Manila in Pasay City, and he makes sure that there’s a joke about the posh establishment’s location. The Ceremonial Hall, while brand new, is not without flaws. WTF’s premiere experienced a few technical WTFs (faulty microphones, sound disturbances), which Jon, the pro that he was, managed and used as part of a routine.

As expected, relevant issues were brought to the fore. A show highlight was the Grace Poe interview in which Jon takes on the senator’s persona, answering questions about her birth, parents, and political ambitions. What we had to discover about her father was comedy gold. The current brouhaha over champion boxer and senatorial aspirant Manny Pacquiao’s anti-gay comments didn’t escape Jon’s attention as well. Even the Material Girl, who’s mounting her very first concert in the country next week, became material for WTF. Jon impersonated Madonna and used her to introduce the show’s theme: express yourself this elections season.

Still, it was Jon’s Miriam Defensor Santiago and Erap Estrada that brought the house down. Old jokes (classics now, it seems) with the two were repeated, though they remained as hilarious as ever. Who didn’t crack a smile at Miriam’s bad grammar horror story, or Erap’s conjugation lessons? You can bet those who’ve heard them before were pleased to have heard them again.

To wrap up the evening, he shed his other skins and stood up simply as Jon giving a literal A to Z of the nation’s problems, one of which is our obsession with Valentine’s Day: “Araw ng mga puso… Bakit walang araw ng mga utak?” He may be famous as a quick-change comedian, but Jon is as effective as himself delivering the goods — made out of bad news.

Though he called out the politicians’ BS through his jokes, Jon never hit below the belt (or maybe he did, it’s just that he did it so well that none cried foul). The political satire barely had traces of cynicism and was in fact charged with positive energy. If anything, there was only a tinge of melancholy towards the end, where he suggested that these politicians may not be the punchline after all but the voting public.

It’s true. Wala tagalagang forever, but is it too much to ask for a few more minutes of Jon Santos? An hour-and-a-half is not enough.

—Originally published on GIST

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Live and let live solo

Today is another day resigned to going about your business as an ordinary human being, with no intentions to ruffle feathers, let alone draw unwanted attention. Then it happens: you arouse suspicion when asked to divulge your relationship status and declared, “Single.”

You’ve been in this situation many times before. In the restaurant, where, booking a table, the receptionist says, “For one?” not only to clarify the request but also to pry: Why are you eating alone? In the movie theater, where the coldness of the empty seats around you have nothing on the icy stares directed at you. And in the various social gatherings, where, upon discovery of your singleness, new acquaintances dissect you like a frog.

Somehow it’s hard to conceive the possibility of living with neither romantic attachments nor desire for matrimony. That one can nd joy and meaning sans spouse, so-called signi cant other, and children.

The suspicion then turns into pity, especially since having a life partner has always been the idealized status, and the search for The One deemed a basic human hunger. Love between two people and the reality of a soul mate are standard themes in pop songs. Leading characters in a TV series are bound to develop sexual chemistry and eventually end up together if the show ever extends its run. The losers in teen icks automatically become the cool kids after scoring a girlfriend (in fact they were losers to begin with because they were alone).

All these send the message that if you’re single, something is wrong — mostly with you. Stereotypes thrown the single’s way are: too picky, self-centered, career-obsessed, emotionally unstable, sad and unattractive. These descriptions not only come from the outside but also from within the solo yer, because again, we are told that “single = not normal.”

Beyond the tags, however, single men and women experience unfair treatment in the workplace and in the market because of their status. Studies in the US show that all things beings equal (age, income, background), majority of renters prefer couples or a group of friends over a single renter. Married men are also more likely to get the job and earn more than his unmarried counterpart. And married couples get better insurance rates and employee benefits.

One striking issue raised by University of Denver Sturm College of Law professor Nancy Leong is people’s openness when it comes to their bias against single people. “When asked why they preferred to rent to married people…a majority of participants in the rental study stated simply: ‘because they’re married,’” she said in a 2014 article. “It is very dif cult to imagine that such a large number would have proclaimed that they preferred not to rent to black people ‘because they’re black,’ or to Jewish people ‘because they’re Jewish.’”

While the studies may have been done abroad, the same attitude and practices apply here. Perhaps a relatable example is at the of ce where single employees are expected to take the extra hours and work load without question. Solo diners may be asked to transfer tables to make way for a larger group. Hotels charge extra for single occupants. The list goes on.

Magna Carta of Singletons — that sounds funny. But are we convinced that singledom is viewed in a negative light and coupledom is the right and only option? Leong pointed out that “the dedication with which same-sex couples and their allies have fought for the right to marry demonstrates how important marriage is to many people. Yet others feel just as strongly about remaining single.” In the end she suggested that “the move toward equality for everyone who wishes to marry is cause for celebration. It also provides an opportunity to re ect on marital status more generally, and to look for ways to equalize those who wish to marry and those who don’t.”

Things can be complicated in the Philippines, which values the traditional family setup. The good news is that the LGBT community (long regarded as “others”) have been courageous and persistent in making their voices heard. The single ladies and gentlemen can take their cue from them — not exactly to stage rallies and lobby for laws, no, but to feel no shame in whatever state are in, whoever they choose to be, and not be pressured into taking others’ beliefs and principles as their own.

The fantasy is that someday party conversations will be kinder, with people asking each other personal questions out of genuine curiosity and not out of a need to form a character judgment. That we let each other take our time in guring out matters of the heart. That you can walk into a restaurant where you’ll be seated at a good spot, even if you ask for a table for one.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Friday, February 19, 2016

A shade tacky, a fistful of fun

The good thing about bad books is they make for great parodies. In 2011, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey stirred up quite a buzz — for different reasons. For encouraging lascivious behavior, for not being raunchy enough, for getting BDSM wrong, for a character saying “My inner goddess is thrilled” and apparently meaning it, and for being an overall poorly written piece of literature.

You have to acknowledge, though, that whatever the critics say, Fifty Shades has its fair share of readers and drawing such passionate response from people, whether positive or negative, is always a point of interest. In fact when the negative reviews exploded, it aroused in me a curiosity: I need to read this. I need to be socially aware.

Given the books’ popularity, the inevitable happened: a movie adaption — which also received a collective thumbs down from critics and vocal viewers. But the appeal of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele’s world is so strong that we’re still talking about it.

And the conversation is now taken to the stage. 50 Shades! The Musical Parody is that event where everyone can share a laugh over Grey’s excesses, Steele’s ignorance, and the readers who hang on to every word of the two’s love story.

The musical — produced by Marshall Cordell, Al Samuels, and Emily Dorezas; and
written by Dorezas and Samuels with Amanda Davis, Jody Shelton, Ashley Ward, and Dan Wessels — will run in Manila from Feb. 12 to Mar. 1 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC, Makati. After which the show will be toured in other Asian countries.

A musical seems a logical option. The format lends itself to gratuity, exaggerations, and downright ridiculousness. As they say, who breaks into song in real life anyway?

Speaking of songs, it’s the musical parody’s first problem. The lyrics and melodies are less than exciting, though it’s not without euphonic gems. A clear standout is the 11 o’clock number 50 Shades! (But maybe it’s thanks to the vocal chops and bravado of Kaitlyn Frotton, who plays one of the women engrossed in James’ novel and leads her fellow housewives in belting out this song.)

Red Room is another engaging number, which undermines the darkness and danger of Grey’s sex playground with its nursery-rhyme type of rhythm. There’s also Any Other Couple, which pokes fun at Grey and Steele’s unconventional way of showing love to each other through a duet that resembles pop karaoke ballads.

What’s risky about a parody is that it might become what it criticizes. 50 Shades! is guilty of jokes bordering on tacky — those which could’ve been told by your high school mate or little brother. But when it hits the mark, boy it’s laugh-out-loud, fall-off-your-seat hilarious.

If the musical succeeds in Manila, it will be because of its cast. Each one of them is talented, energetic, has brilliant comedic timing, and knows how capture the audience’ attention. Most of all they believe so much in the material that you will end up getting convinced, too, and find yourself enjoying the ride.

There is no weak link in them, but special mention goes to Greg Kata for portraying a well-fed, horny, but distant Christian Grey. For its Manila run, local talents join the international cast, with Karel Marquez alternating with Brenna Wahl for the role of Anastasia Steele; Lorenz Martinez alternating with Kata for the role of Grey; Bituin Escalante, who plays one of the housewives alongside Frotton and Casey Rogers; George Schulze; and Julz Savard.

Escalante hopes that the musical will shake everyone up and have them in touch with their sexuality — just like what happens with the languid housewife that she plays. I think the show does a little bit of that. The stage isn’t short of attractive actors (spoiler: there will be nudity) and hearing R-18 words casually thrown in a comical context do get you out of your comfort zone, making you re-think your thoughts and feelings about taboo subjects like (spoiler) fisting.

As for the rest of the cast, they simply hope that the audience will have fun. I have no doubt they will.

—Originally published on GIST.PH