Comedian Augie T grew up in a world where the strong thrived and the weak got kicked, preparing him well for the entertainment business. Comedy is about making people laugh, but the business side of the entertainment business is often no laughing matter.
Survival of the funniest
By John Berger
As the top "dawg" in contemporary local comedy, Augie is this year's target in the continuing debate about ethnic stereotypes in island comedy. He's been hailed as "da moke wit' da joke" while also taking heat recently for allegedly exploiting a homeless man at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in May.
Criticism? Bring it on!
"I'm a fighter! I've been doing it all my life growing up," Augie said. "Now I'm adapting to this. I call myself the 'Contemporary Moke,' and I'm evolving through the moke stages, and I'm learning the other side of the business and making people laugh. How to get people into the room, how I can be more relatable to the downtown businessman, how can I help the kids who are like I was when I was growing up?
"A lot of things are happening. A lot of great things. Maybe some negative things, but I can grow from that. My motto is, Don't just take the piece of the pie -- steal the recipe! If I'm into something, I want to learn how the whole thing is run and make it successful."
And as for the "homeless man" at the Hoku Awards? That was All-Star Richard, a formerly homeless man whom Augie and his 98.5 Island Rhythms partner, Lanai, befriended and made a part of their radio show more than a year ago. The duo also helped All-Star Richard find a full-time job in addition to his celebrity role on the radio, found him a place to live and have been watching out for him ever since.
All-Star Richard has been in the house each week since Augie and Lanai reopened the Comedy Shack, their Friday night music and comedy showcase, two weeks ago. Andy Bumatai, Hawaii's first stand-up comic and a friend and mentor to both of them, was an opening-night guest. Augie describes the concept as presenting a double bill of cutting-edge local comedy and a mix-and-match card of island music.
"We're filling a void, and the momentum has been building every week. It's very exciting for us," he said.
Mr. Van Ray will be joining Augie and Lanai tonight. The guest list for the rest of the month is Justin (next Friday), Natural Vibes (Aug. 17), Cool Change (Aug. 24) and Three Plus (Aug. 31).
Augie has come a long way since he originally surfaced as the junior member of the 2 Local Boys (originally 3 Local Boyz), a group that was put together more than 10 years ago with local record producer Matt Young to record local parodies of national chart hits. Lanai and Augie have long since evolved from song parodies to original character sketches and then to stand-up.
"It's hard to write new stuff, but that's one of the reasons we have the Comedy Shack. It's challenging, but I'm using this venue to create. I've been doing comedy for eight years, and only now it's catching on, but I've been pretty fortunate in being able to keep some of my material and grow from it."
Lanai has proven himself a strong warm-up attraction. He quickly got the opening night crowd on his side with tips on how to tell if you are Filipino or Samoan, why he dates homeless women, and what you can assume about women who wear an ostentatious number of Hawaiian bracelets. He also hit with material that tapped into his experiences growing up on the island of Lanai.
Augie was hot as the headliner. Some of his material reflects a seedy underside of contemporary Hawaii that "Thumbs Up, Hawaii!" types prefer to ignore, but although he calls it as he sees it regarding crackheads and homeless-by-choice derelicts, Augie castigates do-gooders and the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) bunch as well.
He describes karaoke bars as a place to "get drunk and laugh at your friends' singing," explains that there is only one reason macho local guys dance, and builds a lengthy, well-crafted segment out of the premise that "Filipinos eat anything."
His bits about the "mahu Barbie doll" and a Samoan Santa Claus are older but still funny.
Augie and Lanai are working on several other projects outside the Comedy Shack and their successful 98.5 Island Rhythms morning show. There's their "Jan Ken Po" family game show with Carole Kai and Dirk Fukushima, a new Augie T comedy CD due for release in November or December, and a comedy group project that could utilize the talents of Lanai and Augie, Bumatai and other local comedians.
"I want to able to tap into something else with guys who will fit in and help write, too," Augie said.
But for the next few weeks, it'll be Lanai and Augie, Big Ed and Eddie L, pushing the limits of contemporary comedy at the Comedy Shack.
When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays
The Augie T & Lanai Comedy Shack
Where: Dole Cannery Ballroom
Admission: $12 VIP seating available at the Body Shop (951-0931 for Body Shop information); general admission $10 at the door
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