Hawaii funny man Paul Ogata to take act to the mainland
The time has come for Paul Ogata to make his move. Over the last five years, the 37-year-old has established himself as one of Hawaii's top stand-up comedians. Now he's starting to show up on national television, and was even named "Funniest Asian-American in the U.S."
"The One-Night Farewell Tour"
» Place: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
» Time: 6 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday
» Tickets: $21 and $40
» Call: 926-3000
But as is almost always the case, better opportunities await Ogata on that big rock across the Pacific Ocean. So he's sold his house, packed his stuff and will bid Oahu a fond farewell with a one-night-only gig this weekend at Pipeline Cafe.
"THIS PAST year has been leading up to a moment of clarity," Ogata said last week over a hamburger steak plate at Likelike Drive-Inn. "This is what I have to do."
After more than a decade of grinding it out locally, 2004 was a breakout year for Ogata with mainland audiences. While he'd already been traveling to the mainland periodically for gigs, it was an appearance on "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn" that got the attention of industry types.
"Looking back at my calendar, I was gone a lot," he said. "Sometimes I would go twice a month. I've been up there at least 10 times this year, and not just to Los Angeles, but to New York, to Montreal and to Hong Kong twice."
While the exposure was good for Ogata, he also realized that coming back to Hawaii afterward wasn't the best thing he could be doing for his career. Like any other aspect of the entertainment industry, you're only as good as your last performance.
"Because we're so far away, you kind of go off the radar," he explained. "If you want to play the game, you've got to sit at the table where the game is being played."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Paul Ogata discusses his future at Likelike Drive-Inn over his favorite dish, hamburger steak.
OGATA LEARNED early in his comedy career that you had to be in it to win it.
After graduating from Pearl City High School, he enrolled in classes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He knew he wanted to try stand-up, and the only place in town to do that at the time was at the Honolulu Comedy Club.
"When I first started, unless you were a Mel (Cabang), Andy (Bumatai) or Booga Booga, the only real place you had was at the Ilikai," he said. "So I figured I should probably work there and become some sort of nuisance."
Ogata did just that, performing various duties before he was finally given a few minutes on stage. Three minutes became five minutes, and soon those five minutes became eight minutes or more. By 1993, he had gone from being a wannabe to a student of the legendary Andy Bumatai.
"I don't know why he did what he did, but Andy was an incredible friend and comedy mentor," said Ogata. "I'm glad I got in before he started charging for classes!"
During the rest of the '90s, Ogata held a number of jobs while continuing to sharpen his comedy skill. He was promotions director at the Wave Waikiki and Hula's Bar and Lei Stand before current promo guy Flash Hansen took the job, and even gave running a comedy club a try in 1997 with the ill-fated Comedy Cow. He moved into radio the next year, doing mornings at Krater 96 before jumping to 102.7 Da Bomb in 2000.
IT WAS during his five years on Da Bomb that Ogata realized stand-up was his true calling.
"My time on the Bomb, on many levels, was a good thing," he said. "To a large extent, radio has helped me find my voice on stage.
"The constant talking on the radio -- you have to come up with stuff to say, and that's when who you are really starts to come out. I'm going to miss the opportunity to try stuff out on the air everyday, but I think it's helped me to find out who I am."
The recent deaths of two aspiring comedians also helped Ogata realize he needed to live for the moment. He'd been married for three years, and local real estate prices were soaring.
It was time to go.
"You don't know when your ride is done," he said. "The last couple of years were a real eye-opener ... if you don't do what brings you joy, what kind of life are you leading?"
So he's sold his house in Mililani and is renting another place until January, when he'll board a plane with his wife and "a big bag of money." Once they arrive, Ogata plans to pound the pavement and get as many stand-up gigs as possible.
"I'm at the point where the excitement and the eagerness outweigh the worry," he said. "When you don't have anything holding you down, any obligations or debts, the freedom is incredible."