of laughter

Mel Cabang and Cathy Tanaka
prove age in comedy is nothing
but a number

A comedian depends on an audience to at least like him during his onstage act -- even if it doesn't look like the love's coming back their way.

"I insult a lot of people in my routines," says Hawaii's senior funnyman Mel Cabang. "but I don't pick on them right away. No way, brah."

Make Me Laugh 2

with Bo Irvine, Da Braddahs and Mel Cabang (pictured), special guests Tony Solis, Champ and the Asian Po'dagee, and introducing Shawn Felipe, Cathy Tanaka and Kaleo Pilanca

Where: Hawaiian Hut, Ala Moana Hotel

When: 9 and 11:30 p.m. today

Tickets: $20 advance (available at Cheapo Music, Rainbow Music and Harry's Music Store in Honolulu, Jelly's in Aiea and Hungry Ear in Kailua), $25 at the door

Call: 398-4143

So when Cabang, who just turned 62, walks out onstage, he lulls the audience into feeling safe.

"I talk normal to them to get a feel," says Cabang, who performs two shows tonight at the Hawaiian Hut in Make Me Laugh 2 with several other local comedians. "You have to gain their confidence, make them like you, show them you're a regular guy.

"And once they like you, then you insult them. Remember, everybody wants to laugh."

Cabang has been doing comedy since the early 1970s, starting out at the old Ranch House in Aina Haina as a singer-guitarist. But because of his constant sore throats, he started talking more and telling jokes.

"Hey, I was good and people laughed, so what the heck," he says.

Cabang also did some acting, including parts on "Magnum, P.I." and "Hawaii Five-O." He's also done several television spots, portraying Carpetman (in which he dressed up in a carpet suit), Condom Man (to promote AIDS awareness) and a longtime association with a local cleaner as the "Singing Caesar."

But something not too funny happened to Mel on the way to forum.

"I took that little break in Nevada," Cabang says, referring to three years in a federal prison for gambling -- and, yes, he uses the experience in his shows.

"I always wanted to be a professional gambler when I retired from this, but I never figured that the IRS would actually be tracking my winnings," he said. "I started making money, and I thought, 'This is too easy.'

"From the prison you could see the lights of Las Vegas, and that was not funny. I always joke to audiences to turn off their cell phones because I have an ankle bracelet and that could start it vibrating."

Cabang describes himself as "kinda shy" offstage, but put a mike in his hand, and he'll say whatever comes to mind.

"That's how I work," he says. "I have some idea of what I might say, but I like to be spontaneous."

There was a time when local audiences dreaded walking in on Cabang's show in progress, knowing they would become targets of his jokes. Pity the person -- usually a woman -- who had to take a restroom break before the show the over.

"Yeah, I would pretty much zing them," he says. "But audiences love that. And, actually, some people like being the butt of a few zingers."

CABANG CREDITS one of his uncles for encouraging his early interest in music. He enjoyed singing in high school and got into entertainment 30 years ago that way.

Cabang really made a name for himself as a comedian when a so-called "crazy" began bringing him hand-carved phallic items. His show then suddenly took off in a new and "bluer" direction, and he was widely known as Hawaii's crudest comedy star.

But Cabang has separated his comic performances into two categories: nightclub, which is R-rated, and PG, which is what he'll do tonight.

"You gotta put it in the right (perspective). If I'm in a nightclub, that's what I do, (because) that's what people expect me to do," he said. "But when you come outside and it's a general audience, you have to respect that audience and do a clean show.

"I'm not nearly as dirty as I used to be," he said.

CATHY TANAKA, an account manager at Xerox Hawaii, is one of Hawaii's few female comics. She began doing standup last summer and has studied with comedian Andy Bumatai in his comedy workshops.

"It's very addicting," Tanaka said. "I think audiences, after seeing a bunch of men onstage, are happy to see a girl for a change, and they know we have a different perspective on life.

"It may not be the norm for girls to be funny like this, but there are some great ones."

The reward is always making people laugh.

"Ever since I was in kindergarten, I have followed 'Saturday Night Live,'" said Tanaka, 24. "I have a regular day job, so standup balances my lifestyle. I have total control on this part of my life."

Tanaka doesn't play many characters in her routines and is never over the top, "disgusting or gross."

"I pull from things that people can relate to," she said. "The topics are all over the board, but I never get too sexual. The important thing is the routine must be believable."

"Make Me Laugh" promoters selected Tanaka, Shawn Felipe and Kaleo Pilanca to guest on tonight's shows. They all got their start from All Star Hawaii's "Crack Up Thursdayz" open-mic night.

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