Rex Navarrete turns serious, for a minute
LOS ANGELES – Just like any other college kid trying to find his path and purpose in life, Rex Navarrete, 25 years ago, experienced the turning point in his young life that set the stage and helped define what he has become today – a successful trailblazing Filipino-American standup comedian.
It was in the spring of 1989 when Navarrete’s college professor at the University of California Santa Cruz ordered him out of his office yelling, “Get out of my office – you shouldn’t be joking here, you should be taking those jokes on stage!”
Those words lit a fire and set him off like nothing has done before.
Not long after, that same year, Navarrete found himself in front of an ethnically diverse group of 800 college students, dishing out line after funny line of what he calls “real Rex moments.”
He brought the house down and was an instant hit. The rest, as they say, is history. Rex Navarrete not only found himself, but he also found his niche.
And what is that “niche” exactly?
Navarrete’s comedy is all about reality and shared life experiences. A lot of his material is about being a Fil-Am and growing up as such in America. Getting caught between a very traditional Filipino family and the American way of life can have very funny consequences.
Funny not only to Filipinos but also to non-Filipinos who experience these “moments” in the workplace, in their friendships and dealings with Filipinos, or even in marriage to a Filipino man or woman.
While most of his material is targeted towards Filipino audiences, his solid fan base also includes many non-Filipinos. They flock to his shows in mainstream comedy clubs such as The Laugh Factory, The Improv, Comedy Club, Punch Line Comedy in key cities all over the United States.
He has performed in sold-out entertainment venues that include casino showrooms and theaters such as the Wiltern in Los Angeles and The Warfield in San Francisco, not to mention the numerous colleges and universities, as well as various festivals that feature him as a headline performer.
Navarrete has released several comedy albums many of which have become collectors’ items. His CD projects include “Badly Browned” (1998), “Husky Boy” (1999), “Bastos” (2001), and “Live at Cobb’s” (2010). His best-selling DVD titles include “Hella Pinoy” (2003), “Badass Madapaka” (2005), and “Komik Organik” (2009).
Asked what it’s like to perform in more intimate settings compared with playing a large crowd, Navarrete muses, “Playing intimate venues allow me and the audience to really listen to one another. I pick up all the little reactions, be they giggles or nothing at all.”
He says small venues also bring him back to where he started as a young comic, playing a room where “you’re not sure if you’re going to earn every laugh.”
He adds, “You can always rely on a big venue to drown out the folks who just aren’t with you. When the laughs do come, it’s nice to know you earned that particular one.”
When asked a to ponder a few questions about his 25-year career, comic Navarrete happily obliged and turned serious, albeit for a brief moment.
- What would you consider as your most important accomplishment as a standup comic?
I’m very proud of the fact that I’m now in my 25th year of comedy and that I’ve been able to make a humble living off of this thing I’ve created for myself. I think my fans see my pride in my work and sweat after all these years. It is truly a gift that I’ve been chosen to do this.
- You’ve accomplished so much as a standup comic over the years. Is there anything else you want to accomplish?
If there was an opportunity for me to direct films, that would be it. It’s a matter of the right project and the right financing. I think that most good comics are very good film directors at heart. I love doing stuff behind the scenes with other talented folks.
- What do you consider are your “highs” when performing?
When I look into the crowd and see someone that hasn’t had a needed laugh in almost years and I’m bringing them to the ground with laughter. That’s the best view ever, to see that I’ve connected with another person. Sometimes it’s too much to look at and I tend to look away.
- What was the biggest “aha” moment in your career?
I think it would be 1998, when I was in the middle of a set at a national Fil-Am political conference where the Philippine ambassador and his wife were in the front row. I did an anti-Estrada reference (which did get laughs) and they both decided to toss a bread roll at me on-stage as if to punish the ungrateful peasant comedian before them. The entire audience soon became polarized over that treatment and there was shouting back and forth. Who knew comedy could say so much?
- You have been credited with helping pave the way for standup comics and standup comedy in the Philippines, what can you say about that?
I’m glad that I got to pass along what I’ve been taught by comics before me. The Philippine humor is totally geared to standup comedy. It’s a craft of defiance, individualism and unity. Why couldn’t it flourish in my homeland? I think folks in 2002-04 needed to see someone like me do it first, so as to break apart the basic working parts of standup. There are a few dozen very good comics in Manila right now and I do hope that it takes hold as it has in the US and abroad.
- What significant changes, if any, have you noted from when you started performing in Manila then and now, and in standup comedy for Fil-Am comics in general?
I’ve been a witness to the first wave of Philippine stand-ups make the attempt and succeed. They’ve been able to create their own following at local bars and clubs. It’s happening organically as I was hoping it would. Back in the US, the number of Fil-Am comics working in mainstream American clubs is overwhelming.
I’ve got amazing competition and colleagues. I do feel like the old guy of the bunch though, but they do get reminded of how much I’ve accomplished and how far I’ve come. It’s nice to be one of the higher-ranking black belts.
- Have you thought about acting or been offered to act in a sit-com or a stage play? Will you consider it if there was an offer?
I’d gladly take a role in a sit-com or stage play only if the role meant being allowed to portray a truthful character. If there was a chance to portray a Filipino that wasn’t degrading, I’d be very interested in it. At this point, I’m open to quality writing and people who want to say the right thing.
- What’s a typical day like for you when you’re not touring?
I’m usually at home raising my kids who are both very young still. These are the most critical years for them and I want to be there for every minute of it I can. While they’re in class, I’m usually glued to the Internet doing my research and catching up with the world. When I’m not on the road or flying to the other side of the globe, I call Portland my home and it’s not a bad place to be if you just want some quiet.
- Do you follow a certain routine on the day of a show to prepare for a performance?
I make sure that I get there early or on time. Once that’s done, everything else falls into place. I try to then go over my notes and see what bits I’d like to try, but always leave room for the unexpected.
- What makes you laugh? What would elicit a rollicking LOL ROFL almost-can’t-breathe kind of laugh from you?
Seriously? Fart sounds of any kind and of any duration. Those always get me. They are the universal joke.
- If there was one thing you are given a chance to undo or re-make in your career, what would that be?
I should have never quit modeling full-time.
On November 21st (Friday) at 8:30 p.m., Navarrete will bring his unique brand of comedy to Teatrino at the Greenhills Promenade and Theatre Mall in San Juan City, just right across the Music Museum.
The special one-night engagement is presented by Teatrino and Creative Concepts International. Tickets at P1500 and P1000 (all reserved seating) are available through Ticketworld (891-9999), Teatrino (721-2949) and Music Museum (721-0635). For inquiries, email [email protected].