With Rap, we'd bus' out laughing
|Blogs: Rap's Hawaii 2008|
|"Room Service" by Rap Reiplinger|
|"Japanese Roll Call" by Rap Reiplinger|
|Video: Highlights of Rap Reiplinger's 'Fate Yanagi'|
|Video: Fate Yanagi remembers Rap Reiplinger|
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Honolulu Theatre for Youth artistic director Eric Johnson knew he was on track when actors in his company could readily quote Rap Reiplinger and mimic some of his characters, even if they had not seen him perform live during his heyday in the '70s and '80s.
Reiplinger may be gone — the comedian died in 1984 — but his legacy is very much alive.
"You know you're on to something when performers are keeping it alive with such ferocious energy," said Johnson. HTY is staging "Rap's Hawaii" with a three-actor ensemble, reviving all the blissful silliness of Reiplinger's comedy.
Reiplinger, ferociously creative himself, created skits that packed in a lot of history and culture, referencing local ways of talking and behaving in skits like "Mahalo Airlines" and "Puka Shell Tour Guide." His routines, typically in pidgin, had rhythm, cadence and spirit, but most of all, they were side-splittingly funny. A clue to his blatant local tack is found in the names of his characters: Fate Yanagi, Willie Maunawili, Auntie Marialani.
"For me, his stuff equates to the 1970s, like 'Laugh In,' which is the closest style of presentation," said guest director Harry Wong III, known for his work in Island theater with Kumu Kahua. "There are fast bits; yet there's a lot of drama; characters pursue goals, meet obstacles. Rap's genius comes through."
Wong said he was happy to put Reiplinger's shtick on stage. "Eric Johnson was looking for somebody from Hawai'i to direct," said Wong. "And when I was a small kid, I had (the album) 'Crab Dreams.' I listened to it over and over. I never saw the video of the TV show ("Rap's Hawai'i"), but I knew all the material."
Reiplinger's groundbreaking albums have influenced a generation or two of standup comics.
"It's timeless; it's the way we grew up as local people," said Mountain Apple's Jon de Mello of Reiplinger's themes and takes on Island living. "He had this incredible talent to connect the dots and making us remember small-kid time. He rings a bell in all of us."
As CEO of Mountain Apple Co., de Mello produced and recorded Reiplinger's material. Clips are also rampant on YouTube, since Reiplinger's lines are memorable and readily quoted.
Take the room-service clerk who is easily distracted from her task of taking an order from a huffy haole, interrupting his order to screech, "Russell, you get pen?"
Or the tipsy Auntie Marialani, who touts the wine used in her cooking show: "Not too sweet, not too rancid, but jess right!"
The bits had edge, tapping real people in exaggerated situations, each peppered with the vitality and craziness that was Reiplinger. The nonsense was only slightly naughty, but generally family-friendly.
Reiplinger was influenced by Red Skelton, Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs. He also acted, appearing in HTY's "Maui the Trickster," early in his career, and was a prolific writer in pidgin. In 1974, he collaborated with James Grant Benton and Ed Ka'ahea to create Booga Booga, a comedy ensemble that performed at the Territorial Tavern at Bishop Street and Nimitz Highway; that gig helped ignite a flame that would brighten Hawai'i's nightlife for nearly two decades, and inspire others to find livelihood in laughter.
Reiplinger's cocaine-related death on Jan. 25, 1984, didn't diminish his popularity. Reissues of his recordings and a DVD of his award-winning video performance have kept his routines alive.
"I think there's always a place for true local comedy," said Andy Bumatai, a standup who benefited from Booga Booga's foray into comedy. Bumatai, who now hosts "NightTime With Andy Bumatai" on local TV, was a Booga Booga member for a time, along with many a local comedian.
"His comedy is special among people who are kind of sharing the Hawai'i experience," Bumatai said. "In other words, if you laugh at Rap, you must be local. It's like an acid test. Brah, you know 'Fate Yanagi,' you're local. Two days ago, I watched 'Fate Yanagi' on YouTube and I laughed my 'okole off."
Comedian Paul Ogata said he grew up with Reiplinger's ramblings — and they left a mark.
"Are you kidding? Who didn't listen to him?" said Ogata, a ranking Asian-American standup now living in Los Angeles. "I had all his albums; rather than play outside, when I was young, I'd listen to his records, over and over. Every bit that he does is a treasure. He's truly been an inspiration. One regret: I never saw him in a club, up close and intimate. I saw him once, at Aloha Stadium, at a Democratic rally my parents took me to. The one thing I remember is 'Fate Yanagi.' Fifty thousand people laughing. It was awesome."
Frank DeLima, who appeared on the scene at about the same time as Reiplinger, was sort of trumped by Reiplinger's first comedy album, "Poi Dog," but that doesn't diminish DeLima's admiration for Reiplinger's work.
"His ('Poi Dog') came out just before mine ('A Taste of Malasadas')," said DeLima. "I would have released mine first, except that when we recorded at The Noodle Shop (the club that launched DeLima's career), the guys didn't have the mike on, so we had to reschedule. ... And then I heard 'Fate Yanagi,' and I said, 'Oh, no.'
"But I rode the wave of 'Poi Dog.' Rap was very good at that, especially Auntie Marialani, and till today, people still enjoy our local comedy."
Being first matters, said Augie T, a standup, actor and radio deejay. "I think whenever you're first, you make a big dent on everybody's mind, and some of the things Rap did were powerful."
Augie T was 7 or 8 when he first got turned on to Reiplinger.
"My cousin was into Booga Booga, and when Rap came out with 'Poi Dog,' I memorized the whole album," said Augie. "Once, when Rap appeared on stage at the food products show at Blaisdell, my dad took me to the show since he knew I was a Rap fan. Rap signed his name on my arm; I nevah wash 'em for one week, because I waited the whole time to get a chance to say hi to him."
Augie said when he met Benton and Ka'ahea, Reiplinger's Booga buddies, they were amazed Augie could mimic all the material. "In one speech competition, I did 'Room Service;' and I won every speech tournament in the 10th grade, doing Rap."
Augie said Reiplinger did stereotypical comedy that was universally accepted. "He was the first, so no matter who follows him — like Andy, Frank or me — you will be compared," he said. "I hope one day, I will emulate what he did for my generation."
As his record producer, de Mello saw Reiplinger from a front-row seat.
"Room Service," a Reiplinger classic, had early doubters, said de Mello, who first heard it by phone when Reiplinger called him from Los Angeles, where he'd been trying to find his creative wings. This skit pokes gentle fun at a visitor trying to order a burger from a room service clerk, with Reiplinger doing voices and characters. (Other actors subsequently were part of the video version.)
"I told him to come home, that there would be a ticket for him at the United (Airlines) counter, and he came home the next day," de Mello recalled. "We were quickly in the studio to do 'Poi Dog.' "
"Room Service" became fodder for an expanding Reiplinger fan base when legendary morning drive deejay Hal "Aku" Lewis started airing snippets on his radio show.
"Aku called me and asked (about "Room Service"), 'Can I cut it up and use bits and pieces?' I told him, 'You want me to come over and bring the razor blade?" de Mello recalled. He aired segments, like 'Russell, you get pen?' and it went through the ceiling. We were flying in 8,000 to 9,000 records a week to keep up with demand."
De Mello remembers Reiplinger at the typewriter (remember, this was pre-computer times).
"I bought him his first electric typewriter, when the only other thing available then was a word processor or a Wang, and Rap was a mean typist," he said. "I got a Selectric, took it to his Manoa house, and he would sit at a big, long table, typing away. The typewriter would be smoking. It turned out that in a day and a half, he had 50, 55 pages flying out.
"Five days later, he called: 'Jon, the typewriter not working. Broken.' So I took it back to Kaimuki Typewriter, and the guy asked, 'Has a little kid been pounding on this?' He wore it out and broke it because he typed so hard and fast."
Reiplinger's ability to multi-track, with him doing chameleon voices and "leaving the puka for another character," was a gift, said de Mello. "We'd reverse the tape, plug in the new character in the blanks, and amazingly, he'd do this all in one take."
While Reiplinger mostly did voices and gags, he had a desire to sing, too.
"Rap was probably a frustrated singer, who wanted to sing legitimately," said de Mello. "He had written 'Fate Yanagi' (a parody of teenage tragedy, inspired by 'Tell Laura I Love Her') and he originally used a more of a straight singing voice. I told him to put a little more character into it, give it a trip as a local cowboy."
The tune made Reiplinger the reigning kingpin of comedy.
ACTING IT OUT
For Charles Timtim, 36, one of the three actors in "Rap's Hawai'i," there was pressure to do it right — or else.
"We knew how much people admired his work," said Timtim. "There are so many memories."
He knew and listened to Reiplinger while growing up, while his acting colleagues, Pomai Lopez and Kimo Kaona, were too young to remember the comedian, though they had some exposure through relatives and friends.
"What a great way to introduce (classic) comedy to young kids," said Timtim. "And to show how a performer can help shape the future of their chosen field. It's undeniable how much of an influence Rap has been on local entertainers and how much of his material still gets used in some form to this day."
TEST YOUR RAP IQ
Reiplinger's inventive comedy has endured. Test your Rap IQ:
1. Mr. Fogarty placed an order for a cheeseburger deluxe from what hotel room (number)?
2. Who is Mits Funai?
3. What was Wendell's known for, and where did he advertise?
4. What is the political party of "Candidate Willie Maunawili"?
5. Whose motto is "You're on your own when you date a tita"?
6. On "Mahalo Airlines," what safety measure is provided beneath the seat?
7. What are the first four names on "Japanese Roll Call"?
8. Who answers the call on "Pilikia Hotline"?
9. What is "not too sweet, not too rancid, but jess right"?
10. Who is Auntie Nelly's braddah's cousin George's nephew's son?
1) Room 1225, on "Room Service"
2) The guy Fate Yanagi is told not to go out with
3) His foot-long laulau, on "The Young Kanakas" soap opera
4) Independent Republica
5) Auntie Nelly Kulolo of "Date-a-Tita"
6) Package of party balloons
7) Tanimitsu, Mitsuyoshi, Yoshimura, Murakami.
8) Telephone repairman
9) Wine, one of the ingredements on "Auntie Marialani's Cooking Show"
10) Officer Medeiros, on "Pull Over"
10 correct: Braddah or sistah, you one genuine Poi Dog.
8-9: Wow, laulau, you still get 'em.
6-7: What, you mus' be one Frank DeLima fan.
4-2: Whoa, you mus' be 4 years old?
All wrong: Ey, you jus' wen arrive from Mainland, or what?
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org.