YouTube revives Rap's skits
There had been talk for years about comedy sketches Rap Reiplinger shot on video just before he died, long-lost material he wrote for a visitor information channel on a Maui cable station, but it seemed to be a myth, a collective wish from his devoted fans or something that may have once existed but had been lost to time.
And then, the fabled footage showed up on YouTube.
Shot in 1983 during a two-month stay on Maui, the clips include new Rap Reiplinger characters like Orlando Souza, Maui's troubadour; Homer Landsbee, a real estate agent who gives away poultry products with each land sale; and Sgt. Blake Medeiros of the Maui Police Department chasing a thief who steals the ingredients for an omelet.
Sanford Hill was on the crew of the video shoot all those years ago. Sometimes he was the camera man, sometimes the editor, and one time, he got to be the guy who hit Reiplinger in the face with a banana cream pie. Hill posted the clips on YouTube. There are 10 segments in all, including a rare glimpse of Reiplinger not in character but speaking as himself, talking story and interviewing a young Andy Bumatai at the old La Familia restaurant in Wailuku.
"There's so much subtext in that interview," Hill said. "The two of them were really competitive."
Hill was born and raised on O'ahu but was living on Maui in the early 1980s, running a flower farm in Hana and doing still photography on the side. A friend got him a job with the startup visitor channel KPBC, owned by Paxton Broadcasting, and he taught himself how to shoot and edit video.
Reiplinger was hired by Paxton to come to Maui to launch the cable channel, and he lived in a Kihei condo for two months while they shot the comedy pieces — single-camera, locked down on a tripod, and often, one glorious, maniacal take.
"He just did his thing," Hill said, still marveling at Reiplinger's performance all these years later. "The bits are so YouTube way before anybody even thought of YouTube. He was so smart and so ahead of his time."
The night of the launch, when the switch was flipped and the brand-new cable channel went on the air, Reiplinger went live without a script and riffed off pictures in a coffee table book about Maui, coming up with one joke after another. Hill remembers there was no promotion for the launch and they weren't even sure the signal was being aired, but Reiplinger just kept going.
"After about 20 minutes or so, we wondered if anyone was watching this unannounced event on a channel that had never been on the air before," Hill said. "Rap asked anyone who was watching to call the station's number. The phone line lit up. It was all Maui word-of-mouth."
This year, Honolulu Theatre for Youth did a production of "Rap's Hawaii" with sketches culled from Reiplinger's better-known work, including the album "Poi Dog" and the television special "Rap's Hawaii."
I was hired to transcribe the recorded material into script form, and though one of the actors in the show insisted he had seen the legendary Maui footage, no one knew if it still existed and if so, how to get ahold of it.
Hill posted it on YouTube in March partly in response to the renewed interest in Reiplinger's work, and to add to the collective awareness of his body of material. Hill is sharing the material online, but is not selling it or using it for commercial purposes. He sees it as a tribute.
On each YouTube post, Hill lovingly includes details of what it was like at the shoot. In the Orlando Souza sketch, Hill notes that Reiplinger cut his foot while dancing in the Kepaniwai fountain, an injury serious enough to require stitches after the camera stopped rolling. If you watch the clip closely, you can see Reiplinger react to the injury though he never breaks character.
In "Crime Toppers," Sgt. Blake Medeiros narrates a crime re-enactment in the old Ooka Supermarket. In "Hand of the Dragonfly," he karate-chops assorted pastries in the serene gardens of Kepaniwai. It may not be Reiplinger's best work, but it is a treasure for fans, like finding lost Beatles recordings hidden away in a vault.
Hill came to O'ahu in early 1984 to work on another television project. Hill and his friend were supposed to meet Reiplinger at Ward Centre to talk about the new project the day Reiplinger was reported missing. Reiplinger's body was later discovered in Maunawili.
The "Rap's Maui" footage was his last video before his death from a drug overdose. Hill has a copy of the half-hour edited show, which ran on KPBC on Maui and also on KITV after Reiplinger's death, but he wonders whatever happened to all the rest of the footage they shot.
"KPBC was sold a few times and is now part of the Paradise Network," Hill said. "I have no idea where all the camera tapes and video masters are. There was a lot more stuff and I hope they surface some day."
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.