Rex Navarrete: “I feel like the godfather of standup comedy”

We chat with pioneering comedian Rex Navarrete to find out his thoughts on being a comedy godfather — and what he thinks of standup today in the Philippines

Rex Navarrete

How have things changed since you first started doing standup in the Philippines?
First of all, there’s real comedy happening here now — real standup, which is the craft that I practice. That’s a big change. When I started doing standup here from 2002 all the way to 2007, it was really hard. No one was doing it.

Do you feel like you’re the father of standup comedy in the country?
I feel like I’m the ninong [godfather]. I’m glad I had a part in that — introducing the format, and letting them see it live like how it’s done from abroad. The local comedy scene here was not like how it was abroad; they used to have their own style. And then I introduced a new way of doing it. But I also let them handle it. It’s now run by the indigenous tribes. I just tell them what not to do.

Are audiences different here compared to the US?
Well, there’s obviously the Pinoy flavor. And trying to calibrate the audience to this kind of format — what to expect at a comedy show, and how to behave at one. At a music club, you don’t have to pay attention so much. At a comedy show, we ask you to pay attention and be part of it. That’s a new thing that this audience is learning. The great thing with Filipino audiences is that once they’re into it, they love it.

Do you have to adjust to the local audience in any way?
Maybe the material, but the delivery is mostly the same. Delivering to Boracay is a little different to playing in Manila. It’s a little more casual here, a little more kicked back. It’s crazy, because people just want to party — you’re not going to get their attention, and you’ve got to expect that to happen. But otherwise, it works out. People just want to have a good time.

Is it difficult to psych yourself up to start a set?
It can be. You really need to prepare however you can for shows. Each show is totally different: the vibe, the layout, the people, yourself, your mood.

Tell me about your first time doing standup in front of an audience.
It was a long time ago. I was just a college kid and I made a lot of mistakes. But I wanted to try it and then it just became easier. I got better at it, then people wanted to see me more. Then suddenly I’m five years in and it’s the real deal — I’m getting paid for it, I’m traveling. It was weird. It just sucked me in.

Which is your favorite audience that you have played to?
I never have a favorite audience. It’s always the one I’ve just played for. That audience that has been waiting for me, waiting to connect with my material. They’ve seen me on YouTube and now they’re going to see the real live show. I want to make it their night.

Have you seen any great new talent in the country?
Man, there’s a lot, like the whole crew of Comedy Manila. They have a kickass line-up of great local comics. And they’re inspiring a lot of other comics from other cities like Olongapo and Cebu, and getting them to adopt the format. The guys of Comedy Manila are really holding it strong.

What’s next for you?
[I will] just keep working anywhere, and that’s it. I still perform a lot in the United States and Canada, and I’ll also come out to the Philippines, where comedy is growing. Wherever the work is and you get called to do it, you’ve got to go.

Playing in Boracay was a nice experience, and I’ll be back. It was a nice experiment, setting up a new club and starting the very first comedy club in Boracay. That’s a big deal.

Also read: Check out an improv show in the Philippines for a dose of intelligent comedy

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Smile magazine.

Written by

Nowie Potenciano

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