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Why I need to write an open letter to Jokoy

about his Golden Globes monologue

by Marisse G. AbelgasJOKOY IMDB PHOTO

(Editor’s Note: Marisse G. Abelgas is the former editor of the Philippine Post and former PR and marketing director of a Los Angeles-based Filipino chain of restaurants and food production company. She wrote a weekly column for the Post. She is now retired.)

Why?

Because, Joseph Glenn Herbert Sr., you are an extremely talented and outstanding comedian. Because, the Filipino American community holds you in high esteem. Because, you are an icon of Filipino-ness, a symbol of professional success in the entertainment industry, a Pinoy folk hero if you will, so deserving of adulation. Because, I adore you. Always have, ever since I discovered your stand-up comedy shows on Netflix and clips on YouTube and which I still find so funny no matter how many times I watch them.

And never mind how some of your raunchy jokes tend to regress to a seeming obsession with private body parts…your rice, munggo, ethnic accents and nurse lines nonetheless land with me all the time, and I don’t mind telling everyone else the boisterous laughter you elicit from this retired, normally discreet grandma is the kind that future Golden Globes audiences will hopefully get to experience from you someday.

But for now, yes, Joseph, at the Golden Globes Awards night, you bombed. Crashed. Burned. Disappointingly. Painfully. Excruciatingly. And as a self-confessed fan, I have some theories about that. You were too, shall we say, Filipino. Your jokes were Filipino disguised as mainstream. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of you for being Filipino and announcing it to the world. That night however, you let your heritage get in the way of your job. Regrettably, disastrously so.

Fun fact: the art of stand-up comedy is a delicate balance between humor, timing and relatability. When comedians take the stage, they aim to connect with the audience, to elicit laughter through shared experiences. You do this every time and you’ve undeniably mastered the art of relating with your adoring audiences in sold-out venues. At the Golden Globes, however, your attempts at humor were not met with the usual thundering applause; instead, you faced a lack of resonance, a virtual brick wall that stopped you dead in your tracks. Watching it on TV, I could sense it a few minutes in. Your live audience saw it from the get-go, and those camera shots of lost or grimacing faces weren’t pretty.

Comedy walks a fine line, and you definitely pushed the boundaries of acceptability in pursuit of the laughs that night. But those digs at BarbieOppenheimerTaylor Swift? Another penis joke? Joseph, what were you thinking? Given the times we’re in, even a 12-year-old would know in advance that for an audience of A-list celebrities – let alone a global audience that saw and liked those films – content like that would be perceived as offensive and/or unsuitable for the occasion. If the audience cringed and gave you pity laughter, I, your ardent Filipino fan, choked on my Lola cuss words.

Was it cultural dissonance? You always draw on your Filipino-American heritage for comedic material. But the majority of the Golden Globes audience was not familiar with the cultural background you drew from. When you (jokingly) complained that the organizers wanted to honour your culture with food but served sushi instead, you quipped:” We cook our fish.” Ehhhh. And when you said your nice velvet tuxedo used to be a couch…there it was! The full Filipino-ness of the joke and a Filipino-American comedian coming together in one gale force of delightful kakornihan (corny-ness). Of course, the audience didn’t get it. How could they? They have no sense of delightful Filipino kakornihan. Their loss nga (indeed), but how would they know? They’re not Filipino.

Many, many years ago, my husband and I attended a Christmas party thrown by the Philippine Department of Tourism in Los Angeles. The program was emceed by a little-known but very talented Fil-Am singer/comedian named Joseph Gelito (sorry, not you). At one point during the program, he spotted my husband (who was wearing a soft, bulky, leather bomber jacket) walking back to his seat, inadvertently drawing some attention off his emceeing. He followed my husband with his eyes, then glanced at me, and with impeccable timing and finesse, said very coyly, “Si Tito talaga, sinuot na naman yung couch namin! “(“Uncle, really, you’re wearing our couch again!” It wasn’t demeaning; it wasn’t self-deprecating either. It was absolutely, delightfully Pinoy-funny. I still laugh quietly at the joke whenever I remember it.

But I digress. Cultural dissonance aside, your delivery of punch lines seemed so off that your audience probably never had the chance to fully engage with the humor. We can’t blame them for that. You may be a household name in the Fil-Am community but I’m guessing the majority of the Golden Globes attendees had never heard of you. Unfamiliar with your style, your comedic persona or previous work, they clearly struggled to connect with you but failed to understand the nuances of your material. Not your fault either, I guess, but a little homework along those lines might have helped a great deal.

Regardless, I’m still one of your biggest fans. If that’s still lost on you, how about this: you walked a fine line that night and you stumbled, big time. But that’s not the point. The point is, you were brave and bold enough to take on the job when clearly so many others –reportedly more famous and experienced than you– declined for lack of prep time or simply lack of guts. Brave and bold, Joseph. That’s very Filipino. That by itself, already makes you a cut above the rest.

The only reason you probably tripped all over yourself was because you kept thinking Filipino-centric jokes (or Filipino jokes disguised as mainstream) are the funniest in the world. They are. But only to us. Somewhere out there is another world where comedy requires stepping out of your comfortably, delightfully Filipino self for a few hours and maybe dropping some of those machismo-stoking jokes from your repertoire. Somewhere out there is a world where Jokoy can, and should be, the illustrious stand-up comedian everyone expects him to be…funny, witty, delightfully mainstream, globally famous but fiercely proud of his Filipino heritage. It’s what the community wants for you. It’s what I and all your adoring fans want for you.

So, dust everything off and get back out there. Time to turn your velvet couch into a better tuxedo.