Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rex Navarrete's Badly Browned: The first Filipino American stand-up album

'Oh, you want dra-mateeks? You want dra-mateeks? I give you dra-mateeks right here!'"You're gonna piss me out!"
--one of many Rex Navarrete character malapropisms during
Badly Browned

While watching a back-to-back KQED evening marathon of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month-themed documentary programming (Arthur Dong's Hollywood Chinese and Jeff Adachi's The Slanted Screen, a doc that both PBS and TCM seem to air a million times), I thought to myself, "These APAHM nights on KQED could really use a doc about Asian American comedians like Adachi's other doc, You Don't Know Jack. Why are minority history months always so damn reverent and serious?"

I wonder when You Don't Know Jack--the doc about comedian and Barney Miller scene-stealer Jack Soo, not the recently greenlit Pacino-as-Jack Kevorkian biopic of the same title--will show up on KQED and add some much-needed humor to their often stuffy APAHM programming.

(Somebody ought to make a doc about present-day Asian American stand-ups, and it better not be in the style of annoying and vapid reality shows about stand-ups like Last Comic Standing or any other show that's not the short-lived Comedians of Comedy, still the only reality show about stand-ups that's worth a damn. The doc ought to be more like Comedian, the smart 2002 doc about Jerry Seinfeld, Orny Adams and the difficulties of the craft of stand-up. The Asian American stand-up scene has enough fascinating stories, interesting ideological disagreements and juicy rivalries to fill an entire edition of Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America.)

Comedians of color don't get enough praise or props during minority history months, which is why I'm devoting this post to the first Filipino American live stand-up comedy album, a 1998 CD that's a solid knee-slapper for almost all of its 65 minutes. It's even got kickass scratch instrumental interludes provided by DJ Qbert too.

I used to play Rex Navarrete's Badly Browned CD all the time on my university radio station. Navarrete is the first Filipino American stand-up I've seen who's represented us--a certain generation of Empire Strikes Back-watching, Skratch Piklz alumni album-buying Filipinos who grew up on Pryor, Mooney, Cosby and Murphy instead of Dolphy. For a while, I used to be able to recite huge chunks of Badly Browned tracks like the Star Wars bit, the ad-libbed "KBOY with Mr. Bolisario" skit ("Long time ago, when I was a childrens, uh, the, uh, Aquaman, uh, Sunday afternoon, used to cook me chee-ken!"), "Maritess vs. the Superfriends" and "Mrs. Scott's ESL Class," about a rambling Pinay ESL teacher named Mrs. Scott who makes hilariously ditzy statements like "the Philippines is the southernmost island of Spain" (I love hearing the mostly Fil-Am San Francisco State audience boo after that line).

On his site, Navarrete recalled the recording of Badly Browned:
Kormann Roque of Classified Records and I came up with the same idea, why don't we experiment and record a live show of mine and see how it sounds? So we did. My buddy, Elrik Jundis, produced a venue and a show for me at UC Berkeley's International House on November 1st, 1997. A one-night only, two show evening. This was where "Maritess" was taped. The best thing about accomplishing that feat was helping one of my best friends give birth to her son, Lakas, earlier that afternoon. I became an instant godfather. I named one of Q-bert's tracks after him on BADLY BROWNED. I'd say that that day had to be one of the most blessed days of my life and my career.

On April 20th, 1998, the same production team, now with full support from Classified Records, came together to bring to SF State's McKenna Theater the live taping of BADLY BROWNED in a packed, standing room only house of 700 plus fans. This was so awesome, I never thought so many Filipinos would dig Flip comedy this much and this intensely. Nevertheless, we finished that night exhausted and a couple months later came our with that first live comedy CD. It featured scratch tracks from DJ Q-bert from the Invisibl Skratch Piklz which gave it a Def Comedy Jam kind of feel to it. It still remains to be a great seller online and at my gigs, thanks to your support. I think BADLY BROWNED contains some of my most favorite material to that point in my career.
I wish I had more to say about this milestone CD that had me rolling during much of my senior year, other than I'm looking forward to Navarrete's fourth stand-up album, and I could never view Starship Troopers the same way again after Navarrete squashed the movie version with his big tsinelas.

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