Many claim that college is the turning point in one's life, when one finds his or her future. This was the case for San Francisco Bay Area comedian Rex Navarrete, when Navarrete's college professor told him he was wasting his talents.
"He told me, 'Get out of my office-we shouldn't be joking here, you should be taking those jokes to the stage," recalls Navarrete of his Asian American Studies professor Dan Gonzales, the teacher who supported his dream to be a comedian in 1989.
That spring, 19 year-old Navarrete was baptised by fire, entertaining a crowd of 800 at the annual Asian Pacific Islander Student Union conference at UC Santa Cruz.
"I was looking for my identity then just as everyone else was at that age," says Navarrete. "Much of my material was very serious, it lacked comedy. I figured that I had some important stuff to say, so say it in the format of stand-up. This is where I started to take comedy as a vehicle seriously."
By the early 1990's, Navarrete began seeing his routine evolve through the use of characters, many of whom were struggling underdogs. His portrayals, which ranged from his ESL teacher Mrs. Scott to his Uncle Boy and to Maritess the domestic worker, gave him the voice to air his thoughts on issues and speak about things that otherwise wouldn't be mentioned.
Navarrete gathers all of his material from what he calls "real Rex moments," reality and shared life experiences. "I think everything has humor; you will always find humor. I don't always make stuff up. Even though most of my material is geared for a Filipino audience, if you're smart enough you'll understand the universality of it. Look at the comedy traditions of Jewish and African American comics, which are now the mainstream through Seinfeld, Bruce, Allen, Rock, Pryor and Murphy. Our struggles become our comedy."
"My parents never knew I would become a comedian. They did think I would go on to become an architect or join the Army as I planned. I led a dual life; I would play the role of a Filipino at home and at school be the American with my classmates. I bought my first Eddie Murphy album in middle school and memorized 'Comedian' with my friends. That was my first real introduction to stand-up comedy and the art of storytelling."
A lot has happened since then. Navarrete has performed his brand of comedy all across the nation touring numerous colleges, universities and community events. He has become a household name in Filipino American homes. In 1998, he released his first comedy CD entitled, "Badly Browned", which was followed by another CD in the summer of 1999, "Husky Boy". Both have become bestsellers on the Classified Records label and have brought high praise by listeners across the country.
In the summer of 2001, he released his third CD album this time under his own label Kakarabaw Productions entitled, "Bastos".
As a major follow-up to the three CD's and touring like crazy in Asia and North America, he produced, directed and released "Hella Pinoy", his first ever, live standup DVD concert. Shot in San Francisco, it has all the hidden goodies including a feature-length performance, a behind the scenes documentary, his early days of standup and much more. It's become a must have DVD in anyone's comedy collection.
He currently travels all over North America touring cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Houston, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Hawaii doing his one-man show.
In 2004, he brought his act to the peoples of Germany, Austria and Switzerland sharing the bill with renowned Philippine vocalist, Regine Velasquez. He has also had the distinction of becoming the most celebrated stand-up comic to perform to multiple sold-out shows in Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore since 2002. He regularly returns to Manila, which has become fertile ground for his style of stand-up, inspiring the growth of an emerging local stand-up comedy scene. His next plan of attack is to perform in Australia and the United Kingdom, where fans eagerly await his arrival.
In late 2005, the release of his sophomore DVD entitled, "Badass Madapaka!", showcases Navarrete on his Pacific region tour of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Manila. This will be the first international tour DVD by any Filipino-American artist. The San Francisco show was taped in front of a sold-out house at the historic Warfield Theater in downtown. The Los Angeles taping filled up the also historic Wiltern LG Theater. One will truly be able to experience Rex's fan-base from all angles.
His other current projects include his own television series, "Rex In The City", for MTV Philippines, which shares his stand-up talents to a younger, hipper TV viewing audience throughout the Philippines. For the upcoming animated series in 2006, "The Nutshack", Navarrete voices many of the series' key characters in this groundbreaking Filipino-American animated production.
Navarrete remains to be a one of the hardest working, relatively unknown American comedians today though he's performed alongside notable national headliners as George Lopez, DL Hughley, Paul Mooney, among others. He does plan to release a number of other comedy albums on CD and DVD's under his label for fans to enjoy in the future.
Presently, he lives on the island of Oahu in Hawaii where he just loves to relax quietly, swim and fish when he can. The future seems to only give him the chance to connect with a larger audience that is now finally getting the opportunity to witness the changing face of American stand-up comedy. All three CD's and both DVD's can be purchased online at www.brownjungle.com. Kakarabaw Productions photos by Jo Avila, BJ Formento & Nerinna Valera. Illustration by Andre Sibayan.