Rex Navarrete on offensive jokes

Rex Navarrete
Glad to have met Rex Navarrete. I've always wanted to catch him live since hearing SBC Packers and watching Hella Pinoy online (that Sto Niño joke!). Here's the short Q&A I had with him when he was promoting his last show in Manila, Extra Judicial Kidding. This was published on GIST.

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GIST: What makes a joke?

REX NAVARRETE: There’s got to be a story in there. Most of the time it helps that it’s based on reality. But what goes into a joke? It’s got to be funny. It can be deep and have so many levels to it, but it still has to be funny. You still need that laugh to let you off the hook, especially with political writers, people who write about touchy subjects. There always has to be an exit plan and it has to be funny to stick with you. And they have to have a purpose — why am I talking about this? Why is this important?

Is there such a thing as an offensive joke?

Yes. A lot.

Do you tell these kinds of jokes?

No — I mean, it depends on who you are. Some people can take (my critical jokes) to the extreme and say, ‘Wow, I was so offended that you talked about that, because that doesn’t bring us together.’ That’s not my job — I’m not supposed to bring us together. Sometimes I have to take a stand, pick a side.

In these times you need comedy. You really need satire. This is the only thing that’s getting me through every day with the new president back home in the States. Because every day is a ten-year step backwards. We worked so hard as a country and now we have this guy who wants to dismantle everything, and it’s and not just affecting our country but the world. It’s not a simple position he’s holding, he’s holding the most powerful position in the planet. As a satirist, I have to be part of that voice.

What is ‘Pinoy humor’?

It’s hard to pin it down because we’ve had the ability to have so many levels of how we laugh. Comedy and sense of humor are tied to who we are as a society. The Philippines is no slouch. We have a rich history of thinking for ourselves. And we’re not afraid to share our opinion with anybody. We’re the first republic in this part of the world and we fought hard for that. And we’re finding out that in the past decades, the voice of opinion has been squashed. But that makes the people sharper. People are really smart here. We enjoy simple street humor all the way to savvy political satire.

What’s the bravest joke you’ve told?

I guess anything that deals with the establishment that we’ve grown up with — our government, our church, our parents. I always try to see how far I can go talking about how we’re raised as Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. And what the power structures are. That’s one of the privileges of being a comedian — people will allow you that freedom to question. If you don’t agree with (the comic), give them silence; and if you do, laugh. A room full of laughter is a room full of agreement.

And so it’s instant democracy right there. I’m not forcing you to laugh and I’m not forcing you to be quiet. I’m just putting it out there. And however you respond is (who you are). That’s what I hope people bring when they come to my shows — their honest selves. Laughter is the true indicator of where you’re at.

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