As a kid who grew up with a wealthy share of television sitcoms, perhaps it was inevitable that I would also embrace the comedy album. Then again, while both can be independent from one another, I would eventually discover that most of the funny people on TV I had enjoyed were comedians. With parents who were fairly open and a grandmother whose love of comedy was much more risque than I had realized, I discovered the dirtier side of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. Some of my aunties and uncles had Pryor’s albums too, and it was cool to read the covers and see the track listings, only to realize that I couldn’t say some of the titles. In time, I wanted to know what type of comedy existed in Honolulu. Through my grandfather, I discovered Kent Bowman, a white comedian who would go into a character as a local boy, complete with a pidgin English dialect. Bowman’s routines were very much the type of “talk story” tales one would hear in a garage, park, or luau and with an album that was considered explicit called No Talk Stink, it is what I wanted to hear. They seemed dirty and “kolohe” (rascal) then, but is fairly tame by today’s standards. They were bar stories, but fun bar stories, even if as a kid I didn’t understand some of it.
Through listening to the radio, I had heard of a Hawaiian comedy group called Booga Booga. These guys had played a nightclub in downtown Honolulu and were always praised for their hilarious routines, stuff that was considered too dirty for radio so naturally as a kid, I wanted to hear it. With my mom, we would sometimes walk past the club where there were Booga Booga posters on the front window, and I wanted to know who was Booga Booga, had to know what they looked like. They were a huge mystery to me. I’d see the front album covers at record stores, but that was it. A news story came out around 1977 or so which talked about how one of the members had left, and if that would lead to the break-up of Booga Booga. It was then announced that the member who left was trying out comedy on his own, and that he would be releasing his own album. In the summer of 1978, I went to a record store, most likely House Of Music, and went into the Hawaiian section. It was there I saw a photo of a man: half of him presented as the typical Hawaiian working man, complete with aloha shirt, work shoes, ‘ukulele on the side, and his hand presenting a shaka that was dipped in a poi bowl. The other half of him was a typical Hawaiian tita: a tube top that barely contained what was in there, nylons, a cigarette, his foot on top of a wine bottle, and face with lipstick and eye shadow. Was he half mahu (gay)? Did he want to be a woman? Was it a metaphor for the different cultures that existed in Hawai’i, which also represented the ethnicities he was? As a 7 year old kid, the picture seemed so weird and yet he seemed proud to show off who he was, whatever he was. Shaka covered in poi? I had to hear it.
Poi Dog would become one of the most influential comedy albums in my life, and I know I embraced it because it was local (Hawaiian) comedy, done by someone who looked like he could have been a relative. I may not have been his target audience then, but the routines I could understand were hilarious. It was obvious that he was poking fun at the different ethnicities of Hawai’i, cultural humor that was very much a reflection of himself, such as “Portuguese Huddle”, which involved a football team of Portuguese kids who are about to play at the championship game, but only have one important thing in mind: eating. It then leads to the realization that when it comes to a cheer, they’re unable to count past a certain point:
This leads into a great recreation of the old radio soap opera, but reflecting on a Hawai’i before it became a state and a territory. It touches on a young Hawaiian couple who are in love, but have to deal with a cockroach in the lady’s shoe, and what must be done to get rid of it. This leads to a radio spot/commercial for lau lau, covering in-depth what is inside the eight pound beast before getting into some playful double entendre. The soap opera comes back, and we now realize that the lady is now in the family way. By the end, we now learn that “The Young Kanakas” will not be returning due to the coming of “The Young Missionaries”, which may sound like a new soap opera but is actually code for “the white people are coming”.
“Room Service” is a phone conversation between a tourist named Mr. Fogerty, who is calling for room service from his room, specifically to have a meal. There are problems with this meal, for Mr. Fogerty has an American accent and the room service lady can’t quite understand his dialect. Throughout the call, room service lady feels open to suggesting one of the Hawaiian specials: the first one featuring pickled pig’s feet with Spanish rice on mashed potatoes, a choice of dressing on top of the fruit cup, and a choice of bread or toast. When the room service lady asks for a second special, Russell, the cook in the kitchen, yells out “nothing”. Thus, only one special is available. Mr. Fogerty (or as the receptionist says in her Hawaiian accent, “Mr. Frogtree”) sounds very frustrated in how a simple order can take so long to be made, which leads to the cook in the kitchen to fool around with the receptionist, leading her to say “you do that again, I going karang your ala’s (i.e. “hit you in the balls”) The order is not completed.
A series of “Haikus” follows up, spoken with a Japanese accent but covering different local stories of the island, including Filipinos, being stuck out in the country surrounded by Samoans, finding yourself in a ladies restroom and not knowing what happened, along with finding oneself at the bank when it is closed.
“Mahalo Airlines” has Reiplinger portraying an airline stewaress telling her passengers about the flight to come, safety precautions, and some of the hazards that may come if the plane suddenly falls into danger.
“Fate Yanagi” opens up Side 2 and is based on those tragedy pop songs of the early 60’s, and is specifically a parody of “Tell Laura I Love Her”. It features nothing but Reiplinger and an acoustic guitar, where he, as a surfer who knew he had to catch the big wave while surfing, and is basically a message for his girlfriend that he loves and needs her, and if he must part, she shouldn’t cry but as a final message, he tells her don’t go out with “that other guy”, Mits Funai. In the version he did for his one and only TV special, Rap’s Hawai’i, Reiplinger tells the listener that the song was written before he had massive brain damage.
It then leads to the greatness that is the “Lolo Telethon”. The word “lolo” is Hawaiian for someone who is dumb or stupid, so the fact that there would be a telethon for lolo people was funny. This hit home because any of us who were kids living in Hawai’i probably had parents who told us at one point that we were lolo, or kids who shouldn’t do dumb and stupid things. In Hawai’i, one could also watch or attend the local coverage of the Easter Seals and Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, so the idea that we could have our own telethon sounded great, even if it was meant to represent the HHH Institute: The Hawaiian Hospiital for the Helplessly Lolo. One was then able to hear some of the talent that would be playing at the telethon, everyone from Auntie Agnes Kealoha and her gourds, the Pohaku Four (or Five), The Gangi Barange Connection (which was notable for me, as one of my dad’s best friends was a Portuguese guy named Freddy Barange), that unusual dog act from Ewa Beach, and let’s not forget the Sunny Ah Fook Orchestra with the irrepressable voice of Winona Santos. I mean c’mon, who wouldn’t want all of that talent in one place? This then leads to a plea for money and the chant “Bucks For Lolos”, which my friends and I in the third grade used to chant because we were all proud to be lolo. The “Lolo Telethon” seemed like our own telethon, and we all wanted to be on it or watch, even though we knew very well that it didn’t exist. In our hearts, though, it did.
“Date-A-Tita” was very cool for me, because of the way Reiplinger, as Auntie Nellie Kulolo, said the word “Tita”. I had an auntie whose real name was Linda, but as a kid, since I couldn’t pronounce Linda properly, it came out as Tita (“tee-tah”). In this case, Auntie Nellie was representing a dating service for a tita (“tih-tah”). In Hawai’i, a tita is a rough, local/Hawaiian woman who doesn’t take any bullshit from anyone. He is a strong, confident, and will probably beat you and any relatives up if you mess with her. As Auntie Nellie introduces the service, she tells potential customers “boys, you know sitting at home trying women’s underwear can get real stale, and lonely to boot. So go take Auntie’s advice: go out, have fun, and do it with a girl.” She makes reference to a need to go out with one’s kind, as in “don’t take a haole girl when you have plenty local girls waiting for you”, along with wearing a tag that shows that you are the man and she is a woman, so that other people can tell the both of you apart. Plus, “special kama’aina rates” are available for those Hawaiians who don’t have money, which is to suggest that some Hawaiians don’t have too much cash, but one must experience the dating experience instead of putting on panty hose for fun. If one does date-a-tita, it can also involve getting personally involved with her family members, all of which may sound stereotypical but as the saying goes, the best stereotypes are true.
“Local Argument #7” is a typical local argument done in Hawai’i, perhaps out in the country, between two friends. It begins with one man asking why did they agree to meet somewhere and when one guy went to the destination, he wasn’t there. The other guy states that he was on the way when he was at the meeting place, how come he didn’t call him? The first person asks how could he call when he was already on his way? It leads to the debate of what should and shouldn’t have been done. In an era where there are iPhones, this verbal transaction might not happen today unless he didn’t have easy access to Wi-Fi. It may be impossible for the non-pigeon minded to understand, but it simply involves trying to come to an understanding as to why these two friends didn’t meet, and what could have been done to make it better and easier, without hassle.
“Loving You Is Surfing You” is a man telling a love story to his lady, where she is represented as a surfboard, and the metaphors of the ocean and the reef are used to describe his love for her.
The album ends with “Japanese Roll Call”, where a foreman at the workplace makes sure everyone is there at the place of employment before they begin their day. He calls out Tanemisu, Misuyoshi, Yoshimura, Murakami, Kamikawa, Kawamatsu, Matsutaka, Takahashi, and as you can see, the half of one man’s last name becomes the first half of the next man’s name and continues on playfully until the piece ends, with the hope that everyone who has to be there is there.
Hearing this was like opening the door to everyone at school, next door neighbors, and friends of our parents. Most of us were of mixed ethnicity, so the issue that I was Hawaiian/Chinese/Portuguese/Filipino/German/Austrian was not an issue, but rather a stamp of pride. It meant that our families were much better, and the fact that Reiplinger was making fun of these qualities while showing pride for it too was something to admire. We weer as mixed up as a puppy that was a “poi dog”, or as mixed up as something as simple as eating hot dogs with poi. We were all mixtures, so Poi Dog was very much about us, the us we were to become, and the us we wanted to be. Maybe this was the “us” that was embarrassing, but we also loved the fact that we could be who we were, without outside issues.
As a kid who used cassette players who record my voice for no reason other than to hear myself, I loved the fact that Reiplinger created all of the voices (male and female) and played all of the instruments on it, which included keyboards, ‘ukulele, guitar, and drums. Even though there was a list on the back cover with all of the musicians playing on it (i.e. the drummer was Sticks Cabang, while one of the other musicians was the Portagee genius Sterling Silva), it showed that all of the people on the album were Reiplinger himself. I know I thought “wow, how did this guy make all of these sounds and make all of these voices at once?” While I would learn about multi-track recording through listening to, exploring, and doing research on The Beatles, I had never heard a comedy album recorded in this fashion before. Up until then, albums by Foxx, Pryor, and Bowman were live performances. The idea that one person could make all of these voices, in one studio, and have it mixed to sound like there were many people there, blew me away, and I wanted to make sounds just like that.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the album was the back cover, featuring a old photo of a hula girl (Reiplinger’s mom or relative?) with an accompanying fan letter for Rap, written in a slightly suggestive manner. I know I thought “what is this little girl doing, writing in this manner to a grown-up?” but I hadn’t been aware that Reiplinger had been more suggestive before. When I finally found a Booga Booga album and listened to it, I then understood some of the suggestive overtones that Reiplinger would do. Reiplinger played it fairly safe on Poi Dog, even though it was still somewhat risque for its time. No one ever said “karang your ala’s” on a record, yet regardless of its tone and rough language (at least in Hawai’i), every track was heard on KCCN, which back then was the only Hawaiian radio station on Oahu. It was also played on pop stations KKUA and KIKI. Everyone was proud that a local boy could make a comedy record that was this funny, an album where people were remembering the routines word for word. I remember going to Royal Elementary School, and during a school assembly, the son of the lady who ran the cafeteria did a one-sided version of the “Room Service” routine. It was one-sided because he only did the part of the room service receptionist, and no one was there to play Mr. Fogerty. All of us sat in the cafeteria, looked at each other, and said without words “what is this?” We all knew the routine, but it seemed like half a conversation. We all offered him half-hearted applause.
Poi Dog made me want to become a comedian, a dream that remains unfulfilled, although I try to slip in a few humorous things in my writing. With Reiplinger came Andy Bumatai, a Filipino comic from Waianae who, like Reiplinger, was signed to Mountain Apple. While Reiplinger didn’t mind being suggestive, Bumatai was a little safer in his style but just as funny. He released a small number of albums but what made him become a comedian to watch were his two TV specials, Andy Bumatai’s High School Days and All In The Ohana. Any of us who watched them could relate to the characters he portrayed, because we either wanted to be like them, or had relatives who were like them. Reiplinger and Bumatai represented then then-new school of comedy, and we were proud to call them our own.
Reiplinger would follow up Poi Dog with other albums, including the great Crab Dreams, and it would eventually lead to his first and only TV special, Rap’s Hawai’i. Some of the routines on this album would be visualized for the first time, and it showed how funny and playful he was, whether he played a stuttering priest, Auntie Marialani with her cooking show, or the brain damaged surfer with a heart. While he was able to finish production of Rap’s Hawai’i, he didn’t live to see his influence on countless other comedians and comedic writers, as he died from drug-related causes in 1984 at the age of 33. While he has left a void that will never be touched, comedy in Hawai’i has never stopped and continues to thrive with such comedians/actors as Frank DeLima, Augie Tulba, Bu La’ia, and Paul Ogata, among many. Reiplinger was definitely not the first funny person of Hawai’i, but when he departed from Ed Ka’ahea and James Grant Benton to form his own legacy away from Booga Booga, he said things that made everyone pay attention immediately. He spoke about us, laughed at and with us, because he was us, and we were him. James Kawika Piimauna Reiplinger, mahalo nui for your mind and humor, and your presence in my lifetime. If you had become the old grandpa that you portrayed in Rap’s Hawai’i, you would have been even more righteous.