The greatest comedians of all time

STAR BYTES By Butch Francisco
The Philippine Star 08/22/2006

(Last of a series)

My ongoing series on the greatest comedians of all time generated various reactions from those who read it. Some insist that there were names that should have been there, but were missing and among those who pointed that out was Joey de Leon (who was included in the list – and deservingly so). I explained to Joey, however, that it was only a Top 10 list and the slots were limited and he easily understood my predicament.  

And then I also bumped into Tim Yap at Gold’s Gym in Glorietta and he said that he was glad that artists of the previous generation were being recognized in this series and that made me very happy because I never thought that today’s young people still cared about movie stars of the past.  

My final installment of the great comediennes, however, contains only one icon from the past because we cannot deny that this generation also boasts of great talents in comedy and here they are below:  

Maricel Soriano – She is the junior Nida Blanca. Like the great actress, she also excels in drama (one of the best) and even in the field of dancing and this is probably the reason why she was never officially crowned as Queen of Comedy. But then, she is the Diamond Star and that about covers everything.  

 

Maricel is actually so talented that even her type of comedy varies – from an over-the-top babaeng bakla (Inday Bote and the other Luciano Carlos films she did for Regal) to that of an exemplary cop’s wife and mother who sets a good example to her young son in the now-defunct Kaya ni Mister, Kaya ni Misis.  

The only comedy she has not done — and surely would not do — is the bawdy type. She may have been “Queen of Taray” at one time, but she is a very responsible performer to her audience.  

Chichay – To the ’80s generation, she was ‘La Ching in 2+2. In the ’70s, she was Mrs. Milyonarya.  

 

Chichay, Amparo Custodio-Moya in real life, however, was first known as the other half of the singing and tap dancing tandem, The Custodio Sisters in vaudeville shows. Her screen name Chichay came from the Niponggo word chiisai, which means little.  

From stage shows, she moved to the big screen and was regularly cast in comedies produced by Sampaguita Pictures. In 1953, she and Tolindoy played the title roles in Gorio and Tekla.  

The ‘60s saw her win a couple of CAT Awards for playing supporting roles in The Nida-Nestor Show in the old ABS-CBN.  

Toothless, she was well-known for her classic line: “O, eh ano?” – but which, when spat out through her gums sounded like “O, weno?” When in mock grief, she also called out to the love of her life, Culing, who was actually real-life husband Hercules.  

She was still quite active in the industry when she died in 1993. Eight years earlier, she even played the title role in Lola Basyang, a trilogy produced by Regal Films.  

Ai-Ai de las Alas – A product of stand-up comedies in sing-along bars, I knew she was going to be big someday in the field of comedy when I used to watch her perform in the Channel 13 sitcom 13, 14, 15. (I even remember doing a review of that program and raved about Ai-Ai’s performance.)  

 

While Ai-Ai has yet to officially earn the title Comedy Queen, she had already been enthroned as the Concert Comedy Queen – having filled up Folk Arts Theater and even Araneta Coliseum in the past.  

But the title Comedy Queen is really within reach for her – although she still has to accomplish the following:  

1) Have a couple of more box-office hits like Tanging Ina.  

2) Have a top-rating weekly sitcom.  

3) Stop doing racy comedy.  

At this point of her career, she can already do without her de rigueur off-color humor in her shows because she is an established performer and is naturally funny and witty. She has always had talent and the only thing she needs at the moment is this so-called “corporate image” and she should be on her way to getting crowned Comedy Queen of Philippine entertainment.  

Mitch Valdes – Plucked from campus theater (St. Scholastica’s College), she became very popular as Maya Valdes in Super Laff-ins. Oh, she became really big (literally even) on TV in the ’70s – playing the title role Cleo-FAT-ra on RPN-9.  

 

On the big screen, she got recognized for serious films and earned a Best Supporting Actress trophy from the Urian for playing a bar girl in Lunes…Martes…  

Mitch was never really a candidate for the title Comedy Queen because – for all that TV exposure – she never gained that much mass appeal (she was never the type to play to the gallery in the first place). But she already has a niche in the field for providing us all these years with intelligent comedy.  

Rufa Mae Quinto – Comedy in the Philippine setting can be cruel because it draws humor from the physical imperfections of the performer. And so we had the likes of Babalu and Babalina, Palito and Doro de los Ojos (so named because of his perpetually-dilated pair of eyes).  

 

In the case of Rufa Mae, she is pretty, sexy, sultry and has almost perfect features. But she is funny – thanks to her hilarious one-liners. Often cast in dumb roles, she is actually bright and talented. Her inclusion in the list of greatest comediennes of all time may be met with disapproval from readers because even I admit it’s still quite premature to put her name side by side with the esteemed Nida Blanca and company.  

I have decided to put her name in the list, however, because among the young generation, she is already the best in the field of comedy and at this point of her career, she is undeniably today’s Comedy Princess.

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