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» » » » » » » » » » » » » » Comedy in the Philippines: What Makes the Pinoys Laugh? (Part 1)

JR Lopez Gonzales 11:38 PM 3

The Filipino is a happy race. We are a country of gleeful people that simply loves good guffaws. Apparently, Filipinos have this easygoing predisposition that makes things bearable despite the hardships of the daily grind.

In fact, studies reveal that the Philippines is one of the most cheerful people in the world. According to the Happy Planet Index (HPI)* in a study made in 1999, our country was adjudged the 14th happiest place in the world. We may be a developing country, but we belong to the top in terms of happiness, satisfaction, and uhm yeah, contentment.

To start this off, comedy is defined as a universal form of expression and a major dramatic genre that is intended to amuse and make people laugh. And having been influenced by a bunch of colonizers in the past, these help shape the distinct Filipino comedy landscape. Add to this the regular drinking sessions every weekend on our alleys and the ever-beloved television.

With the advent of technology, it gave rise to the radio comedies and eventually the boob tube’s situational comedies. A key factor to the development of our national “comedy consciousness” is the mainstream media. And with the current addition of the world wide web, various entertainment gags and skits can be accessed even from the far-flung areas of the country.

Early Filipino jesting in the mainstream TV and film is characterized by sapakan (hitting) and animated facial expressions reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. Have actors do dramatic delivery of wisecracks plus, let them hit each other with a rolled newspaper, and you’ve got a riot.
Today, the Filipino comedy in the mainstream is characterized by a series of non-vulgar languages that dwell on the “play on words”, self-depreciation, and puns. But the Filipino comedy has a broad spectrum of styles embodied in variety shows, comedy shows, gag-shows, sitcoms, and noon-time shows which barrage our TV sets 24/7.

A closer look at our TV programming, however, would tell us that it is the noon-time jokes that are most loved. These shows have the distinct “adlib humor” where the host may throw a funny quip or two during a chat or interview with the participant. Most of these punchlines we see on Eat…Bulaga!, WowoWillie, and Showtime! are not premeditated and they come from sheer wittiness of the hosts.
Pun has always been regarded as one the lowest variety of humor. But here in the Philippines, this comedy form sells like pancakes. We sure love to play around with words. Filipinos come up with puns on everything, take offs on people’s names, titles of movies, or song titles. Knock-knock jokes and “pick-up” lines are also very common here. The more obvious the pun, the ‘punnier’… that’s why it’s more pun in the Philippines (insert canned laughter here).
Given that the Pinoys have a high regard for the English language as the latter is one used by the so-called ‘socialites’; a person’s inability to express himself well in English cracks us up. Who would not forget the answer given by Janina San Miguel or Venus Raj in the beauty pageants?
Carabao English.
Add to this, the Filipino tendency to poke fun at the distinct accent of the provincianos. Most people living in the Imperial Manila (who speak Tagalog) find people from the provinces different, inferior and therefore funny. We can observe this in the portrayal of our people at the cinemas and TV shows where the promdis’ mispronunciations, naivete and professed regional traits are deemed risible. (I won’t be testy and go off on a rant on this entry despite being a provinciano myself. I’ll write another article for this topic alone).

Another weird feature of our kind of comedy is our politically incorrect jokes. In this archipelago, people make fun of body types, skin color, and overall physical appearance.  We have jokes pelted towards the differently-abled, or those people who have ‘appearance deficit’ (that’s my George Carlin reference).

The reason for this, maybe, is due to our penchant to describe people by their prominent attributes: pangit (ugly), matabâ (fat), maitím (dark-skinned), pandák (short), kalbó (bald), piláy (cripple), bingot (harelip), pangô (flat-nosed), and what-not. This makes us different from most of the Western humor well, because out there, they do their best to pretend that no one is in any way different from anyone else.

On a related note, the Filipinos love green and toilet jokes and do not have qualms if they're, uhm, disgusting. We’re really quite hung-up on sex – we love crackling jokes about body parts, urges, positions, and what-nots. Yes, that’s the humor of the world’s 12th most populous country which also accidentally happens to be predominantly composed of conservative Catholics.

(Check out the second part of this article, here)

*The Happy Planet Index index measures happiness combining life satisfaction, life expectancy and environmental footprint - the amount of land required to sustain the population and absorb its energy consumption.

Author's Note:
Special thanks to Anonymous who reminded me to properly cite the article written by Nestor U. Torre for  the Philippine Daily Inquirer entitled, "12 Ways To Make Filipinos Laugh" on April 1, 2000.
The online version of the daily can be seen here:,673679.

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3 comments Comedy in the Philippines: What Makes the Pinoys Laugh? (Part 1)

  1. Oh, how I love this trait. We learned as people to build walls of laughter, fatalistic outlook, come-what-may, anyway-God-wills-it-so-I-accept-it perspective. This ensures our survival in comings and goings of storms of life. These walls we build collectively and individually to shield us from onslaught of poverty and miseries of life. Good defense. But, may we look yonder and "reconstruct these walls, beyond laughter?"--jb villegas. Namaste.

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