What’s Funny in Hawai‘i Today?

Oct 15, 2019

Styles of comedy have changed over the years, and the best of it continues to touch on things we all have in common, living in Hawai‘i. Still, connections outside the islands are changing the style and content of local comedy and the Hawai‘i Sketch Comedy Festival this weekend will show case some of what’s out there now.

Kimee Balmilero, born and raised in Hawai‘i, plays Dr. Noelani Cunha on Hawaii 5-0. Starting out, she toured with Miss Saigon nationally and was in the original Broadway cast of Mamma Mia. Since moving back to Hawai‘i in 2012, Balmilero founded ImprovHI, a local improv group, and the Hawai‘i Sketch Comedy Festival.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

The Hawai‘i Sketch Comedy Festival opens Thursday night, 10/17/19,with comedy musicals, Friday is a comedy mixed plate, Saturday night, young Filipino comics from L.A. join local talent at the Doris Duke Theatre. 

"What do we think of when we think Filipino American actors, or Hawaiian comedians? We all experience the same things, we’re all global now. It’s really neat."

So says Kimee Balmilero, a Hawai‘i 5-0 regular, and the founder of the Hawai‘i Sketch Comedy Festival. It's been going five years now.

Though called the Sketch comedy festival, all types of comedy are welcome, including improv games, etc.
Credit Hawaii Sketch Comedy Festival

Local humor from Kent Bowman and Lucky Luck, through Rap Reiplinger, Andy Bumatai, Booga Booga, Augie T., and now 808 Viral and others, all cash in on traits or situations particular to Hawai‘i.

“Those influences are still in us and because local people can find that joy no matter what they’ve gone through, it makes sense for us to tell them in a comedic way, no matter how serious the topic is.”

The first night of the Festival features locally written and produced musical comedies. Crossed connections is the theme for the musical written by Susan Haas.  She performed at the festival, then moved into writing last year, and this year, she has gotten her son into the action. “180 Degrees” follows a lad who is sent to a “reprogramming” clinic because he is (sigh) heterosexual.

Aspiring comedy writers have formed a Start-up Team, and on it, Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s Sean Choo, for example, was mentored by a Los Angeles contact for his musical, “Colonize Me, the Musical a Gay Man’s Quest for Love and Gentrification.”

"Its actually pretty genius," says Balmilero, "Because you think about these sensitive social topics. This kid, he lives far on the West side, he wants to move to Kaka‘ako where all the gentrification is, that’s his dream and his dream is to find a haole boyfriend. At first, you’re kind of like, Whoa, how you going to make fun of that? But we’re not making fun of it. This might be a real story! And how do we find the lightheartedness of it?"

Balmilero bills herself as the head Silipino in any gathering.

"Comedy is healing. As serious as everything is, we have to take a break sometimes. It’s not that we’re taking away the importance of something, we’re just recognizing it in a different way so we can grab onto it and not lose our minds."

It’s worth a try.

Three nights of comedy in store starting Thursday with three fifteen minute musical comedies. Friday night will be a mixed plate of stand up, sketch, and improv. Saturday night, a Filipino Comedy Variety show mixed local talent with imports from Los Angeles.