August 21 – Whatta day! After jumping in the COMICON 2010 cosplay, we headed to Malate, the posh artsy fashion district that used to be turned into waterholes. From Ortigas to Edsa, it could have taken us less than 30 minutes, if not for the traffic caused by a car accident in Crossing. Our driver was our professor, Doc Joey, who seemed to like what we’ve been doing for our class in Communication Environment. Our first stop was The Library.
Mabini, Del Pilar, Nakpil, Orosa, Remedios, Bocobo, Adriatico and Malvar are landmark streets in Malate. These streets, except for Remedios were named from individuals who have contributed alot in the Philippine History and in the field of Philipine Arts, Literature, Journalism, Culinary Arts and Military Arts. Julio Nakpil, George Bocobo, M.H. Del Pilar, Macario G. Adriatico, Apolinario Mabini, Maria Orosa and Miguel Malvar are names a contemporary Filipino will only meet in the annals of history.
You know you’re in the district whenever you get to any of these streets. Each street is known for the types of crowd that the watering holes, bars and restaurants cater to. It must be serendipity that by the names of these people and their contribution to Philippine History, Malate has reconstructed itself to represent a district that engenders a culture of valiance, freedom, passion in the sublime, banal and mundane.
The Library is the first comedy bar in the Philippines, standing strong in its 25th year. It started out as a small bar along Adriatico. Sitting like a less than a hundred or so people. The bar offers an innovative theme for a watering hole – a library where there is no library card needed, and one need not check out books nor read them. Definitely the place is not conducive for reading books, but it is a great place to read about the nature of humanity, pun and humour.
Pun or paranomasia is the form of wordplay that exploits numerous meanings of a statement to be understood in multiple ways intended for humor. Puns are intelligent ways of communication, in-jokes that are culturally constructed, meaning understood in the local language and culture. The pun of Malate is that of being a gay district and sin city drunken into the night of provocations of lust and hedonism, cussed and cursed like Sodom and Gomorra which turned its face away from virtue of Godliness and humanness. But it persists withstanding the enormous supernatural force of the heaven, wordly as it is to satisfy the erotic among men and women in search for affection, love and care, if not a momentary relief from the stresses of their lived worlds.
The act that the hosts presents is audience-centered. Humor is for the audience and about the audience. As a comedy bar, The Library puts together gags, slapsticks, toilet humor into puns in between song renditions from the audience or the bar hosts. That is how comedy is expressed in this watering hole. The hosts do not happen to train to entertain, they learned what they deliver to the audience from their experiences, sometimes at an exaggerated state. They bring into their staged acts the funny and the not so funny moments in human life just to laugh about them.
The staged comedy act is no way similar to stand up comedy shows, where one is up there on stage crack jokes, tell humorous stories and do some gags or slapsticks unto himself. The show is the human comedy of being made fun of or being the center of the joke. This is staged with the use lights and sounds that fit the dark and well-acousted bar. From its, original place in Adriatico, The Library is now housed in a bigger place that can put in more than two hundred persons inside. That change gives the said comedy bar a less homey feel by being a highly commercial venue for night-time entertainment.
The hosts are mostly male in gender. In sexuality, most of these male hosts are transvestites, out gays and discreet gays -queer in their sexual nature. Even the female host identifies herself as female queer or babaing bakla. Throughout the night, these hosts alternate in engaging the audience to sing on stage, make fun of them, and make fun of their selves for entertainment sake. If there are no audience to sing-a-long with them, the hosts sing the requested songs from the audience. They earn more from doing this.
Tipping is negotiated in The Library, and this is a recent development in the interactions taking place in there. The tip that the hosts are able to collect for a night are shared among them on top of their professional fee. I say that tipping is negotiated because the hosts actually encourage that the audience request songs, with some conjectures that imply the audience “share their blessings”. In this negotiation, the hosts assume that the audience have some extra money give them in return for granting their requests.
I noticed that while we were there for two hours or less, that the tipping negotiation is a planned behavior among the hosts. One goes near the audience, from one table table to another table, as the hosts on stage connect with the audience, asking them basic informing questions as to where they are from, or what they are celebrating. The cause of celebration, is an equiated cost for the tipping negotiation. The money given becomes an object of social exhange which makes the host less rude or docile to the audience. That instead of humiliating them humorously or putting them into the hotseat of the joke, the hosts turn to be more amiable towards the audience.
The messages they throw which appeal humorously is a play of words of sarcasms, indignation and even contempt that degrades the character of the soft-hearted. Using gay-lingo, theirjokes can be sometimes mundane and at other times banal, but to new customers they appear to be extraordinary. From the vantage point of a regular customer, it is noticeable that the seemingly spontaneous stand-up comedy is repetitive after all.
What makes the jokes fresh is the entry of new patrons, the integration of themes and the unexplored characters of those individuals who have the guts to stand there on stage in sing-along with the videoke. The Library is a sing-a-long cum comedy bar. Patrons are given a chance to sing their faved songs and the opportunity to be the center of the joke. For the soft-hearted the humor can be humiliating, but for the brave and the game, its funny in everyway.
The audience of The Library range from the young teenagers to the adults. It appears to be a family venue as well. When we got there, a group of friends and family members including two young boys was seated in the front tables near the stage. The hosts seemed to be aware of that fact, that for several instances one cautioned the hosts that there are kids in the bar, and so they should be mindful of their language. The object of the joke was about the male sexual organ, which they refer to as tarugo. When one of the host jokingly retorded, that those boys have that too, the hosts kept on with their usual antics – using cuss words, expressing sexually explicit terms, and exposing the audience on gestures of sexual acts.
The Library is stereotyped to be a gay place. Literally, it is a gay place because it is a happy place. It is a gay place because it puts the queer and their language into the center stage. It is stereotyped to be a gay place, because of the idea that gay couples or gay audience are its usual patrons. But this stereotyped image was not evident when we got there. There may be some gay people, but it is more obvious that it is an entertainment venue for groups of friends and family, and a place where tourist would be taken to by their local friends.
Having foreigners in the audience is something surprising. The hosts normally use the vernacular. The foreigners we were with that night include Japanese, Koreans, Turkish and others. Due to the language barrier, the jokes said can be construed as all noise. How then do these foreigners have fun? For those coming on thier own, the sight and the gestures can be really funny, aside from the entertainment that they could get from listening to the songs. I once brought an Arab friend to the same bar. He would watch closely the hosts and listen to the songs, and sometimes sing with them. As an accomodating host to that guest, I did much of the translation, from that he would pick up what was funny over what was said.
That is the style of humor in The Library, it uses pun with gay-lingo for entertainment sake. Over bottles of beer, whatever heard and seen in that watering hole would leak as well like how alcohol is disposed by peeing into the urinal. But the memory of being there and the experience of it will not easily be forgotten especially for those new patrons and when it shared with friends or family. Other bars have copied and reinvented the style of entertainment in The Library which has been the spring board and training ground for many of the gay comedians that we have now in the local showbusiness.
The Library is a communication environment: a place for social interaction where people foster relationships, validate their identities, and let go of their worries. People go there with others primarily to be entertained, but with the intent of bonding or making their cliques thicker. For those who go there alone, watching people gives a sense of connection with others, while for other loners it is a place to find partners or friends. Because it is stereotyped as a queer place, discrete men and women find it as space to validate and affirm their identities. That by being there gives the sense of belongingness to a community that celebrates their sexual uniqueness. As a place of nocturnal entertainment, it is but a comedy sing-a-long bar that opens at night and closes at dawn to give its varied patron a relief from the stress of their daily lives.