The Pinoy ‘Billy T James’

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Is David Correos the new king of Filipino observational comedy?

By Mel Fernandez

AUCKLAND – In the opinion of his mainly Kiwi fans James Roque is the king of Filipino observational comedy in New Zealand. In a recent television documentary Roque suggested that perhaps he was the king by default, because there are very few Filipino comedians in this country.

James has been a fixture in the Auckland’s Comedy Festival’s annual winter program and was featured on several made-for-television excerpts from this event over the years. He has also picked up some comedy awards along the way.

His first ever appearance before a Filipino audience was at the 1st Maginoo at Binibining Filipino News Cultural Pageant in 2013 at the Logan Campbell Centre in Auckland. The following year he received a Filipino-Kiwi Hero Award from his kababayan for his success in mainstream comedy.

Then, three years later, along comes David Correos, 23, whose meteoric rise in the comedy scene has been nothing short of phenomenal. “I think my biggest claim to fame so far is the stupid Miley Cyrus costume tutorial video,” he revealed in an episode of ‘Neighbourhood’ (a documentary series on diversity on TV One) that he hosted. You could say that he became world famous when he uploaded that YouTube video of himself dressed to imitate Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards show in 2013. The video went viral with just under a million views.

His popular YouTube channel features a string of hilarious videos that delight his fans: How to attract women. How to Vlog. How to eat healthier. How to be winter. Legit Stuck. Dress as a Panda. And more …

Like his compatriot, Correos has also picked up a couple of awards. First up the ‘Comic Originality’ award at the 2015 Comedy Guild Awards. Then the really big one – the 2016 ‘Billy T Award’, that included a $4,000 cash grant from the New Zealand Comedy Trust, the prestigious ‘Yellow Towel’ and he got to appear on TV3’s ‘7 Days’.

“So, winning the ‘Billy T Award’ was one of the coolest things to happen in my life,” he admitted when he was the star in an episode of the compelling documentary series about diversity ‘Both Worlds’ on TV3. “I’ve gone from being an amateur comedian who does this for fun to a professional comedian who does this for a living.”

It was also time to take a closer look at the content of his material. “When I was growing up I was the only Pinoy in school,” he reflected. “I felt a little bit different. I remember that I got bullied quite a bit. But I learnt quickly that if you can make them laugh first then they can’t actually bully you.

“I am not a normal comedian. I don’t tell jokes. I am the joke. It is the only thing I’m actually good at.

“The next step is to work on the skills I am not good at yet. Being silly, being loud, that’s easy. I’ve done that my whole life, but being personal and telling stories that can surprise people about genuine things that happen – that’s something I’ve got to really work on.”

‘Both Worlds’ shows him trying to improve his routine by incorporating more stories from his culture. “Being able to reconnect to my culture will be a really good challenge for me.” So he put his hands up to perform in front of an all-Filipino audience for the very first time at the 4th Maginoo at Binibining Filipino News Cultural Pageant in June last year.

This daunting experience made him aware of the potential in focusing on material about “the culture clash I had as a Filipino growing up in New Zealand”. As event reviewer Julie Cleaver observes: “He often discusses his relationship with his parents, mimicking the best Filipino accent I have ever heard.”

“I was born and grew up in Christchurch,” said Correos. “My parents were born in the Philippines and they migrated to New Zealand.” When he presented his parents with the Billy T yellow towel his mum said: “Wow! I’m so happy for you. Looks like you are doing well. But stop taking off your clothes – when I saw that … I felt so embarrassed. Maybe people might say: ‘Oh, look how she brought up her kid? Why is he like this?’ Remember Dave, you are Filipino. We are a conservative type of people.”

Correos admits that for a while his show was high energy, nonsensical, manic and silly. “I just love taking my clothes off and freaking people out in the audience. I find that so funny. Do I keep being the silly man or start telling stories?

“Some reviews are saying that some of my jokes were inauthentic. Getting a response like that to my comedy does annoy me and makes me want to work harder at trying to find authenticity in my work. I have decided that I am going to write some new material that’s all going to be story based and hopefully could be the kind of jokes that even my parents can enjoy.”

The reinvented Correos put on a show in Christchurch last year that focused on “the culture clash” he had as a Filipino growing up in New Zealand. His mum confidently invited all her friends to the event. Her verdict: “I’m glad you don’t get naked at shows … You don’t embarrass me anymore.”

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