The greatest comedians of all time(Third of a series)

STARBYTES - Butch Francisco -
The field of comedy is basically dominated by men. To my surprise, however, I had difficulty paring down my list of best comediennes to just 10. Maybe woman empowerment encouraged female comic talents to shine starting in the ’80s and this continues to the present day. But who gets on the list? Below is the first installment.

Nida Blanca
– For some strange reason, we never had an official Comedy Queen to stand side by side with Comedy King Dolphy. But I guess that has to be the late Nida Blanca. Maybe she never got that title because she also excelled in drama – and even in dancing for that matter. And while she won dozens of acting trophies for drama (Korea, Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde, Magdusa Ka and Sana Pag-ibig Na), she only got about half a dozen awards (although that’s still a lot considering the fact that there weren’t that many award-giving bodies in her time) for comedy (1975 Metro Manila Filmfest for Bato-Bato sa Langit, two CAT Awards for The Nida-Nestor Show and three PATAS for John & Marsha).

But among all actresses – from the beginning of Philippine cinema to this day – Nida had the best comic timing. And she had spunk. To me, her name will always be No. 1 on my list of best comediennes of all time.

– She was Miss Clean when it came to comedy. Hers was the opposite of toilet humor. Her brand of comedy, in fact, was almost antiseptic – but still funny. On camera, she was very natural and was at her best when paired with Pugo (although she was also effective opposite Lupito).

Her best episode in Wanted: Boarders in the old ABS-CBN Channel 4 was when Chichay guested in the show. Chichay had a daughter, singer Geraldine, and Patsy could never pronounce the girl’s name correctly (she kept saying Gungadine). From the start, there was already animosity between Patsy and Chichay. It turned out that Chichay was the ex-girlfriend of Patsy’s husband, Pugo, and it was a riot in the show.

That episode was a landmark on Philippine TV because there supposedly was a feud between Chichay and Patsy off-screen. Nobody ever knew if this was true or just a joke between them – and no one knew the exact reason why they were feuding in the first place. The public waited for the answer when Patsy was featured as guest in the Joy Virata-Robert Jaworski talk show Celebrity in 1978 on Channel 4 (then already a government studio). Unfortunately, when Ms. Virata asked that question, Patsy evaded it by merely answering: "It’s a military secret."

The year after, Patsy died and buried along with her mortal remains was the mystery about her supposed feud with Chichay.

But at the funeral, there was only one celebrity who went – Chichay.

Tessie Tomas –
Sylvia la Torre was the First Lady of Television. Tessie Tomas was the second and her era was the ’90s when she had a very popular daily late morning show, Teysie ng Tahanan, and a critically-acclaimed weekly sitcom, Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata.

Competition was toughest during her time because there were a lot of other outstanding comediennes then: Mitch Valdes, Nanette Inventor, Cynthia Patag, etc. But Tessie was no doubt the queen of standup comedy – on the strength of the successful run of Meldita, which still remains unequaled. Her succeeding shows were almost as hilarious and brilliantly conceived (this is when her being a perfectionist comes out) and she was so funny spoofing Cory and Kris Aquino, Miriam Santiago and Imee Marcos.

On TV, she will always be remembered for her Barbara Tengco role – the neurotic, pill-popping corrupt congressman’s wife with the outlandish hairdos. Oh, what great tandem she had with equally notorious son Dino (short for Ferdinand Benigno) – as portrayed by Anjo Yllana.

In Bahay Mo Ba ’To on GMA 7, she is still effective as a comedienne, except that she now has to share screen time with a lot of other cast members who are also fine comic talents. The tandem of Keempee de Leon and Francine Prieto is hilarious, while Ronaldo Valdez, Tia Pusit and Sherilyn Reyes are just as funny.

But Tessie Tomas is already Tessie Tomas and at this point of her career, she should already be well-ensconced in her throne as one of the great comediennes of all time.

Nova Villa –
If a survey were conducted in the mid-’60s to come up with a list of the most beautiful faces, Nova Villa’s name would have emerged in the Top 10. Petite, but lovely (with long hair), Nova started her career as a leading lady to action heroes. In time, however, her career evolved into that of a talk show host: Johnny & Eddie + Nova, an ABS-CBN late morning program she co-hosted with Johnny de Leon and Eddie San Jose – and almost simultaneously into that of a comedienne in Ang Mahiwagang Daigdig ni Doray (with Nida in the title role).

For a while she was also a mainstay of Super Laff-ins, but her career really peaked when she did the role of the childless Ines Capistrano in Chicks to Chicks on IBC-13. The sitcom was originally a vehicle for screen nymphets Malou de la Fuente, Carmi Martin and the late Maria Teresa Carlson. But the veteran Nova Villa eventually stole the show from everyone and she and screen husband Freddie Webb became the focus of the program.

The weekly script of Chicks to Chicks (it became Chika, Chika Chicks when it later moved to post-EDSA ABS-CBN) was really wafer-thin. Thanks to the comedic brilliance of Nova, it zoomed up the ratings charts.

Nova in the role of Tita Tita (it was really redundant) in Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata was also effective (she would even beat Tessie Tomas’ more colorful Barbara Tengco in the Star Awards race for Best Actress), but her Ines Capistrano was really a classic – in spite of its being a regular and ordinary everyday character.

Nova was probably destined to become a comedienne. At a time when she still had an opportunity to be more daring and bare flesh (she was at her loveliest when the bomba era in movies came along), she only had one answer to questions if she was willing to undress before the camera: "Sa liit kong ’to, kapag hinubaran n’yo ’ko, eh di nag-mukha akong sanggol!"

And did I say that she’s also very witty and that her humorous wisecracks turned her into one of our greatest comediennes?

Aruray –
Thin like a stick, I don’t know where she got all that energy performing on stage (I never got to see that though), on TV and in the movies. But her faux ballet dances (she had classical ballet training if I’m not mistaken) were very funny.

Always cast as the impertinent atsay (she was supposed to have played Virgin Mary in a Lenten play once though), my favorite among her films was when she played aspiring movie star in Sampaguita Pictures’ mega production of The Big Broadcast. In the story, Aruray and Chichay are sisters and they have a stage mother in Patsy who believes her two daughters are the loveliest in the world and that they should be cast in a picture in lieu of Susan Roces and Amalia Fuentes. Although everyone turned in a hilarious performance, I liked Aruray best and I will always put her on my best comediennes list.

Unfortunately, after she died in the early ’90s, who remembers Aruray now?

(To be concluded)

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