Who’s the funniest of them all in Prime Video’s Comedy Island Philippines?

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Who�s the funniest of them all in Prime Video�s Comedy Island Philippines?
The Amazon Original comedy series, Comedy Island Philippines, features a star-studded cast. Photo shows Jerald Napoles, Cai Cortez, Drew Arellano, Andrea Brillantes, Rufa Mae Quinto, Awra Briguela and Carlo Aquino. Not in the image is social media star Justin Luzares. The Filipino Original features an ambitious, hybrid format that blends elements of reality, comedy and adventure.

MANILA, Philippines — Prime Video has assembled a cast of top comedians with dramatic actors and a “serious” host thrown into the mix for Comedy Island Philippines, a six-part hybrid show that’s both scripted and unscripted.

You have Rufa Mae Quinto, Jerald Napoles, Cai Cortez, Justin Luzares, Awra Briguela, Andrea Brillantes and Carlo Aquino, as themselves, getting trapped on an island named Tawa Tawa. They have nothing but their brand of humor and ability to do improvisational comedy to help them survive the challenges handed by game master Drew Arellano.

The story starts off with Carlo as himself trying to escape some overeager fans. He hides at a comic book store where he gets led to a komiks titled Tawa Tawa. All of a sudden, he is transported to this mysterious island and eventually sees friends and familiar faces from the showbiz industry, including a bewildered Rufa Mae, who cries for help: “Help, help, hooray!”

Justin, Drew, Andrea, Carlo and Cai with the showrunners — director Randolph Longjas (leftmost), Amazon Originals Philippines head Quark Henares (second from right) and producer Tanya Yuson of BASE Entertainment (rightmost) — during the mediacon.

It turns out they were chosen to be contestants in this comedy game show that seemingly mish-mashes Survivor and Hunger Games with a winner to be declared in the end.

The concept is very novel, not to mention tricky — like where does the scripted part end and where does the unscripted part begin? At first, it was difficult to grasp even to the people at the helm of the production but they are happy at how things turned out in the end.

Randolph Longjas, UxS, director told The STAR in an interview, “The idea of this Prime Video Original is you just have the narrative as the backbone.”

Rufa Mae, Carlo, Andrea, Justin, Jerald and Cai in a scene from the first episode of the comedy series.– Photos courtesy of Prime Video

The extent of the narrative, he continued, is “the universe — how they got there and why they need to do such things and what are the rules (of the games).” But all the activities or challenges that the cast had to take on were “all unscripted, improv and no retake.”

Producer Tanya Yuson of BASE Entertainment Asia further explained, “The brief (for this show) came from Amazon because it’s the first time they want to try something new. Technically, this is labeled under unscripted but actually it’s a hybrid.

“They wanted to do a narrative but still leave room for more moments na pati kami nasu-surprise… Obviously, when you get all these comedians and actors together, there are also ad libs that we aren’t expecting.”

The director was responsible for the framework for the island they were on. Originally from Leyte, Longjas was particularly inspired by a local lore about Biringan, the so-called phantom island or lost city of Leyte.

“All these specifics were really tailored for the Filipinos so that it’s also very relatable to the audience,” said Yuson.

Interesting to note was the casting process. As mentioned, they are in the show as themselves — or as the funnier (if not funniest) versions of themselves, as the showrunners put it. They were handpicked, they did not audition.

Yuson said, “We wanted the (cast) to be unexpected, for sure. We had a lot of meetings about it because No. 1, it had to be not your usual, you can’t have all one flavor, it’s better to have different components.

“You want the chemistry to be right, you also want them to feel different. You cast someone not expected like Carlo Aquino. I’m sure he was surprised but once he committed, he really committed.

“You know Jerald, Rufa Mae and Cai as comedians, and Justin was new at that time (of the casting) but we needed someone with impact. We can go for a lot of high-profile people but why not cast someone from the social media space who’s clearly a star even then… Now he’s so many things, he’s acting. But he was great also (in the show),” said Yuson.

She further said they wanted to push the envelope and they had the freedom to do so “because we’re on a platform.”

“It was really the first thing to really pull from different sectors but the important thing was, I mean, chemistry, we don’t know until they come together on set. But at least, their personas, that feel-good mix, it doesn’t feel like that one flavor.”

The next question was if they knew how to improv. “For some of them, we weren’t sure. So, we kind of had to do an interview process and a little bit of training.”

That meant they hired an improv team to do workshops prior to filming. The workshop was done one-on-one to keep the element of surprise about the cast members.

Who surprised them the most?

Longjas said, “To be honest, I was surprised with Carlo Aquino.”

“He was super funny. He’s not branded as funny, but it turned out he has that effort to interact and collaborate,” he further said of the award-winning actor.

“And his timing was really good, like really good,” added Yuson. “Even for someone who’s very much into acting, I think he also kind of absorbed that as part of his craft in a way.”

Such was Carlo’s interest in the show that, as Longjas revealed, “there were times when he wasn’t part of the scene anymore and he would dress like someone else just to sit in and be able to watch. We were like, is that Carlo? Yes, direk, he wanted to join but as a participant (in the crowd).”

Another surprise for them on set was Drew, who is better known at hosting public affairs programs at GMA.

“He’s really a revelation,” began Longjas. “I had to brief him twice because when we offered him the project he was very reluctant because he hasn’t done any acting job for quite a long time. And he was telling me, direk, can you convince me, why would I go there? I have four kids, a newborn baby, and I’m going to leave them for a month. Why would I do it?

“I told Drew that this is something that we should be doing — to go out of our comfort zone. You’ve mastered Biyahe ni Drew and other talk shows, I think it’s something you need to do while you can and while there’s an offer. After a day or two, he called again, ‘Okay, direk, let’s do it!”

Longjas further said that Drew was the first one who undertook the improv workshop. “He was really game!... (Initially) he was like lost and eventually, he was the one stirring the entire thing.”

Andrea surprised them for being super game even though she was also out of her comfort zone. “It was new for her, but she’s young, she’s like a sponge and she wants to try different things. She got into it and became very fearless. Literally fearless and competitive!” Yuson said.

Yuson stressed that all were committed to their roles in the series.

“Even the actors and celebrities are (playing) versions of themselves that they wanna add the things that will make it the funnier version of themselves. So there’s a lot of things going on plus they have to be in the moment for the improv,” she said.

“They were all competitive at making each other laugh also, so competitive like who can be funnier?”

As for the ones that seriously did comedy, like Jerald and Rufa, they also made sure to provide support. “I think they know that the more support you get and can give each other, the funnier the scene can be. I think for the ones that never did improv before, that concept naki-crystallize,” Yuson said.

Longjas related that when it came to the activities and challenges, he didn’t impose on how they should approach them. At first, they would ask him if they could laugh on screen. “Of course, why not? Because they were trying to hold their laughter back at first because cameras were shooting them. But I said, the more you laugh, the more you break from your character. It adds to the reality thing na it should be kasi unscripted siya. Kaya maraming times na tatatawa talaga sila on their own.”

Yuson also commented, “What was really nice seeing was the camaraderie built over the time we spent there.”

“It was a literal comedy island. Every day you’re laughing,” she said.

Comedy Island Philippines is streaming and available on Prime Video in over 240 countries and territories worldwide. Apart from the Philippines, it also has versions in Indonesia and Thailand. These three countries are considered top markets of the international streaming service. Produced by Amazon Studios in collaboration with BASE Entertainment Asia, all productions were filmed in Thailand last year.

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