The 27th of August is remembered in showbiz lore as the day we lost a comedy icon in Babalu (1942-1998).
Babalu, or Pablito Sarmiento in real life, first gained audiences' attention when he got a featured role in local variety show Buhay Artista back in the '60s. Most of you probably know him as one of Dolphy's many sidekicks, in fact it was the Comedy King himself who discovered him back in the day. But he's a sidekick the same way Scottie Pippen was Michael Jordan's sidekick. Scottie and Babalu, you see, were legends in their own right. Of course, Dolphy was the bigger star of the two, but there are those who'll argue that Babalu was funnier than Pidol at times (even His Airness had off nights, and good ol' Scottie had to pick up the slack). And they might actually be right.
Unlike Dolphy, Babalu's brand of comedy had more of a mean streak which allowed him to do more with his performances. He'd do slapstick like the rest of the Pinoy comedians of his day, but he'd do it in a style that sets him apart. How? He made it seem like he actually meant it. Every slap and every rolled up newspaper to the back of the head that Babalu delivered seemed real. And he sold it just as effectively when he was on the receiving end with his expressions and grimaces. His on-screen persona also allowed him to get away with harsher and funnier insults.
If Dolphy was Bugs Bunny, then you can probably think of Babalu as Daffy Duck. They were often times portrayed as friends in their movies but their friendship can sometimes get adversarial. He'd antagonize Dolphy every now and then but it never came off as annoying because he's just so damn funny. Of course, it helped that the chemistry between the two was like dinuguan and puto (or do you prefer champorado and tuyo, or maybe churros and whatever you call that thing that you dip it in?). They'd throw zingers at each other so naturally that you'd actually think that that's how they talk to each other in real life.
In his later years he'd star with Redford White in such movies as Haba-baba-doo! Puti-puti-poo! and Tong Tatlong Tatay Kong Pakitong Kitong. With absurd titles like that, you might be quick to judge these movies as corny. But more often than not, Babalu would be the bright spot in those comedies.
Some of his famous roles on TV were as Mang Berto on Oki Doki Doc where he played Aga Muhlach's landlord and the father of Agot Isidro, Aga's love interest in the show. He also played Richie on Home Along Da Riles as Dolphy's brother-in-law and most often than not the one who gets the Cosme family in all sorts of trouble.
For those of you who are too young to know just how funny Babalu was and to those of you who need to be reminded, here are a few of his gems that survive on YouTube:
The genius of Babalu's comedy is that he can make a joke about a subject that's been made fun of countless times before, say stinky feet for example, and still make it funny.
Of course having a punchline of a chin helped him a lot. His chin would oftentimes be the butt of jokes in many of his skits with Babalu himself making fun of it at his own expense. With his chin and his funny facial expressions, he had the ability to make the simplest and the most ordinary lines hilarious.
Babalu's career spanned 36 years, before he was abruptly taken from us by liver cancer in 1998 at a relatively young age of 56. He was at the peak of his career, and seemingly had so much more up his sleeve. But alas, fate stepped in. His legacy and contributions to Philippine culture, though, will live forever.
Right, Lola Nidora?
Rey de la Cruz Jr. likes talking about films as much as he likes watching them. He runs www.reyview.org, a site that provides Filipino moviegoers with reviews written in a voice that is uniquely Pinoy.