Mel Cabang - Hawaii's Funny Man Returns

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First thing that strikes you about Mel Cabang is how down to earth and honest he is.  Even while setting up the interview, I was totally comfortable with him and felt as though I had known him for years... In fact, I HAD known him for thirty years.

Since "small kid time" I watched his TV specials (I loved Ignacio the Filipino Gardener in Frank Delima's Christmas Carol) and listened to his stand up routines.  He was funny then, and is still hilarious now.

He's had his problems in the past (Mel was convicted of running a gambling operation out of his house in 1998), and is looking towards the future.  He's been back in town for six months, and already he is getting busy in Hawaii Show Business.  His most recent public show was last Saturday Night at Lanai and Augie's Ukulele Bar in Pearl City, where the audience was treated to what they hadn't seen in years... Mel Cabang's zany wit and spontaneous "crack em up statements.

He's Bald, He's Bananas, He's Baack!  Hawaii411 brings you excerpts from a very fun and very informative dinner session from the legendary Mel Cabang.

Hawaii411: Have you done anything other than comedy before?  Any other marketable skills?

Mel: "I was a musician, I played guitar, I studied music in school, I was going be a teacher"

Hawaii411: That explains the CD (I like sing for you was Mel's last project.  It was nominated for a local comedy album of the year)
Mel: "You guys nevah buy um did you?"

Hawaii411: "We bought it used"
Mel: "Sheez, Somebody wen turn it in - damn it.
  It was a flop, because, and I think there's some good songs in there, but it's because people don't know me as a musician, they know me as a comedian"

Hawaii411: Do you think You want to branch out as Mel Cabang the Musician?"
Mel:
"Yeah because when I was in prison, I was studying Music."


What the Chinese Horoscope says about a person born in the Year of the Horse:

A person born in this year is said to be cheerful, popular and quick- witted. He has raw sex appeal (whoa!) rather than straight good looks. Earthy and warmly appealing, he is very perceptive and talkative. An adventurer at heart, still he is noted for his keen mind and ability to manage money. Self-reliant, vivacious, energetic, impetuous and even brash, the Horse is a showy dresser, partial to bright colors and striking designs to the point of being gaudy on occasion.

The horse loves exercise both physical and mental. You can spot him by his rapid but graceful body movements, his animated reflexes and fast way of speaking. He responds quickly and can make snap decisions. His mind works at remarkable speed and whatever he may lack in stability and perseverance, he will certainly make up for by being open-minded and flexible. Basically, he is a nonconformist.



Hawaii411 Five - Oh:  The Icebreaker Questions


1. Your Favorite place to be in Hawaii?

Mel: Da Beach... I like Bellows, it's small enough for me, I can't get hurt

2. At your age now, Rogaine or Viagra?
Mel: Viagra, I haven't tried it yet, but I think I might have to experiment...

3. Rice or Poi?
Mel: I like poi, but it's expensive, I eat both, but I rather have rice.

4. A lot of people have "Hawaiian" tattooed on their body.  Have you ever though of putting "Buk-buk or Manong" on you?
Mel:
No, it's not the in thing.  Maybe put one chicken... big cock ... on top of my forehead.

5: How long have you been bald?
Mel: "Oh jeez, I was balding and I used to do the comb-over.  I guess I was bolohead since  1978.   One girl said I look younger.  Out of a hundred, one girl said I look younger, I'll go with that one."

Quotable Quotes: "The one thing good about me is that I can tell jokes just spontaneous.  I can make jokes out of whatever, out of air you know."

 


More Interview Questions:

Hawaii411: How did it feel when David Copperfield asked you to do a private show for him?

Mel: He made me reappear - literally.  I saw him 21 years ago, and he used to come with my ex-girlfriend.  He was young and just starting out and I was at the Pagoda back then.  She would tell me, 'you gotta meet this magician guy.'  I would say, 'David who?'  When he came in town his secretary called me.  I got seven messages, 'Mel, please call David Copperfield, he wants to see you real bad.'  I thought, 'is this a joke or what?'

I had seen him at my shows, and he knew I was out of prison, and he was in town so, he wanted me to do a show for his family and crew.  Then he opened it to the public.  That was smart… Don Ho, everybody came Melveen Leed, Danny Couch, all those entertainers came.  I was really stoked when he called and talked to me personally.  He said, 'Oh hey, Mel, eh wow man, I'm a really big fan of yours… I'd like to come and see you, I'd like to get you (performing) in a room."  So he (Copperfield) went and rented a room and put me in there.  He doesn’t know what he did for me.  The newspaper saw it and had David saying. 'Mel Cabang is the best comedian in the island.  He's the best I've ever seen, and he's the one I want to see when I'm here.'   Coming from a big name like this gave me a giant lift.  He really doesn't know what he did for me.

Hawaii411: The wahines have the Local Divas, why don't you do the Lolo Divas?  You can dress in drag.. 

Mel: As a matter of fact they proposed that to me, and since you mentioned that, I will be doing the Local Divas show on November 29th, I'll be doing the comedy…


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Hawaii411: Is that was what helped get you by?
Mel:
"We all had missions,  I lost 95 pounds in prison, I walked the track every a day, and you have to work in prison."

Hawaii411: What were the positives you pulled from your prison experience?
Mel:
"Music, I lost weight, Music, I had a lot of time to think... you think about things and what you did wrong.  You come outside, and you no like do nobody wrong. 
I came outside - you see people smile at you... wow, for three years nobody smiled at you."

Mel: "I did three shows in there, so I was real popular, I had a captive audience… but every time I would do one show, they would put me on the damn rock pile, because I would ram the cops.  The next thing you know, it would be 'come on Cabang, let's go.'  It was just to harass me.  I was a fun type of harassment.  They were always nice to me.  The guards would always warn me before they did a search.  Not that I ever had anything anyway though ..."

Mel: "I had butter... I was making fudge in there.  I was selling 'em.  They was buying 'em like crazy, I couldn't keep up.  I would sell 25 in one day"

Hawaii411 - Where'd you get the butter?
Mel: "Uh.. (short pause followed by a "wasn't me" look)... from Hana.  Where'd you think?"

Hawaii411 - *Big Laugh*

Mel: "I don't want to go back there.  It's a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of people, a waste of humanity."

Hawaii411: How did you get your start in comedy?
Mel: If you told me 31 years ago, I was going be one comedian, I 'd never ever believe you.  I was doing little bits and pieces and sketches of comedy (on stage as a Musician), and one guy told me in Vegas he wanted me to front a band.  I thought to myself, why would I want to do that, but I didn't really realize I was telling jokes on the stage.  I guess my antics were funny.

You can say that I'm almost naturally funny, but you and I talking like this right now, I'm not.  I'm really a dull person, and I kind of open up when there's a stage and people, but I won't do it just any old time"

I'm not bragging, but I don't try, but it comes out naturally.  Sometimes I'm laboring out there, but it comes out natural, but if it works it works.  I have some gimmicks that work too.

Hawaii411: We want you to be funny now, because funny sells.

(Mel makes one of his signature crazy faces)

Hawaii411: Was there anyone who influenced you in comedy?
Mel: Redd Foxx. I used to go watch him at night after work, in Vegas, and that buggah was just, WOW, out of this world.  I'm not talking like Sanford and Son, it was just raunchy.  I couldn't believe what he was saying on the stage.  I guess sub-consciously he really did influence me.

Hawaii411: If you couldn't be a comedian, what would you be?
Mel:
I wanted to be a teacher, teach music, but I was making too much money as a musician.  I played Rock and Roll and Top 40.  I want to incorporate more music into my routines.  My basic dream is to be a musician, but my comedy took over.  It's like I told you, 'People are going to tell you what you are.' 

Hawaii411: You've been out of the entertainment field for a few years.  What is your goal right now?
Mel: First of all, I gotta get back in, not because I really want to get back in, but  I like the attention.  I like the special things you get and that people do, that is just a by-product (of being an entertainer). Like you guys bought me a dinner, look at that.  I'm not going to spend $15 for dinner, but you guys buy me this dinner.  When  you're an entertainer, people do stuff for you.  They want something from you.

Hawaii411: You make people happy.
Mel: Thank you.

Hawaii411: Do you need a PR man? *heh heh* 

Hawaii411: Richard Pryor was able to make people laugh at his life mistakes, do you plan to take a similar road?
Mel: Yes, I've been throwing it at my audiences.  They all know what I did already.  You have to make light out of it.  After all it's not really heavy anyway.  I didn't hang my brother.  Plus what I did, everybody does, and people think, "So what"  People don't really care.  I went to jail for gambling and not paying tax. 


Hawaii411: So the public's been good to you?
Mel: The public's been nothing but nice.  I can't believe it, it's been unreal.  And there's some sympathetic people that I don't really care for.  They say ,'Oh Mel, everybody needs a second chance…you not going jail again, right Mel.'  I don't believe in second chance.  I believe that you either make you chance or not.  I'm either going to fold up someplace and go underground or I'm going to do my show for people.  Look at all this recognition I'm getting.  People are calling me.  Even the banks are calling me… because I owe them money..... that's a joke guys, you can laugh...

Hawaii411: Hah!

Hawaii411: What was your "small kid time" like?
Mel: Poverty, but I had a good family.  My mother died when I was five.  I was told that I used to wear puka shirts to school.  I cut this hole in my pants one time, because I couldn't pee, I couldn't pull my pants down to pee, so I cut a hole in it, and I went to school, not realizing what it would be like when your ding dong comes hanging out.  Good thing I had a small one.  That's another joke guys...
Hawaii411: Oh... Hah!  Sorry Mel... Didn't want to be rude and laugh at that one!

Hawaii411: Does coming from poverty help your routine at all?
Mel: No, It makes you know your grass roots.  It makes you know where came from.  Anybody can come up and talk to me and whatever as long as they're not bs-ing and trying to get something from me.  I'll talk to anybody.  That's why my phone number is listed.  And I'm not a snobbish person.  My father always told me 'You gotta know where you come from.'

Hawaii411: Do you have any new projects coming out soon?
Mel: Well, maybe a new video or a comedy album, but right now I'm just trying to get my feet on the ground. 

Hawaii411: How about a comedy special on TV in the future?
Mel: I just got a phone call form "Jan-Ken-Po" to host that thing, and I'll do that.  I don't know about a comedy special real soon.  Everybody wants to do that - a comedy special.   In fact we were thinking of doing a comedy tour around the islands, and they wanted me to go to the mainland with them, but I can't do that right now.  I kind of have my hands tied right now. 

Hawaii411: Do you think there's a national audience for Mel Cabang?
Mel: Yeah, if I program it right.  There's a national show that a guy wanted to put me one, but I can't go yet.  In fact I got offered to do three shows in Las Vegas that I can't go.  Because of my gambling charges,  they won't let me be in a hotel, or be near a hotel.  They won't even let me have a computer.  That kind of puts you into the caveman days.


Hawaii411: Did September 11th affect your act at all.. Have the people stopped wanting to laugh?
Mel: No, I'm really surprised about that.  In fact I'm seeing more action than I've ever seen before.  Maybe it's because they miss me.  Maybe because there's not much happening.  Maybe they need comedy.  Maybe it did affect me in a way… in a positive way.

Hawaii411: What do you want Hawaii to know about you?
Mel: Nothing really, just that, I'm a good guy and I want to continue doing good for people.  When I was thrown into jail, I was crucified by the press, by the IRS… I am a good person, and they (the public) know I'm a good person.  The main thing is how people perceive you and how you are.

Hawaii411: What do you want your legacy to be... Your epitaph?
Mel: He was a good guy…he was the funniest and he did well, he did real well.  If I had to write an epitaph on my grave… "This guy was a good guy"

Hawaii411 Conclusion:  Mel Cabang... One of Hawaii's finest local treasures.  It's just a blast seeing him back with us and we wish him the best.  30 years and the guy still can make iced tea come out of my nose!  As down to earth as they come, Mel embodies the spirit that once was Hawaii.  Check out Mel at Lanai and Augie's on the weekends and at the November 29th Local Divas Show!  It'll be like seeing a long lost friend.

If you want to contact Mel for anything from an  appearance at a major event to a private party, please call him at 947-4941 or email him at cabangm@wwdb.org.  No shame!  His number is listed (see what we mean by 'down to earth'?).