Comedy Island Philippines: A cackle here, a cricket there

Comedians and actors join forces to create chaos on an island I wouldn’t mind getting stranded in.

I struggled to understand the concept of Comedy Island when I first saw the trailer a few days ago. Were they going to pit comedians against each other on a remote island, hold challenges that test their wits, and conduct eliminations a la Survivor? Why were Carlo Aquino and Andrea Brillantes cast in a show called Comedy Island Philippines? And what’s with Drew Arellano’s fabulously flamboyant wardrobe and persona?

However, it seemed that the folks behind the show were on to something. Since the show began airing last August 30, Comedy Island Philippines has stayed #1 on Prime Video’s Top 10 shows in the country. Because of this (and I’m a simple guy, really—any show with Rufa Mae Quinto, I’d gladly check out), I decided to go into it blindly and watch the first three episodes in one go before the remaining half airs this Thursday on the streaming platform.

Comedy Island Philippines
Less than a week in, Comedy Island Philippines has risen to the top spot on Prime Video. Screenshots from YouTube/Prime Video Philippines.

As a casual viewer, here are my thoughts. (WARNING: minor spoilers ahead.)

Here’s the show’s premise, according to the Prime Video homepage:

Every 100 years, the best of humanity are chosen to participate in the Centennial Games, vying for the Gift that could change the world. Only problem is the ones who arrived are clueless celebrities who have no idea what’s going on. But when the Gift suddenly goes missing, they must unmask the thief, or else, be stuck on the island forever.

The first few minutes of the pilot episode show the cast—Carlo Aquino, Jerald Napoles, Andrea Brillantes, Cai Cortez, Rufa Mae Quinto, Awra Briguela, Justine Luzares, playing themselves, and they got unwittingly transported to Tawa-Tawa island through a magical comic book. Rufa Mae, Awra, and Justine get captured by the residents of the island while they make sense of their newfound surroundings, but it doesn’t take long before the other cast members find themselves cooped up in, well, a makeshift chicken coop.

At this point of the episode, the show’s central mechanic is revealed: while the narrative and episodes are scripted for the most part, there are specific scenes that are unscripted, and the show deliberately breaks the fourth wall to inform viewers that the following scenes are purely improvised. This becomes a key part of Comedy Island Philippines, as nobody can predict the resulting dialogues and interactions among the cast members and the residents of Tawa-Tawa Island.

Jerald Napoles' Jungkook
Jerald Napoles’ Jungkook was funnier during the commercial than the makeshift pageant.

As such, what happens in the succeeding episodes is anything but linear and expected: you have a commercial shoot, talent show, and pageant that’s reminiscent of Drag Race’s Snatch Game, an improvised retelling of the legend of the Ibong Adarna complete with song-and-dance sequences, a larger-than-life tumbang preso game with a twist, a Survivor tribal council-esque improv sequence where the cast needs to provide humorous explanations why they chose a particular castaway to get turned into stone by the looming Ibong Adarna above Tawa-Tawa Island.

Even with the explicit warning that a succeeding scene would be improvised, I often found it challenging to ascertain whether what I was watching was unscripted or not. Whether that’s a problem or not, I’m still on the fence, but I found those grey areas quite humorous most of the time. Rufa Mae, Jerald, and Cai effortlessly delivered the comedic punches, and they had lines during “scripted” parts that felt improvised and registered as humorous.

Ruffa Mae Comedy Island
This photo somehow perfectly encapsulates how crazy the show gets.

Awra, Justine, and Andrea had good banter, and the latter capitalized on certain aspects of her real-life relationship status to elicit certain witty statements. Awra leaned on beki-nese for added humor, though Justine’s “code-switching” from British marites to Pinoy got quite trite later on. At various portions of the improvised parts, I saw how others faltered at the prompts (for instance, at the mock Q&A where the castaways had to insert a line drawn at random from a box to their answer), but that’s to be expected.

Three episodes in, the showstoppers would have to be the most unexpected ones: Carlo Aquino and Drew Arellano. Growing up seeing Carlo as a dramatic actor, I was surprised to see that he had good comedic timing and a sense of physical comedy (it’s also a bonus seeing him impersonate Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, blue gown and all). And knowing Drew as a host of informative and educational shows, it was a riot seeing him flawlessly execute Dodong, a flamboyant, fabulous, and slightly deranged MC with a secret who reminded me of a cross between King Julien XIII of Madagascar and Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove.

Drew Arellano Comedy Island
Give Drew Arellano’s wardrobe stylist a raise, please! Moreover, the host gives much justice to his crazy character, Dodong.

Will I finish the remaining episodes of Comedy Island Philippines? Even without the breadcrumbs from the latter part of episode 3, I will, if only to see how I can laugh at the most unexpected moments of a show that is both going nowhere (in a good way) and somewhere (to the top spot of the Prime Video rankings, apparently!)

Episodes 1 to 3 of Comedy Island Philippines are now streaming on Prime Video. A new episode airs this Thursday, September 7.

Features Associate

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