There are those comics that exude a loudness within them, an impulsive, raucous confidence that seems to override everything about them—a confidence that is as infectious as it is inviting. Ryan Rems was not that. He walked in, head slightly slumped, body relaxed. His movements were slow, his demeanor impassive. Quietly, he turned to us—only then did he realize that we were the people he was to meet. A hand extended out to us, warm and courteous, paired with an earnest smile. He smelled of beer.
Far gone was Ryan Rems in his garbed persona of catchphrases and witty one-liners. This was Ryan Rems Sarita—everyman.
As Rems sits down and recounts his early beginnings in comedy, his words, though funny, hint at a life of dizzying ups and downs as he tried to find his passion. Rems shares that he has had the same sense of humor since he was a child. “Hindi ako sobrang talino, [may] eksaktong kabobohan [lang] na nakakatawa (I wasn’t super smart; I just had the right amount of stupid that was funny).”
After completing a Communications degree from Centro Escolar University (CEU), Rems became a call center agent and an English tutor for Koreans, until he found his way into standup comedy. His introduction to the showbiz industry began when he applied as a writer for popular television shows such as ABS-CBN’s Going Bulilit and It’s Showtime. A flurry of rejections later, he eventually decided to give up becoming a writer when the station managers for GMA’s Bubble Gang didn’t like his work as a sit-in writer.
“Sabi sakin ng kaibigan ko ng si Alex, ‘Mahihirapan akong mapapasok ka na writer, kasi mahaba buhok mo, tapos pula pa mata mo.’ (My friend Alex told me ‘It’s going to be hard to get you in as a writer, because your hair is long, and your eyes are bloodshot’),” Rems jokingly shares. “Sabi [niya], ‘Nag stand up ka naman pre. Subukan mo’ (He said, ‘Just go do standup first. Try it’).”
Rock and roll to the world!
Rems eventually gained fame as a standup comedian after winning “The Funny One,” a competition of ABS-CBN’s noontime show It’s Showtime, in August 2015. With his jokes and his trademark catchphrases like “Olrayt!” being shared and watched all over the internet, Rems soon transformed into a social media and television icon.
With his long ponytail, chevron mustache, and leather jacket, it’s no surprise that his rock star looks found their way into his material. Known for his witty one-liners, Rems’ also went viral for his trademark line, “Rock and roll to the world!” that he drops sparingly into his sets. When asked about its conception, he shares that it started with the Filipino rock bands of the 70s such as those of Pepe Smith and Maria Cafra. “Binuhay ko lang ulit, 2008 ko pa yan ginagamit eh. For a while hininto ko syang gamitin mga 2012 hanggang 2014 (I just revived it. I’ve been using it since 2008, then I stopped using it from 2012 to 2014).”
He revived the line once he had joined “The Funny One.” “Ginamit ko ulit kase ginagamit ko yun ‘pag nag-iisip ako ng next joke. Iikot ako tapos naka spread arms ako, naka crucifix pose, ang ibig sabihin nun inaalala ko ang next joke (I started using it again, because I used it when I was thinking of the next joke. I would walk around the stage, arms spread in a crucifix pose. This meant I was thinking of the next joke,)” he laughs.
“Akala nila showmanship, pero hindi (They thought it was showmanship, but it wasn’t).”
The one-line wonder
Rems’ style of comedy is built on quick one-liners and an almost nonchalant delivery. Though his comedy is distinct all on its own, Rems is quick to cite his inspiration for his own brand of humor. “Ginagaya ko si Gary Lising. Siya yung pinaka blueprint ko kasi one liner lang siya tapos hindi sya matinong kausap (I imitate Gary Lising. His style is my blueprint because it’s all one-liners and he’s not the most decent person to talk to),” he laughs.
Like most comedians, most of Rems’ material is aggregated from observations of everyday life or stories told by his friends and family—be it a story about his neighbors, street beggars, or the girl he’s trying to pickpocket. However, his most endearing inspiration has to be the most primal. “Inspiration? Literal na gutom (Inspiration? Literal hunger),” he shared.
He cites this literal and figurative hunger as a means of pushing him to write better. He even goes so far as to say that his apparent stardom has actually burdened his writing capability. “Actually, sa tingin ko nabawasan na ang powers ko ng pagsulat kase hindi na ako masyadong gutom (Actually, I think my writing powers have decreased because I’m not hungry as often).”
The hazards of comedy
A lot of times comedy is about timing; some comics burden the story, lengthen it, and build up a moment. Rems’ style is the exact opposite. He shoves the joke at you in his dreary manner, shouts “Rock and roll to the world!” then hopes for the best. This is his style of comedy, and he has fully embraced how precarious it is.
He would often write jokes at home, with a notebook in hand and the television on. He would take down notes of things he would find funny, and try to look for new material from these observations.
“Sa sampung kong maisip na joke, tatlo lang o lima [nakakatawa] yung ibang five akala ko lang nakakatawa (Of the ten jokes I would come up with, there are only three or five that are funny. The other five, I only thought were funny),” he says.
And even then, his jokes still have to be monitored to be aired on television, “Basta TV, [you’re] fighting with one arm. Kasi may [Movie and Television Review and Classification Board], maraming akong hindi pwede[ng] sabihin (As long as it is TV, it’s like fighting with one arm. There’s Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, there are a lot of things I cannot say).”
It’s not just in TV—according to Rems, there are audiences that are really hard to please. He talks about the first time he performed at a fiesta. “May mga bata dun [na sumisisgaw], ‘Corny! Corny!’(There were kids there who were shouting ‘Corny! Corny!’),” he shares “Sinabi ko nalang sa bata, ‘Sinasamba ako ng tatay mo’ (I just told the kid, ‘You’re dad reveres me’).” He made it a point to never perform at fiestas again; it just wasn’t his scene. He thrived on a different audience.
Rems prefers the age old comedy bars—here, the people are accepting, they’re here for a show, however crude or offensive it may be. “Kapag night time na, ayun na, kahit bastos ka na talaga (At night, that’s the time, even if you’re crude, it’s ok),” he explains. The audience knows what they’re getting into, and they know full well the antics of these comedians. “Mas gusto ko lasing yung audience (I prefer my audience drunk),” he adds as a final note.
Ultimately—preferred audience aside—standup is his joy, however risky the art is. When asked why he stuck with comedy, even after all the restraints that certain stages put on him, his answer was simple: “Instant gratification kapag tumawa sila, tapos instant depression din kapag hindi sila natawa. Parang gusto ko rin magbigti (There’s instant gratification when they laugh, and instant depression when they don’t. It’s like I also want to hang myself).”
On being Ryan Rems
In the sudden surge of popularity, Rems remains hinged unto his humble past.
“Hindi ko kinokonsider sarili ko artista eh. Ah, TV talent lang. Wala pa akong pelikula, eh (I cannot consider myself an artist. Only a TV talent. I also don’t have a movie yet),” he laughs.
However funny it may have been, there was humility and sobriety in his answer. It seemed that Rems truly loved the art more than anything else. When asked about his future on It’s Showtime and TV in general, his straight up answer is, “Ewan ko kung bukas nandyan pa ako (I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow.)”
He further explains, “Kasi showbiz madali mapanis kahit sino dito, eh. Tumatagal dito director, writer, producer (Because anyone in showbiz can go out quickly. The ones that have permanent residence are directors, writers, and producers).”
“Wala rin akong girlfriend na ‘big boss’ (I also don’t have a girlfriend who’s a ‘big boss’),” he adds as a side note.
Fame aside, Rems think this is it for him. Comedy is his calling, however uncertain his stint in showbiz may be. His passion really lies with a certain group of comedians. “Ryan Rems is not a one man show, miyembro lang ako ng grupo Comedy Manila. (Ryan Rems is not a one man show, I am only a member of the group Comedy Manila).”
Rems did not exude an exaggerated personality. He was warm and straightforward. When we told him that he had many fans in the Ateneo, he looked surprised. It looked like he was not aware of his sudden surge in popularity. It looked like he had not just come from an appearance on one of the biggest noontime shows in the country. Rather, he looked like he just came into the restaurant to have a cold bottle of beer and a good conversation. Rems truly wasn’t a celebrity—and that’s not to say that he couldn’t be. It seems, as he gulps down the rest of his beer, that he just never wanted to be.