He's billed as "Hawaii's No. 1 comedian," but Andy Bumatai says that's a misnomer. At the time he started doing comedy in the mid-1970s, he says, he was Hawaii's only stand-up comic.
"I was kind of an oddity," says Bumatai, who quickly built a local reputation as a likable performer with a conversational style of comedy that poked fun at both the tourists and the locals.
The islands' cultural diversity also allowed him to show off his flair for dialects, mimicking everything from Hawaiian pidgin English and Samoan to Japanese and Chinese.
Within three years, the former copy machine salesman was doing local comedy specials and churning out comedy albums with titles such as "Live in Waikiki," "Aloha! My Name Is Captain Cook," and "Hawaii's First Stand-Up Comic." He even starred in his own local TV show, "All in the Ohana," in which he played five different roles in what was described as a tropical "All in the Family."
Eight years ago, however, Bumatai moved to the mainland to begin building a national reputation and his comedy has become more mainstream in the process.
Bumatai's material now spans everything from political musings to his observations on being a new father. And his repertoire of dialects has expanded to include Latinos, blacks, East Indians, surfer dudes and Valley guys--"the basic rainbow."
Bumatai, who is at the Brea Improv tonight through Sunday, was once described by a Times' reviewer as being an "engaging and warm" comedian who "tends to explore different topics, and even when he's addressing more familiar ones, he has fresh takes on them."
As for Bumatai, he says his material may have changed since moving to the mainland, but he's still the same performer.
"It was like learning a new language, basically," he said by phone from his home in Woodland Hills. "It's the same observational material, but I'm observing something that can be appreciated on a national scale as opposed to one (local) market.
"At one point you have to make a decision: Are you going to stay with the local people or go for a national type of thing. Part of the plan was to know that I could do what I do in one state in all states--to say, 'Hey, I want to be a national comic.' "
Having done that (he headlines in clubs around the country and has opened for performers such as Tom Jones, Lionel Richie, the Beach Boys and Charlie Daniels), Bumatai said he is now placing more attention on TV and movie work. He recently co-starred in "Heat," a Hawaii-based pilot produced by Tom Selleck.
Although Bumatai said some comedy clubs where he has headlined have wanted to pass out leis or serve exotic tropical drinks when he performs, he doesn't make a big deal about his Hawaiian background.
"The way I look at it, I'm a comic who happens to be from Hawaii," said Bumatai, who is actually part Hawaiian, Filipino, German and French.
That's not to say he ignores his Hawaiian background.
In his act, he mimics the voice of a befuddled mainland tourist: "Excuse me--can you eat the whole pineapple?"
Bumatai grins: "Do people come into the state of Hawaii and forget?"
Breaking into a Hawaiian dialect, he says: "Oh yeah, sure. Especially the leafy part. We call that Hawaiian artichoke. Because if you eat that, you ought to choke, lady."
Of course, now that he's working on the mainland, audiences sometimes get his ethnic background confused.
"Yeah, here I'm Mexican," he says in his act. "You should see me on the East Coast. There, I'm Puerto Rican. I'm like this ethnic chameleon. . . . I was talking about this one night and this guy said, 'Well, come on down to Georgia. There, you'd be dead.'
"In the South they didn't know quite what to make of me. That's to be expected. Have you ever been stared at like that?" He takes on the voice of a Southern redneck giving him the eye: "Shouldn't he be picking something?"
Although U.S. troops are returning home, Bumatai is still getting mileage out of looking at the Persian Gulf War.
Noting the difficulty American pilots had in spotting Iraq's hidden Scud missile launchers, Bumatai observes that women could bring a unique talent to warfare that men just don't have: "The ability to find stuff even if it's under something else."
If the Americans wanted to find the Scud missile launchers, he says, "they should have hooked the pilots up with their wives." Here he takes on the simpering whine of a yuppie looking for a missing sock: "Honey, where's the Scud missile launcher?"
Hand on hip and speaking as the wife, Bumatai answers: "Did you look under the bridge?"
But it's not as though men don't have some talents of their own, he said.
"Show us the target and we'll put a missile in the front door--not surprising from a generation of pilots that grew up playing Nintendo. . . . I understand they actually had quarter slots on the dashes of those planes. Pew! Pew! Pew! ' Ooh, cool. Extra Iraqis!' "
Mimicking the sound of a high-flying pilot talking to home base, he says: "This is Wild Weasel, I'm coming back; I'm out of change."
Who: Andy Bumatai.
When: Thursday, April 11, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, April 12, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 13, at 8 and 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, April 14, at 8:30 p.m.
Where: The Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.
Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit off the Orange (57) Freeway and go west. Turn left on State College Boulevard and right on Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.
Wherewithal: $7 to $10.
Where to call: (714) 529-7878