The challenges of being a transgender woman may be outright daunting for some especially in an industry that is notorious for stereotyping LGBTQ into certain roles. But that has never stopped Jeri "KaladKaren Davila" Li from carving her own special niche, as a particularly intelligent and insightful host and broadcaster. We sat down with the funny girl of Philippine journalism to sieve through what it takes to garner your own spot in today's multimedia landscape.
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How did you get into showbiz comedy?
When I was at UP Diliman, I belonged to this organization called UP SAMASKO. Every year, we would produce this musical comedy variety show called Live AIDS. It’s on its 33rd installment this year, but I started performing doon sa show na yun, on its 23rd. So, this is my 10th year, almost, performing for my organization. It’s the same organization that produced comediennes like Giselle Sanchez, Tuesday Vargas, dami! It’s really a comedy variety show—we write comic skits, we write monologues. Feeling ko nung pumasok ako ng showbiz, naging komedyante din ako kasi yun din yung mga videos ko that went viral. Puro comedy eh so ngayon, dun ako nalilinya.
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What inspired you to get into it?
I think God gave me a sense of humor. Lahat naman tayo, may sense of humor pero hindi lahat ng tao, kayang ma-tickle yung sense of humor ng ibang tao. May mga tao kasing kapag nag-joke, parang “Huh? Nakakatawa ba yun?” Ang hirap. I think I like to make people happy, I like to make them laugh. Minsan, hindi ko na nga rin alam kung anong lumalabas sa bibig ko, sinasabi ko lang din. I’m very candid so when people talk to me, when people make kwento, kung ano talaga yung lumalabas sa bibig ko. I’m very spontaneous. I just say it and some people find it funny.
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What personal traits of yours made this job the right fit for you?
Mahilig akong magpatawa. I think it’s the perfect fit for me because mahirap din siya. It’s not like you wake up one day and pagkagising mo sa umaga, kailangan mong magpatawa ng tao. Ang hirap kaya. Sometimes, you have to think about your adlibs. Sometimes, you have to think about your jokes for a particular show. You have to be prepared. Mahirap din siya. I mean, there are people who are naturally funny and hindi ko alam kung isa ako sa kanila, pero may mga tao talagang nakakatawa kung anong sasabihin nila pero I have worked with some of the best comedians in the Philippines like Kuya Bayani (Agbayani) and he told me he really thinks about what he says. The funny things that he does, pinag-iisipan din nya. Ako rin naman, ganun. Even Ate Vice (Ganda), si Meme, she writes her materials. But you know, she is very intelligent, she is very witty pero it pays to be prepared. It pays to be ready. It’s our job to entertain so we have to be ready when we are doing live shows, tapings. Kailangan ready kami. You think about new stuff, you know what’s in, what’s out kasi dun ka huhugot ng comedy eh—kung ano yung nangyayari sa atin sa kasalukuyan... You have to be updated. You have to stay relevant.
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Can you tell me more about the persona you take on when you go on camera?
Kaladkaren is a different animal. Charot! Ha ha! Sinasabi kasi nila sa akin, Kaladkaren is wholesome, witty, and funny at the same time. That’s what they tell me. I don’t want to praise myself. Ayoko maging “Ehh, ganito ako.” Yun lang yung sinasabi nilang my positioning when it comes to the comedy industry in the Philippines because I put a little bit of finesse to comedy. I try to be more wholesome. I don’t make lait myself, I don’t lait people to be funny. I don’t say that it is wrong comedy, it’s just not my style. I make fun out of the situation more than the person or I make fun of what’s happening around us, yung mga nangyayari sa bansa kaysa focused on picking on myself or picking on other people. That’s just my style.
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What were your impressions of show business before you got into it?
Because I have been working before I became a television host, before I worked in front of the camera, I was a producer for a long time. I was working behind the camera for eight years. Ever since I graduated from the University, ‘yan na talaga buhay ko. TV na. I was a writer for various television shows, I have been a senior producer, I have been a head writer for several shows so I know how the industry works when it comes to people working behind the scenes. But in terms of working in front of the camera, I thought nung bago palang ako, “Ay, ang dali lang naman maging artista!” Yun yung feeling ko when I was working behind the camera pero nung nagwo-work na ako in front of the camera, I have realized that it is as difficult as people working behind the camera because sa iyo nakasalalay yung show, yung segment. It doesn’t matter kung ano yung sinulat nung writer dun. Kung iba yung gagawin mo, kung hindi mo magagawa yung nakasulat dun, it’s gonna be a flop. So ang hirap din palang maging host, ang hirap maging artista because the product depends on your output. Of course, it is everybody’s output but the big chunk of that will really come from you. Kahit naman may writer ka, you have to put your own flavor to it. Kaya ka nga artist, eh. You create your masterpiece every time you are seen on television or nagtatatrabaho ka sa movie so it is your output because you are an artist. Yun ang tawag sayo. Hindi pala siya madali. Parang kapag nagsho-shooting na ng pelikula, parang ang hirap pala. Paulit-ulit mong gagawin, kailangan same emotions, parang nakakabaliw na nga eh.
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How about in terms of being famous?
Before, yung fame, iniisip ko lang nung nagwo-work pa ako behind the camera, fame equates to money. Kapag sikat ka, marami kang pera. Yung lang naman naiisip ko before eh kasi nga ang dami mong projects, ang laki ng bayad sa artista. That was my concept of fame before. But now, I think fame entails more responsibility because ngayon, dahil sikat ka, hindi mo na puwedeng gawin ito, kailangan ganito ka na, kailangan mas maintindihin ka na kasi you have sold your soul to the devil. Hyperbole lang yun. Parang nabenta mo na yung kaluluwa mo dahil sikat ka. Hindi mo na puwedeng gawin ang mga bagay bagay. Pero syempre, sometimes I still do the things I want to do. Sasakay ako ng FX, pupunta akong mall, makikipag-inuman ako sa kanto. I don’t think pinigilan din naman ako ng bagay ng pagiging “famous” to do what I want to do. Hindi naman. Siguro I’m careful lang not to offend people kasi nga kilala ka nila or just to be nice all the time. It is a big responsibility, actually.
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What are some of the life lessons you have picked up so far from being in showbiz?
Number one, in show business, you are as good as your last performance. This is real to everybody. When I talk to veteran actors like I tell them na “Uy, I salute you kasi ang tagal tagal mo na sa showbiz, 20 years ka na, but that’s one thing I learned. You have to do your best all the time because it may be your last performance. Totoo yan kasi when you mess up one thing, napakaraming sumikat na tao na in one click, nawala because of their mistakes in life and that is true! Yung sikat na sikat tapos biglang nawala dahil sa kontrobersiya. You’re as good as your last performance so you make the most out of everything that you do.
Number two, everything is fleeting in showbiz. One day you’re in, the next day you’re out. Kasunod dyan yung statement na nauna na you’re as good as your last performance because you’ll never know how long you’re gonna stay. Some people are lucky to stay a little bit longer and some people aren’t lucky because showbiz is a cruel world. Ngayon, kailangan ka nila, bukas hindi ka na nila kailangan. Ganun lang talaga siya. That’s how it works. Napakaraming taong puwede mag-artista, napakaraming talented people so kapag umarte ka, bye. Everything is fleeting.
Third thing I learned in show business is it’s like an ordinary job kasi parang feeling natin, you’re privileged because artist ka or nagta-trabaho ka sa TV or nakakatrabaho mo yung mga artista, I have realized it’s also hard work. Para siyang ordinaryong trabaho na kailangan mong gumising nang maaga, puyat ka, kailangan kang magbanat ng buto, wala kang choice kung hindi tapusin ang trabaho mo. It’s just like any other type of job. Hindi man siya physically demanding, but it is demanding—time, damit, appearance, or whatever—it’s like an ordinary job. Isa pang I wanted to add is hard work works. Sinabi yun ni Ma’am Karen Davila. Hard work works because when you work hard, you have a good output, and when you work hard, people see that you’re working hard. Kapag maganda ang output mo, maganda ang attitude mo sa mga katrabaho mo, hindi ka maarte, ginagawa mo ang mga kailangan mong gawin, then they will give you more jobs, they will like you, and the longevity I think, will be better.
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Produced and Directed by Mels Timan | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Editing by Christina Zabat | Interviews by Rona Niccola Villanueva | Hair By Macky Hilario | Styling By Myrrh Lao To | Shot on location at Citadines Bay City Manila