People & Inspiration

In Focus: Comedy Takes Brain Work And Guts—Take It From Veteran Comedienne Giselle Sanchez!

In Focus: Comedy Takes Brain Work And Guts—Take It From Veteran Comedienne Giselle Sanchez!

Having an illustrious comedy career is a major achievement for anybody, let alone a woman. Having one that spans decades is one that inspires awe and a healthy dose of admiration. Gunning for a spot in the limelight? Giselle Sanchez gets very real with us in a candid conversation about what it takes to be one of the most iconic women in Philippine comedy.

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How did you get into showbiz comedy?

Ever since I was three years old, I’d lock myself in a room and start acting and copying other artistas. I’d be acting already, copying all of the things I watch on TV. My mom would even be so worried because nasa room lang ako so talagangAnak! Open up. This is not a joke!” then I opened up and said, “Mom, I’m acting! I don’t want anybody to see me.” That time, I didn’t want anybody to see me. Then, when I was ready na, mga around five years old, I would perform for all the visitors of my mom. Kumakanta na ako ng “Kapantay Ay Langit” ni Pilita Corrales.

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In 1992, back in second year college, I was part of the Samahan ng Mag-aaral sa Komunikasyon, which is SAMASKOM, in the University of the Philippines Diliman. We needed money first to put up our stage play. We joined Ready, Get Set, Go in ABS-CBN and that’s where I met my first manager who already passed away. Sabi nya, “You know that girl’s pretty and may dating sya.” Lumapit sya and asked me, “Do you wanna be an artista?” and I said, “Of course! I’ve always wanted to be one.” Those words were what I’ve been waiting for in my entire life! He started to manage me and then lumabas yung play which is the SAMASKOM. I did the Bella Flores monologue and I did a lot of other monologues. Doon na-impress si sir Deo Endrinal because he was there. Jon Santos was there and that time, he was really my idol and stuff and he was like “Okay sya ah! Pwede sya.”

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He started guesting me in Teysi Ng Tahanan and from there, I started guesting in Champoy. My friend guested me because he was the son of Noel Trinidad. Mr. Johnny Manahan started putting me in all these TV shows and then finally, he put me in Abangan Ang Susunod Na Kabanata. I made my stint there and everybody just loved it. I was Dino Tengco’s half-sister, I was like medyo the crazy, trigger-happy girl, the exact replica of him. After that, I got my own variety show. I was able to host a variety show for around three years in another channel but I went back to ABS-CBN when I joined DZMM since I graduated Magna Cum Laude in Broadcasting. Dapat, summa cum laude but I was .01 short. Crazy!

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When they invited me to join DZMM, I was like “Finally! I can get to use what I studied!” But since acting was my first love, when they were offering me a broadcast television program, it was gonna be the turning point of my life. If I accepted the broadcast television program which is a solo news show, I was going to turn away from comedy and I was gonna turn away from acting and everything. I was just gonna be a plain news girl. I told the big boss, “Sir, just make me the maid na lang in some sitcom. I would rather be a maid and be an extra than have my own TV show where I will never get to make people laugh, which is my passion.” He was like, “Are you serious? You’re talking about money and career, you could be the next Korina Sanchez!” I was like, “No, I just want to be Giselle Sanchez, the funny girl.”

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They gave me a maid character in Okatokat and the show lasted for three years. From being a maid, I became a main character because there were only like seven to eight characters in Okatokat anyway. The writer made it in such a way that all of us would have equal roles—except of course the two lead stars which were Agot Isidro and Ricky Davao. Basically, that catapulted my career and then ABS started bringing me all around the world because they were starting to launch TFC so ABS was going global. I went from London to Europe to the Middle East, and all around Asia, promoting The Filipino Channel. I would do my stand-up comedies, sing, make people laugh, and make everybody happy. At the same time, I got to tour the world for free, got to ride in limos, red carpet, and ride business class—which is kinda not so good kasi nasanay ako! Now, I cannot ride a plane na hindi business class because of TFC! Ha ha! Oh my God! Now, even my children are spoiled and they ride business class and now they cannot not ride business class. That’s my dilemma now. I have to keep working for the business class tickets. I keep telling my husband, “You can’t retire yet! We have to keep working for the business class tickets and the limos! Ha ha!

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When you were a kid, you were already acting. Has it always been comedy?

I was acting and singing but, yes, it was always comedy. Whenever people would laugh, I’d be really happy. When I started becoming a comedienne, I had this motto na "Never go to sleep without making anybody smile or laugh." It’s just my nature. Parang feeling ko God called me to make people happy. That’s my feeling. That’s my advocacy in life, aside from of course, the Giselle Sanchez Foundation, which I put up because I was a scholar in Poveda. I would like to return that favor that Poveda gave me—a very good education that was a stepping stone to my success.

The Giselle Sanchez Foundation has been here for a good 15-16 years, educating scholars—well, not so many, but just enough. Nakapag-graduate na ako ng mga nurses, yung iba nag-asawa na, yung iba nasa abroad na. Most of them are still studying right now. I’m very happy that I was able to give back. Honestly, to start a foundation is really very expensive but you can also do your part by joining little things. Aside from my foundation, I volunteer in a cancer ward in the National Children’s Hospital for the Kythe Foundation. You just can call them and say “I want to volunteer once a month,” so you can see children, talk to them, alleviate their pain because it’s so painful to have cancer. Just you being there and telling them it’s okay makes a big difference especially for a child.

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What personal traits of yours made this job the right fit for you?

Unang una, makapal ang mukha ko! When I was a kid, sobrang kapal ng mukha ko. When I go to my friend’s house, sabihin ko, “I’m hungry! Do you have food?” Then, I’ll just go straight to the refrigerator. But, because nga sobrang kapal ng mukha ko, I don’t mind. I’m not scared of the stage, I’m not scared of what people are gonna say. Makapal ang mukha ko eh! I’m not scared of the people I joke with. I do shows for presidents and I can joke a president. I can joke a prince! That already happened. I can joke a prince but I cannot look at him in the eye which is weird. That’s so ironic.

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When did that happen?

I had a show for around a good two to three years ago. All the princes were there—the Prince of Brunei, the King of Thailand, the Prince of Indonesia, Korea—all the Asian princes. Yun yung rule, don’t look at them in the eye pero I can joke them! Kaya ko mag-joke pero hindi ko titignan sa mata. It’s so weird!

For me, the coolest president I can joke with is Erap (Joseph Estrada). He’s just so cool. I can remember one time when I said “So, diba, you’re protecting your health that’s why you walk like that?” Siyempre, he didn’t understand the question so he just made a thumbs up sign. Diba Erap walks a little bit sakang, like both of his legs are far apart from each other, so I said that “Yeah, because diba the doctor said you should start avoiding eggs so there you are! Avoiding your eggs!” I could see all the protocol officers were gonna literally take me out of the stage and then Erap laughed! He laughed so hard! I became his favorite host comedienne. I would host all his birthday parties, to the point na I got close to the brother who leads a Catholic community so I’m part of that Catholic community. Me and my husband. Actually, I started first, then my husband was like “Sige, kapag nagbago ugali mo, sali ako the next year!” In fairness, nagbago ugali ko so sumali siya next year and then binalik ko yung dati kong ugali. Sumali na siya eh! Joke lang. Ang daldal ko! Ha ha!

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When you were first starting out, what skills did you have to learn?

As a comedienne, you really need to absorb everything. Every joke your friends would tell you, you have to either put it in your mind or write it in a notebook. I used to write it in a notebook but then I recalled that “Oh, Magna Cum Laude pala ako! I can just put it in my mind.” Ha ha!

Every joke, everything funny that I noticed, I put it in my mind because I can use them in my jokes. Especially here in the Philippines, people like improv more than scripted jokes. They like being the butt of the jokes, they like being enjoined or co-joined in the joke so that’s why there’s so many budding stand-up comedy bars. Allan K has already become a millionaire because he has put up so many comedy bars. People like conjoining in a joke! They wanna be the butt of the joke and it’s alright because hindi tayo normally pikon. We’re not pikon, we just like to laugh, we just love it! That’s how Filipinos are.  

It’s like going to war, it’s like having all your ammunitions in your back. You have so much ammunition but then, you have to use the right ammunition for a certain group, for a certain person, for a certain audience. For example, you’re performing and then you get a doctor, so now you have to start remembering all the doctor jokes. Or, you get ethnicities like Visayans and then you start pulling out your Visayan jokes. That’s how you get to click in each audience. Once you click, usong uso yung word of mouth sa Philippines so “Oh, magaling si ganyan!” and then they book you. That’s how you succeed in this industry.

What persona do you take on when you go on camera or on stage?

Mostly Giselle Sanchez! Unlike Jon Santos who likes to be in a different person. When he’s Jon Santos, he can be funny but more serious. For me, it’s really Giselle Sanchez, the crazy babaeng bakla na makapal ang mukha! Ha ha!

What were your impressions of fame before you got into showbiz?

When I was younger, one actress I saw in person is Nora Aunor and she was giving money. That’s her thing before. She used to give money to people. Lagi syang pinagkakaguluhan kasi nagbibigay siya ng pera. Dati yun! Ask your parents, they know that, for sure! I was thinking “Do I have to give money ‘pag ako na?” That my impression was actually.

I just thought of it as a job originally. But then, you also have pala your responsibilities. For example, you also have to look good. Hindi ka pwedeng bagong gising na may muta ka pa, tapos wala kang bra, tapos lalabas ka sa kalye tapos, “Uy, kamusta na kayong lahat?Hindi pala. You always have to be pretty and fixed kasi mayroon at mayroon kang maririnig. Kung ayaw mong makarinig ng hindi maganda, fix yourself. Second is, I thought all artists had so much money but I would see some of our struggling artists. I even watch them in the news that they live sa ilalim na ng tulay or they died lonely and poor. It’s kinda sad for me. When I realized that, I started saving and using my brain on how to invest and multiply my money so that’s not gonna happen to me. The best part, what I did, in that part of the plan, is to marry a rich guy and I did! Ha ha! Joke lang! But truthfully speaking, I married my college sweetheart. He just happened to be rich. I did have suitors that are really, really, really filthy rich, but I still preferred him because I was happy with him.

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What are some of the life lessons you picked up through the years of being a comedian?

Number one is to be sensitive and empathic to people because not everyone is gonna take your joke well. I remember there was a time when somebody wrote something about me, and then somebody put “I like this girl! She makes good jokes, she cracks us up!” Then somebody wrote, “She called me and she made fun of me and I really felt bad that I became a wreck for two years because of that.” I felt bad.

Since then, I make sure that I choose the right person. Because before, parang bara-bara lang para matapos na pero if you feel na this person cannot take it, don’t do it to that person. You’re gonna destroy that person. Hindi pala sanay yung iba sa public humiliation so that was like a life lesson not only on stage but also off stage. On stage I learned that, and off stage, I do that. I gained more friends because of that. If you’re selfish and insensitive and unsympathetic to others, you’ll never have friends for your entire life.

Number two, you don’t really need to try so hard to make people laugh. You just have to give them what they need. For example, there are people that kekembot ka lang ng konti or you just make this funny gesture, then they start laughing and screaming already but there are some people na kailangan talaga i-push, diba? Don’t try too hard to make people laugh but make preparations. Prepare before every show. That’s also in life. You save up, you prepare everything, right? You don’t have to try too hard but you have to come prepared. Study your scripts, write your scripts if you can, put it all in your head or in a chart na hindi ka magkakawatak-watak. Coming prepared is very, very important because in stand-up comedy, you use your brain to transcend to people so when they receive it in their ears, it immediately elicits laughter because they have to process it also. If it’s a no-brainer, bakit pa sila tatawa? They need to process the things you’re gonna say so you have to be prepared.

Number three, don’t be scared to take risks. A winner always takes risks. A successful businessman always takes risks. Some people call my humor risky, but I learned to take risks because only in taking risks can you change the system. Kung hindi, magiging forever nalang yung comedy in a certain way. Back then, it was just Charlie Chaplin then pumasok yung situational comedy. Ngayon, pumapasok na kaming stand-up comedy: standing up, making jokes for a long time, and making people laugh. This is very different from when you come out, then hahanap ka ng audience mo then lolokohin mo. Ngayon, you can actually stand up, say your jokes, and these jokes, they will process and they will laugh. These are risks you have to take to be able to be an effective comedian and to be able to stay an effective comedian. Madaming komedyante eh, pero konti lang yung may staying power. Yung mga wala nung staying power, wala na pero the ones that know what they’re doing are still here, staying, having a lot of shows.

The fourth life lesson is you gotta learn to move on. There was a time during my first ever stand-up comedy performance, I bummed out. I was with Arnell Ignacio, who was one of the best. He was already doing it for 12 years then I came in. Nobody was laughing. After that show, I was crying and crying. He goes, “This is your lesson. Next time, you have to come prepared. Dapat marami kang jokes para sa iba-ibang klaseng tao.” I just moved on from that.

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Produced and Directed by Mels Timan | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Editing by Christina Zabat | Interviews by Rona Niccola Villanueva | Styled By Myrrh Lao To | Shot on location at Citadines Bay City Manila

As a way of thanksgiving, Giselle Sanchez will be performing in free stand-up comedy shows on June 28, PAGCOR Talisay City, Cebu, and on June 29 in PAGCOR Tagaytay. Check out Giselle’s personal IG account for more details.  

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