He was a full-fledged stand-up comic not so long ago, performing in small comedy bars around the metro. Now, Jose Marie Viceral, better known as Vice Ganda, is one of ABS-CBN’s prized stars. He hosts top-rating television shows, one of them with his alias in the title; stars in blockbuster fun movies; endorses high-profile products and holds sold-out concerts.
To this day, he cannot make sense of his unexpected fame. And, without fail, the question, “What’s the secret to your success?” leaves the otherwise effusive star stumped. Yes, he admits, he dreamt of success, but not in all these fields—and definitely not of this magnitude.
We asked that very question when he dropped by the Inquirer offices for a multiplatform interview recently, and all he could say was, “Nagpatawa lang naman ako.”
But maybe that’s all there is to it.
“Pinatawag ko kayong lahat dito!” Vice deadpanned as the PDI Entertainment Superdesk staff settled into seats around the boardroom table. Thus he set into motion a free-wheeling, hour-long chat. Sharp and quick-witted, he fielded questions in a steady gallop of words that alternately peaked in a screaming punch line or wrapped up a somber thought so wistful, it was affecting.
We noticed his tattoo of stars on the neck and right wrist, a rosary around his right arm and, on his right knuckles four playing card suits. The stars signified his career’s biggest milestones, Vice said. “Remember when your kindergarten teacher stamped your hand with a star for every job well-done?”
With his third major solo concert “I-Vice Ganda Mo Ako sa Araneta” set to gather thousands of fans on Friday, May 17, at the Big Dome, it is safe to say that a new star tattoo would soon find its way on his skin. If projects continued to come in at this rate, Vice jested, “I’d soon be star-spangled.”
You coined phrases that are now popular expressions. What does “I-Vice Ganda mo ako” mean?
It just means, make me happy—give me good vibes, make me laugh.
Do you have any pasabog for this concert?
Of course, I owe it to the fans who bought tickets. My opening and final production numbers are my favorite parts of the concert. Dawn Zulueta will be there, magtatagisan kami ng ganda, and it’s going to be a close match! Regine Velasquez will also be there.
You went to the Big Dome last May 3 to sell tickets.
Yes, I was in the ticket booth from 3:30 to 7 p.m., and it was quite an experience. I was supposed to stay for only an hour, but I felt it would be unfair to the people who braved the heat and waited in line if I just stood up and left.
Personally accepting the people’s money in exchange for tickets was very humbling. I have a newfound appreciation for my fans. I also felt a little embarrassed because they were willing to spend to see me perform for two hours. Money doesn’t come easy in this country, so I feel obliged to give everyone a good show.
How are you preparing?
I have just a few numbers. There’s going to be a little more talking. I’m done writing my material with a pool of writers who helped with new jokes and lines.
But we don’t take it too seriously; otherwise, we end up with nothing. We chat, laugh have a good time! We discuss everything—politics, funny personalities… before we know it, we have new skits.
Does lack of sleep affect your performance?
Mas bongga ako pag puyat! When I go to work with no sleep after a night of partying, no one can keep up with my energy and ideas. Weirdly enough, I become lethargic when I’m well-rested.
Do you still perform in comedy bars?
I do, once in a while—I need it to shake off the rust. Performing in comedy bars is a whole different ball game. There are no restrictions. I’m free to do and say whatever I want. Sometimes, when I finish early with my commitments, I call Laffline, Punchline or Metrobar, and ask if I can go onstage for an hour. The crowd loves it.
Performing in comedy bars gives me a different sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. It’s my life.
How is it different from hosting “Gandang Gabi Vice”?
Initially, we did “GGV” live so I would be aware and cautious at all times. Now we just tape the episodes because I want to rest on Sundays.
Have you always known that you were funny?
No, I always thought that I was a singer! I joined the contest “Oh Diva!” on “Eat Bulaga!” where I mimicked Regine—I had a higher pitch back then. I performed songs by Regine, Lani Misalucha, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey… I made it to the finals, but couldn’t attend the big night because the call time was too early. I had a show the night before.
So how did you start doing stand-up comedy?
In comedy bars, you either sing or make people laugh. One night I lost my voice and was so scared to lose my job, kaya umeksena na rin ako!
Who would you consider your mentors?
Allan K, Arnell Ignacio, and Rey Kilay (one of the biggest stars in the circuit). I consider Rey my mentor. He used to give me clothes; we were the same size. I admired him so much, I offered to be his production assistant for free! I followed him around and learned a lot.
Do you prefer singing to comedy?
I’d rather do comedy. I can’t sing like I used to and it’s sad. I can’t sing along with my minus one tapes because I can’t reach the high notes anymore. So I have to sing more upbeat songs.
Do people get offended by your jokes?
Yes, but not to the point that I get punched or threatened with a gun. Most of the time, they just walk out. Once, I got a note from a politician telling me to stop poking fun at Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I tore up the note onstage. Come on! We were in a comedy bar!
What are your vices?
Partying till the wee hours. I know it’s not healthy, but it has become my lifestyle. It’s how I [indulge] myself after a hard day’s work. I want to go to bed knowing that I had a good time. I don’t want to become a slave to work or money.
What do you love to do outside of work?
I play volleyball. I actually fight with my road manager just so I can make time to play with my buddies. I’ve been a fan of the sport since I was young, but I didn’t get to play until I was older because my father wanted me to play basketball!
And did you ever play basketball?
I was MVP in the kids division of our barangay’s basketball tournament! I was tall for my age and I was athletic. I don’t play basketball anymore because it’s so physical.
Do people recognize you wherever you go?
Yes, that’s why I always have makeup on! Everyone has a camera nowadays. And whether you like it or not, they will take your photo, post it online, and then say something bad about how you look.
Would you ever consider entering politics?
I haven’t thought about that, but I’m not closing the door. Politics will take a lot of my time, for very little money. You wonder how some politicians become so rich on their meager salary… Gusto ko munang magpayaman as a celebrity!
How’s your love life?
I’m happy right now.
How do you keep your public and personal lives separate?
I let people speculate about the identity of my boyfriend, I don’t confirm anything. I don’t want to show him off—not because I’m not proud of him, but because I want to be considerate and protect him I don’t want to be selfish and go, “Maganda ako, ito’ng trophy ko, gwapo ang boyfriend ko.”
I had a very bad experience some time ago. A television program showed photos of me and my boyfriend without my knowledge. His family saw it and was shocked. He has a child who knew me as his “tita.” It ruined our relationship.
Do men still pursue you, knowing you’re taken?
I have a steady and serious relationship, pero may harot on the side! I’d be a hypocrite if I said I stuck to one person.
Well, my boyfriend has my heart, pero ’yung katawan ko… it’s for sharing!
Do you still get attracted to women?
I had a girlfriend. Now my ultimate girl crush is Kaye Abad. I call her “girlfriend.” She looks plain on TV, but she’s very beautiful in person.
Would you consider having a sex change?
I respect anyone who wants or has undergone surgery, but it’s not for me. Sayang naman ’yung equipment [ko]. I like playing with my toy! Why should I deprive myself?
I don’t see myself getting married even if that becomes legal. Gusto ko lang magpaligaw nang magpaligaw!
Don’t you want to have your own kids?
I don’t want my child to deal with all sorts of problems because I am his father. I can give him a good life, but I’m sure he’ll be teased nonstop, “Tatay mo bakla!” I don’t believe, either, in having a child just so you have someone to take care of you when you grow older.
But I’ve been thinking about it lately. I’d like to have a girl. A girl is fun to dress up!
Did you have a dramatic coming out?
No, unfortunately! Had I known my mom was okay with me being gay, I would’ve come out earlier.
The mom is usually the first to know.
Yes, but she went to the United States to work as a caregiver when I was young so she didn’t see me grow up. My four siblings knew, but they stayed in denial because they saw me as their “last hope” because two other brothers are gay. They couldn’t tell my mom that I had stopped playing basketball. ’Di nila alam na nanonood na lang ako ng mga players at nag-eenjoy!
Are you aware of your impact on people, especially the young?
Yes, I’m very active in social media. I’m aware of how I affect my fans and my haters.
Does it make you more conscious of your actions?
I can’t be a slave to what people think. I’ll go crazy. I’d rather be hated for who I am than be loved for who I am not.
People say fame has gone to your head.
When a celebrity starts to act or talk differently, people say fame has gone to his head. Actually, what they think he has become, it was always there, inside him.
Do awards matter to you?
Though it’s nice to have trophies, it’s not that important to me. Let’s be honest. These days, acting awards are given not to the most talented, but to the most bankable.
Of all your achievements, which one surprised you the most?
It has to be winning the title “Phenomenal Box-Office Star” (during the Guillermo Mendoza Memorial Scholarship Foundation’s 43rd Box-Office Entertainment Awards). The best thing about it is the fact that it’s gender-less. And I remember people laughing when I accepted a best male host trophy wearing a long gown!
Any dream role?
I want to become the first gay action star! I want to learn martial arts, do my own stunts, jump off the San Juanico Bridge like Dante Varona. Kakabugin ko siya!
Did you ever imagine this level of success?
No, not even Nostradamus predicted na parating na ang baklang ’to!
Before you became a star, what goals had you set for yourself?
Believe it or not, I wanted to be dead by 40. Ayokong maging pabigat. I don’t want to reach that point where I can no longer do what I used to do. ’Yung magpapatawa ako, pero ’di sila matatawa. That would be depressing.
What’s your recipe for happiness?
Simplicity. Obviously, you’ll have a harder time being happy if you have lofty goals. I’m not saying it’s not good to aspire for something bigger. But if you have simple dreams, you’ll have an easier time achieving happiness.
Are you prepared to lose all of this?
I’m preparing myself. I always pray na sana huwag muna ako malaos. You can disappear from the limelight just like that. But right now, I know I still have a lot to offer.