Sweet comic John Lapus longs for the stability of a regular job
Even the professional jester isn’t always a barrel of laughs. This was our takeaway from a two-hour chat with actor John Lapus at the Inquirer offices in Makati City.
Lapus, aka “Sweet,” never dreamed he would be a comedian. “I didn’t know that making people laugh could be a career,” he said. He holds a degree in hotel and restaurant management from the University of Santo Tomas.
After 20 years in show biz, Sweet is no longer dreaming of superstardom. “I don’t plan to retire from acting just yet, but I don’t aspire for lead roles anymore.”
He recalled that at one point, when work seemed to avoid him, he wondered, “I’m good … why am I unemployed?” He explained, “I go crazy when I’m idle; I become depressed and insecure. I guess that makes me a workaholic.”
Elaborating on the “D” word, he said, “I would just stare into space. When I feel that coming, I drag myself out, watch a movie, or visit friends. At night, I pray. That makes me feel better. But I’m too ashamed to ask God for money or an exciting love life. I’m afraid He might say, ‘Ambisyosa ka!’”
He continued, “The uncertainty in this line of work is what worries me. I guess it’s human nature to be discontented. Superstars have guaranteed contracts, but they still nag their managers to find them something to do when they don’t have work. To them I say, if you’re bored, why not go out of town with your family? Or build a church in some poor community? Milyonaryo ka na, nalulungkot ka pa? Mahiya ka naman! With your money, you can buy a friend or build a comedy bar and hire stand-up comedians to make you laugh. Call me!”
What is it like playing one of the main characters in (ABS-CBN’s) “Mira Bella?”
This is the first teleserye where I am not cast for comic relief. Pokwang and I are parents to the lead, Mira (played by Julia Barretto). We can’t just be dropped. If one of us got sick, taping would be canceled. That’s how important our characters are.
You’re not complaining, are you?
It’s exhausting, but that’s OK. I get paid per taping day. I don’t complain about work because I’ve experienced being jobless. That was between 2005 and 2006. I had hosting jobs for corporate events and movie projects on the side, but no regular TV show. Before that, I worked with ABS-CBN for many years. GMA 7 hired me in October 2006 for “S Files,” then “Showbiz Central.” I returned to ABS-CBN in January 2013, three months after my GMA 7 drama series, “Makapiling Kang Muli,” ended.
I was very depressed when “Showbiz Central” ended. Now I feel vindicated. The program had been airing for almost six years when GMA 7 management decided to replace it. The replacement show lasted only three months.
Was that why you returned to ABS-CBN?
I waited several months. I didn’t want to be branded a [network-hopper]. It was a major adjustment, the first time I left ABS-CBN after working there for 13 years. I didn’t know many people in GMA 7’s talk show department.
What was funny was the “Showbiz Central” team was the same one that worked on Lyn Ching’s show, “Etching,” which my program “Cristy Per Minute” on ABS-CBN competed with a few years back.
I had a controversial segment [in “Cristy Per Minute”] called “Prangka Ka John!” where I criticized celebrities’ fashion sense. In one episode, Lyn was my target. To get even, her show lambasted me. ’Di ako natinag! I just kept coming up with things to say against Lyn until a good friend of mine, Rico Gutierrez, who was directing “Etching,” told me that Lyn was always crying because of that.
Years later, I ran into Lyn and her husband. I apologized but Lyn thanked me, saying the incident motivated her to lose weight. Now she’s sexier than when she was single.
When I resigned from “Cristy Per Minute,” I started acting on TV and in movies produced by Star Cinema. It was around then that I started using the title “Universal Sweet.” My manager at the time, Biboy Aboleda, said I should stop criticizing celebs.
So your career isn’t what would be described as “planned“?
Not really. I am a graduate of HRM. When I got into UST, my plan was to shift to nursing or physical therapy. This didn’t happen because of financial constraints. Since I was very interested in acting, I joined Teatro Tomasino. That made university life more enjoyable.
How did you get into the guild?
I just had to pay a P20 admission fee and then pass the audition. They made me act and sing like a crazy person. There was also this task, “Move your name”—we were to introduce ourselves by movements. I was No. 89, so all possible “movements” had been done when my turn came. I pulled down my pants! Everyone applauded.
College life would have been extremely boring were it not for Teatro Tomasino. I was just an average student. I enjoyed extracurricular activities more than the academic aspect. I realized that I was talented but not really brainy. I did poorly in all my accounting subjects!
So, did you see that acting “spark” in you as early as then?
I enjoyed acting, but it didn’t occur to me that it could be a job. I sent resumés to Shangri-La Makati, Peninsula Manila and Manila Hotel but none of them wanted me. My life changed when two gay mentors from theater offered me work as a researcher for ABS-CBN in 1993. After a year, I was promoted to segment producer. That was about the same time I began acting in sitcoms.
John Lapus was the actor to hire for low-budget shows—kasing puti [ng iba] pero ’di kasing mahal. Instead of hiring known gay personalities like Jon Santos, Bernardo Bernardo or Soxie Topacio, you called John Lapus because you could have him on board for just P500.
Would you still say a college degree is important?
In show biz, you get a certain level of respect from colleagues when they learn that you’re a degree holder. I myself admire artists who can balance work and school.
Which star gave you your biggest scoop on “Showbiz Lingo”?
It has to be Sharon Cuneta. She was fond of me then. She would record songs every Friday for “The Sharon Cuneta Show.” If she heard that I was around, she would call for me and ask me to perform—on top of a table— mimicking Pia Moran, Inday Badiday or Sheryl Cruz. She enjoyed that.
When [Sharon’s ex-husband] Gabby Concepcion married Jenny Syquia, news teams were running after Sharon, but she refused to be interviewed.
My boss at the time, Deo Endrinal, told me to get an exclusive. You wouldn’t believe how I did that!
I prepared a Pia Moran “production number” for her at the recording studio. I hid inside a garbage bag and was to pop out when she arrived. Problem was, as she was about to enter the studio, her cell phone rang. This was in 1993 and Sharon was very likely the first celebrity to own a cell phone.
She stopped at the doorway, still talking on the phone. I was inside the garbage bag, meanwhile, punching little holes because it was so hot!
By the time she stepped in, my makeup had melted. Still, I performed with gusto!
She laughed so hard that she fell from the couch a couple of times. After my dance number, I asked, “Puwede ka bang ma-interview?” She said yes! A week later, I was promoted to segment producer, with a P1,000 increase in my salary.
My first coverage as segment producer was the 1st Goma Cup in Boracay. Segment producers were not allowed to be seen on camera in those days pero maldita ako. I asked my cameraman to give me two shots and then I made an on-cam intro: “Ako po si John Lapus at nandito tayo ngayon sa … Boracay!” Deo was pleased! From then on, he made me go on-cam in all of the events that I covered.
How is your love life?
I’ve been loveless since 2006. I become socially inactive when I’m in love. Believe it or not, I also become submissive. I used to cook for my ex-boyfriend! That man wouldn’t eat rice unless it was fried—even if he was eating it with sinigang!
Have you thought of having your own child?
It crossed my mind. I’m fascinated by the idea of adoption. The kids several of my friends adopted ended up looking like them, or acquiring their mannerisms. The first time I went to the United States, I kept looking at babies with blue or green eyes. I wanted to bring one home. That was when I considered adopting a Caucasian baby.
Why not find a surrogate mother?
I thought of that as well. But I have lots of nephews and nieces. I even have a grandson. My friends tell me that raising a kid is no joke, that it’s demanding, both physically and financially. In any case, I’m too busy right now; I hardly even have time to walk my three dogs.
Doesn’t your mom live with you?
Yes, she does. I can’t wait to complete the payment on the house. I want to buy another property, somewhere in Antipolo. Pokwang influenced me. I like her place very much because it has a good view and the air is so fresh up there.
Do you always consult others before making important decisions?
Yes. Boy Marinas (salon owner and businessman) is my financial adviser. He taught me how to fast-track payments for my house. I consult (actress) Eugene Domingo when it comes to movie projects. I like it that, although she is now a superstar, she still accepts supporting roles or indie projects. I call her the “silent superstar.”
I’m no longer wishing for superstardom. I’m happy that I have a steady job. I’ve discussed with friends my eventual return to production. I’m amazed that most of my batch mates in ABS-CBN have high positions in the company now. Some are directors, others are production managers. One is a business unit head. My goal is stability. Yes, actors earn more, but regular employees are paid monthly (salaries) and enjoy benefits.
We see that you’re practical, even pragmatic. Do you have a sentimental side?
I don’t talk about my family on TV. That my father left us when I was 10 is not a happy story. I don’t like washing dirty linen in public. Eugene is good at keeping personal stuff from the public. Nobody knows where her parents are, or whether or not she has siblings. Her father died recently and it was not reported.
What does your mom think of your career?
In gay speak, I call her Madir. She’s cool at 67. Babaeng bakla kasi ’yon. She still rides a motorcycle around our neighborhood. She doesn’t have to say it; I know that she’s proud of me. Since she’s not from show biz, I want to shield her and the family from controversies. If they hear something about my work, they don’t ask me about it simply because they know I can handle it.
How good are you at keeping others’ secrets?
I’m a loyal friend. I get irritated when someone tells me, “Atin-atin lang ito ha?” and then he or she spills the beans on a talk show. I miss having a talk show. I’m considering writing a blog or hosting a podcast. I’m just looking for a sponsor.
If you did have that talk show, how would it be unique?
It would be very entertaining. People watch talk shows because they want to be entertained. Show biz news is only secondary. I’m proud of what “Showbiz Central” achieved, especially my segment, “Don’t Lie to Me.” The lie detector test was the production team’s idea; but the “buwis buhay” dance number was mine. I already have a concept for a new talk show. I hope to find the time and opportunity to present it to the bosses.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.