Ogata gets ‘Bizarre’ at Hawaiian Brian’s

Aug. 25, 2015 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition

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BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

“Don’t quit your day job” can be good advice for some would-be stars, but for Paul Ogata, taking that big leap of faith and chasing the neon rainbow was the right thing to do.

In 2005 Ogata left a safe and successful day job at Honolulu radio station 102.7 Da Bomb to make a full-time commitment to stand-up comedy. Ten years later he’s living the dream.

paul ogata 2015

‘A BIZARRE NIGHT OF COMEDY’

With Paul Ogata and local openers Cathy Tanaka and Jose Dynamite

» Where: Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s, 1680 Kapiolani Blvd.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursday
» Cost: $20
» Info: (808) 391-5673, www.brownpapertickets.com

“It was my lifelong dream to travel the world doing comedy, and here I am, so in that sense I’ve made it. Hooray! My dreams have come true,” Ogata said from his home in Southern California. “It’s time to move the goal posts.”

Trivia enthusiasts can take note that Ogata’s current hometown, Murrieta, Calif., is “formerly the second-safest city in America,” he said. The city, in Southern California wine country, was named for Juan Murrieta, a Spanish-born sheepherder and entrepreneur, and not for Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo, who was either a ruthless bandit or a Mexican patriot, depending on which version of history you believe.

Ogata will be on his way back home when he joins Cathy Tanaka and Jose Dynamite at Hawaiian Brian’s on Thursday. It’ll be his second time in Hawaii this year, but back in April he was hosting the 2015 Pele Awards, an annual ad industry competition, rather than doing his usual gig. (The program was staged as a talk show, with Ogata as the host.)

Ogata’s able to headline Hawaiian Brian’s this month thanks to some changes in other parts of the world.

“I had previously scheduled an Australian tour for the entire month of August, and that got pushed back, so I needed to find shows to do,” he explained. “I will instead be doing shows in Shanghai and Beijing and then flying directly to Hawaii.”

In his decade as a full-time stand-up comic, Ogata has appeared on all the major comedy shows and worked for audiences on six continents. Winning the San Francisco International Comedy Competition in 2007 helped springboard him to appearances on “The Late Late Show,” Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and Showtime’s “Pacific Rim Comedy.” (He also voiced a character named Master Dong in “Porndogs: The Adventures of Sadie,” a satire of hard-core porn films in which all the major characters were played by dogs.)

Comedians in the U.S. might take for granted the almost-anything-goes freedom of speech they’ve enjoyed in recent decades. Ogata knows from firsthand experience that things are different in other parts of the world.

Foreign promoters will sometimes warn him in advance about topics that are off-limits. In China, for instance, it’s what he refers to as the “three T’s: Tibet, Tiananmen Square and Taiwan.”

He got shut down once in China “just because they were skittish about what I might say,” he said. “It was good press for the other shows on the tour, but … in that specific town the government shut it down. It wasn’t the big Communist Party in Beijing; it was the local government. They were worried about this American loudmouth.”

Then there was that time in Malaysia, in the middle of a show, when government investigators arrived and started asking people what the American was talking about.

“That was a little scary,” he said.

Here in Hawaii, Ogata will be able to speak his mind. He’s open to requests for some of his vintage material — the continuing exploits of Waianae Man and his sidekick, Nanakuli Youth, for example.

“It’s like a rock concert, where people will shout out, ‘Do this song! Do that song!’ That tickles me,” he said. “I enjoy that because it means I’ve affected them, I’ve gotten in their head and they enjoy it.

“I sort of view myself as a news anchor, so whatever is happening in the world, I will report on it to you, the audience, so whether it’s Donald Trump or whether it’s tragedies, the equation is comedy is tragedy plus time, so you have to stay in the framework but you can talk about pretty much anything.”

Ogata’s friends here remember when “anything” included his suggestion that Japanese-Americans reclaim the “J-word” in the same way that many contemporary African-Americans use the “N-word.”

“I like dancing on the edge,” he said. “I like finding where the line is — and then stepping across it. That’s sort of our job as comedians, to provoke.”

As for “moving the goal posts” careerwise, Ogata knows exactly where he wants to go.

“I would really love to do a show in Antarctica,” he said. “In Macao earlier this year, I met a researcher from Antarctica who came to one of my shows and really had a good time, so we’re going to try to put something together at the South Pole.”

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