Kabulastugan and Anri en Français talk about Memes in the Time of Corona
Whether in the form of a nostalgic slice of life or a nonsensical clip that immediately brings good vibes, a meme has the power to help us get through difficult times.
The world’s first viral meme existed long before we even had a word for it.
During the Second World War, graffiti of a bald guy with a long nose hanging over the wall, accompanied by the words “Kilroy Was Here”, became an unlikely image of solidarity between G.I.s. The character originated from a doodle that commented on shortages during the war, and this quickly became a source of national humoro much so that even civilians were in on it, and would draw this meme in even the most obscure places.
It was only in 1976 that the word “meme” would be defined in writing by scientist Richard Dawkins as any phenomenon that drives cultural evolution, be it in the form of a dance, a catchphrase, or a comic character. These days, the definition still holds water, but in a different medium altogether. “Memes come to life, spread and mutate rapidly as they go along, and die a natural death, all on the internet,” writes journalist Charukeri Ramudarai.
What makes memes so rampant in use does not lie so much in the aesthetic, but in the sociocultural context it conveys. A meme can be considered successful when it has that Midas touch of self-awareness that immediately resonates within a community. Take Macoy Dubs’ Auntie Julie, who personifies the annoying and overbearing tita whom almost every Filipino has grown up with. His version of the character, however, is someone Filipinos never knew their titas could be — extra but a tad bit cooler, and so woke.
Memes even work better as off-kilter humor, especially when a crisis is present. Call it dark humor, a coping mechanism. “Human beings are wired to cope, and we’re wired to be funny, even darkly humorous,” says psychologist April Foreman. The chilling documentary The Last Laugh played to this sentiment when it showed how Jewish prisoners found escape by ridiculing the Nazis — the only thing they can do to take away their captors’ power.
In a time that feels too much like an end-of-the-world-flick, laughter is a welcome defense. Thanks to the digitization of culture, we have access to a daily dose of laughter, brought to us by memes. They are spreaders of good vibes that we all desperately need.
Enter meme accounts. Locally, one that’s doing particularly well is Anri en Français (@anri_fr), an account owned by Henri Igna, and which joined the Twitterverse this year, with RTs in the thousands. Another success story, more so for its audience, is Kabulastugan (@kabulastugan), which has over 125,000 active followers to date.
COMMONER recently caught up with them for a chat about their accounts’ humble beginnings. We talked about what kind of content makes Filipinos laugh, why memes work, and what makes Filipino humor distinct.
What follows is a transcript of our interview, edited for brevity.
COMMONER: What prompted you to start a humorous alter account apart from your personal one? Why did you choose this brand of humor in particular?
Kabulastugan: Nag-start ako out of boredom. On my own time, mahilig ako mag browse ng memes so one day, sabi ko, I’ll start this account and upload maybe, once a day. Tapos ayun eventually, may nag-like nang pakonti-konti, may nag-share, tapos ayun, parang naging snowball effect lang.
In terms of the kind of humor I post, ‘yun ‘yung napapansin kong trending sa iba’t ibang platform. Pinipili ko lang yung best, and I just compile them into one page para they can treat it as a one-stop shop. As long as nakikita ko na maraming natutuwa, ‘yun na rin ‘yung signal for me na okay ‘to sa audience.
Henri Igna (@anri_fr): Hindi ko naman talaga siya sinadya, ginawa ko kasi ‘yung Twitter account na ‘yun to practice French, kasi I’ve been taking French classes sa Alliance Française since last year. Since na-gets ko na yung basics, naisip ‘kong isang opportunity or way of practicing is by tweeting. Nung una, nag-tweet lang ako using French to practice simple phrases, pero one thing led to another and nag-try ako na i-translate ‘yung scene ni Maricel Soriano and Zsa Zsa Padilla. Noong una, text lang naman na parang, I translated their dialogue, pero may nag-suggest na, “Try mo nga i-dub!”. Doon ko siya ginawa.
Basically, ang criteria ko for choosing the videos that I will dub is what I find funny kasi tambay naman ako sa Twitter talaga, even before, so ‘yung mga trending na videos like series clips, beauty content, etcetera, anything I see na interesting or weird, tina-try ko siyang i-dub.
COMMONER: Is there a story behind your account name? How has it been since you started?
Kabulastugan: Iniisip ko yung mga moment na tumatak sa akin and for me, being an older millennial, ‘yan ‘yung nasabihan tayo at some point, ‘nung bata tayo “Anong mga kabulastugan ‘yung ginagawa mo diyan?” Very reminiscent siya of childhood naughtiness.
Since I also have my day job, ginagawa ko lang siya pag uwi ko or upon waking up. Then, I give myself 30 minutes to an hour to find stuff online na pwedeng i-share. Post wise, I try to do it once a day. Kapag Instagram Stories, dinadamihan ko since it’s for everyday browsing and it easily expires. Maganda ‘yun kasi rapid succession of memes. Actually, nag-evolve na rin yung account into a podcast. Yung Kabulastugan The Podcast, na-release na rin.
Henri Igna: My name is Henri pero yung spelling kasi nya is “i” instead of “y”, so it’s actually French spelling and it’s pronounced /ˈhenri/ so “Anri” ‘yung ginamit kong name doonn sa Twitter account tapos underscore “fr” to signify French.
Before, almost every day nakakapag-post ako kasi kapag may pumasok na idea, sige try nating i-dub. Honestly speaking, it doesn’t take too much time. Kunwari may naisip akong video, i will watch it on Youtube and I will translate it as i watch it, pero syempre it will take time learning new words. Kasi for example, may mga words and expressions na hindi ko alam, I have to look them up, so ayun na ‘yung learning process doon while translating. Kapag na-translate ko na siya, i-dadub ko na sya. In a day or even in an hour, okay na. Pero ngayon kasi I’m busy with work, so hindi ko siya natututukan ng maigi.
The reception was good kasi natutuwa nga ‘yung mga tao. Feeling ko it roots from the kind of Pinoy pride that comes from hearing forms of your culture expressed in another language.Parang may Pinoy pride na, “Ay, na-translate sa French ‘yung ganitong Pinoy meme or ganitong Pinoy movie”. There are certain accounts who message na na-inspire sila to study again, kasi may mga tao na they studied French in college, tapos iniwan na nila, and then nung napanood nila yung videos, they became interested in learning the language again.
COMMONER: Based on your observation, which types of content resonate the most with Filipinos and make them laugh? Why do you think so?
Kabulastugan: ‘Yung mga pinakamabenta lately ‘yung mga may good vibes lang, lalo na ngayong amidst the pandemic. Like this Tiktok post na in-upload ko na sumasayaw lang yung mga riders sa isang food chain, ganun. Bumebenta rin ‘yung nagpapakita ng one-ness ng mga Pinoy. Nakaka-inspire yun sa kanila.
Henri Igna: ‘Yung mga nag-ttrend na videos for me ay ‘yung mga Pinoy memes na may mga maling grammar, so for example ‘yung kay “You do note”, yung kay “Lyn from Las Vegas”, yung may mga wrong pronunciation. So nung trinanslate ko siya sa French, I also tried to adapt a “wrong pronunciation”. ‘Yung mga funny videos rather than the dramatic ones, like mga scenes from movies, ‘yun ‘yung mas pumapatok when it comes to engagement.
COMMONER: Where do you draw inspiration for your content?
Kabulastugan: Marami akong fina-follow dati, like yung 9GAG. Ever since college ako, na-expose na ako sa memes and nahilig na ako sa kanila kaya nag-create ako, somehow, ng local version. Sa comedy rin, nag-ddraw ako ng inspiration sa sitcom or stand-up comedy. I see to it na ma-check out ko sila. Fan ako nina Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, ‘yung mga tipong comedy na may halong social awareness. Locally, I follow Alex Calleja, Victor Anastacio, sina GB Labrador, and James Caraan. Basically, in-eeducate ko ‘yung sarili ko sa kung sino ang mga dapat tangkilikin.
Henri Igna: Kung ano lang ‘yung shine-share ng mga fina-follow ko, doon ko lang rin nahahagilap ‘yung mga videos na ‘yun. Sobrang entertaining for me ni Davao Conyo, who does whole dubbing in Bisaya. For me, that’s something that I can get inspiration from kasi ‘yung translation, hindi puwedeng word for word. Kailangan, it flows naturally. May iba nga na nagsabi na mas maganda nga sana kung may mga French expressions na ginagamit talaga ng mga natives, so ganun ‘yung tinatandaan ko in translating and dubbing. I want to make it as natural-sounding as possible.
COMMONER: Back in the day, comedy was limited to stand-up shows, comedic acts and performances, or funny sketches. It’s very different from the landscape today where memes are considered to be a big part of what defines Pinoy humor. Why do you think memes have become a hit in our culturel?
Kabulastugan: ‘Yung meme kasi, it doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing. As long as it resonates with the person that is viewing it, good na siya doon. Ang goal lang ng meme ay maitawid ‘yung message and tayo na mismo yung mag-iinterpret. Ganoon ‘yung kinaganda niya, may sari-sarili tayong interpretations of what we see.
Henri Igna: Well, first and foremost, memes come in small quantities. Feeling ko kasi, Filipinos right now are very busy and gusto nila nang mabilisang tawa at mabilisang entertainment. Since memes come in less than two minutes and twenty seconds sa Twitter, sobrang entertaining niya. Based sa mga nakikita ko, may ilang memes rin that highlight the less intellectual side of Filipinos in a way, so mas nakakarelate ‘yung masa. Medyo simple kasi yung humor ng memes tapos very relatable and connected with our daily lives. For example, yung kay Lyn from Las Vegas, the not-so-good pronunciation, nakaka-relate ang karamihan dun. Like yung sa pabebe girls, yung “pagka-kanal” nakaka-relate tayo sa ganoon.
Mas natural kasi ‘yung feeling na, for example, siyempre not everyone mayorong okay na equipment to make this content, so for memes, okay lang na hindi maganda yung video or ‘yung audio. Kaya namang tiisin ng mga two minutes na sabog yung audio as long as ‘yung content maganda, nakakatuwa.
COMMONER: How about memes that are woke or have an element of social commentary?
Kabulastugan: I try posting those from time to time. Sometimes, it’s not really a meme pero ‘yung simpleng headline lang ng mga balita. Since may ganito na akong platform, I want to make people aware as well of what’s happening. Though minsan, may mga nag-cocomment na “Uy, please stick to memes nalang” or “Sana good vibes lang”. Pero I feel like it’s my responsibility na hindi lang magpatawa pero magpaisip din.
Henri Igna: Hindi pa ako nakakapag-dub ng woke videos, although I tweet a lot of woke things in French kasi naniniwala ako na every platform is a good opportunity to voice our opinions for the betterment of our country. I support ‘yung mga memes na woke, although syempre hindi lahat ng tao makaka-relate sa ganoon. Pero the fact that it starts a conversation, that’s good enough already. Ang medyo pinagkaiba kasi ng Filipino humor with let’s say American humor, is that sa America, very prominent yung satire. For example, satire against the government, they find it entertaining. Pero dito kasi parang hindi pa ganoong ka-accepted in a way, parang ni-liliteral or masyadong dinaramdam pa ng mga tao.
COMMONER: What do you think makes Filipino humor distinct?
Kabulastugan: Tayong mga Pinoy, likas tayong masayahin. There are also times na funny siya sa atin, but for the rest of the world, hindi nila gets. Like for example, ‘yung mga videos na nagpapakita ng Pinoy resilience sa baha, ‘yung mga tumatagay at nagsha-shot ng alak ganoon. Simple lang siya eh, pero sa ating mga Pinoy, it shows na we can find joy pa rin in times of tragedy.
Henri Igna: Based on my observation, a lot of our humor depends on insults, kahit noon pa, like sa mga pelikula nina Dolphy. ‘Yung mga comedy movies before, talagang may sakitan, pero hindi naman seryoso. Yung mga nag-kiclick talaga ay ‘yung mga videos na mali ang grammar, mali ang pronunciation, tapos ‘yung mga pwede mong laitin ng kaunti. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing to say, pero a lot of the Filipino humor I know, medyo nagha-highlight din ng weaknesses natin.The irony of it is, maramdamin tayo when other nationalities belittle us.
At saka ‘yung mga humor natin that reflects daily life, ‘yun din ‘yung pumapasok sa isip ko eh. Like si Auntie Julie ni Macoy Dubs, ‘yung dramatization na ginagaya niya ay ‘yung “Filipino auntie culture”. That’s very funny kasi I think nakaka-relate tayo. Alam din natin ‘yung culture na ‘yun, kasi ‘yun ang kinalakihan natin. It’s the humor that reflects our culture, our childhood, our daily lives.
COMMONER: Why do you think laughter is a good antidote especially during these times?
Kabulastugan: In this trying time, especially whenever pagod ako for the whole week and I just come across this funny video, it can boost ‘yung mood ko and in that way siya powerful for me. It makes you happy even if it’s just for a few minutes. Ito rin yung parang therapy ko in a way and I know some people as well will agree. It’s what they look for at the end of the day, kung ano yung makakapagbigay ng good mood.
Henri Igna: It’s a good distraction from everything that’s happening, but of course, hindi puwedeng distraction lang. Kailangan gumawa rin tayo ng paraan. Kailangan nating ilabas ang ating saloobin in order to solve that problem, but focusing on laughter, it does so much to relieve stress. Ang stress kasi talaga ay one of the worst things that could happen to you right now. It’s one of the things that really brings you down or causes you a lot of problems. ‘Yung laughter, kahit maikli lang, it promotes a lot of benefits already, especially sa health natin.
Arrah Balucating is currently taking up her masters in entrepreneurship, and is leaning towards starting her own venture that can help impact the community and the planet. On her free time, she likes discovering stories on human interest, internet and pop culture, and anything pertaining to lifestyle, wellness, and mental health.