by H. Doug Matsuoka
Question: You notice your laulau getting more small? Ha! If you answer with a ditty that begins, "Come we go to Wendell’s, for one hell of a kaukau," you know I’m talking about Rap Reiplinger. On the other hand, if you’ve ever ordered a cheeseburger and wondered why the giggling waitress asked, "You want a hamburger with cheese on top, or a cheeseburger?" you might want to ride along.
(photo: Alexis Higdon,
courtesy Kentak Corp.)
Rap Reiplinger was a local comedian, but to say that doesn’t do an even halfway decent job of explaining him. Rap was brilliant. A master of sweet satire, he saw and captured more about modern-day Hawaiian society than anyone before (and maybe since). In 1974, when he was twenty-four, he hooked up with Ed Ka‘ahea and James Grant Benton to form the wildly popular comedy ensemble, Booga Booga. Four years later, he released his first solo album and thousands of us started committing it to memory.
This year marks twenty years since Rap passed away. Hard to believe, huh? For those of us who recite his routines like mantras, he is still right here. We know all the words to the surfer-on-his-deathbed ballad Fate Yanagi ("Tell Barry Santos I’m sorry, I dinged his board, but no worry—I get can resin underneath my bed and he can have ’em when I’m dead."). We’ve got the syllabic symmetry of the Japanese Roll Call down cold ("Tanimitsu, Mitsuyoshi, Yoshimura, Murakami, Kamikawa, Kawamatsu" and on and on) and it still makes us roll on the floor laughing.
Ahh, remember his haiku:
Home from the fields
Someone has painted my door
A stranger sings in my bathroom
Whoops, wrong house
Or how about Merdie Murdock, the used-car salesman who has seen too many ads on late-night TV, and his irresistible question: "Looking for a car? Perhaps an automobile?"
And remember when you were four and Rap was five and you were outside and he appeared on the balcony taunting you in YOUR brand-new blue dress? Remember chasing him all over the yard while everyone howled with laughter? Don’t remember? Well, you would if you were Rap’s sister Dede. "He didn’t do that out of meanness. He just did it to get a laugh. Even as a little kid, he knew exactly what effect he wanted to produce and how to do it. Make sure you say he was never mean to me." James Kawika "Rap" Reiplinger was never mean to his sister. There.
"Even when he was a kid he was a born leader," remembers Dede. "He had that something and that’s why people still love him. He had incredible powers of observation and could mimic and imitate anyone."
Rap used those powers of observation to create a luau-size salad bowl of characters: Aunty Marialani (the blotto television cooking show host who kept urging viewers to make sure the wine was not too sweet and not too rancid: "go check ’em, go check ’em, go check ’em, go"); Aunty Nelly Kulolo (the way, way pre-match.com matron of Date-A-Tita: "our girls are top-of-the-line titas, from auto repair to weightlifting"); and the Mahalo Airlines stewardess ("for your safety, a package of party balloons is provided directly under your seat"). Rap’s character Willie Maunawili (Independent Republicrat candidate for representative) could spout vacant rhetoric worthy of a presidential candidate: "Today is not Tomorrow, or Yesterday, or The Day After. It’s Now! And Now is what Today is all about!" No be silly, vote Willie!
(photo: Steve Shrader)
Rap’s still with us in the digital Today. His vinyl stuff is on CD (Poi Dog with Crabs, Best of Rap, Best of Rap Too), and his Emmy Award-winning 1982 television special Rap’s Hawai‘i is on VHS and DVD. And you know what?
I just downloaded Room Service from Apple’s iTunes Store. That’s the four-minute tale of the occupant of room 1225, the utterly harried tourist, one Mr. Fogerty, a.k.a. Mr. Frogtree, and his attempt to order a cheeseburger—not a hamburger deluxe with cheese on top, or a cheeseburger deluxe with cheese on the side, and definitely not pickled pigs feet with Spanish rice on top mashed potatoes with a choice of dressing on the fruit cup.
Dede thinks for a moment. "To know him was a delightful thing." Yeah, Rap Reiplinger, remember?