Manuel Urbano Jr. sounded excited as always when he phoned on June 8th, his 84th birthday. I thought he would ask me like before to help tackle a hot issue on his hit YouTube channel “Mr. Shooli”. Then my jaw dropped when he said from out of the blue, “Mr. Shooli is losing steam”.
“It can’t be po,” I replied about his show that metamorphosed from mainstream television’s “Mongolian Barbecue” in the 1980s to “Mr. Shooli” in film and online. “It’s a YouTube sensation. Episodes go viral. Audiences mimic the gags, the intonation, and even the production styles. And it has many sponsors.”
Manong Jun hushed me: “I don’t mean Mr. Shooli the show, I mean me as Mr. Shooli.”
Fans knew it was the inimitable Jun Urbano behind the comedic Mr. Shooli. But he always differentiated between himself as creator-director and Mr. Shooli as a character. Program guests in the past three decades realized that. He’d tell them for example, “After Mr. Shooli introduces you and the subject matter, go right in as you wish.”
But on that morning he referred to Jun Urbano and Mr. Shooli as one. Odd.
Manong Jun expounded: “Todo ganado pa rin ako. But it’s becoming harder and harder to get up from bed, research the material, write the script, put on a costume and make-up, and set up lights, audio-video, and gear.” Naka-alalay pa ng husto niyan si Banot at Morado (two of his four sons).
He ended the call with a wish, “Panahon na ng mga bata, sana sila naman.”
Manong Jun had undergone a quintuple heart bypass in 2012. He was later diagnosed with abdominal aortic aneurysm and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But that never seemed to bother his hectic work. Before and after his heart surgery, he produced more than a thousand television commercials.
He appeared weekly as Mr. Shooli in the TV satire “Mongolian Barbecue”. Viewers became familiar with his bright red regal attire, fu manchu mustache on the side of his lips, and supposedly Chinoy accent. They laughed as he told them their faults through comedy.
He also produced and starred in two movies. The titles hinted at the satirical content. “Juan Tamad at Mr. Shooli sa Mongolian Barbecue” was about the fabled indolent Pinoy who laid down under the guava tree, and waited for the fruit to ripen and drop by itself into his mouth.
“Ang M.O.N.AY. ni Mr. Shooli”, or “Misteyks op da Neysion Adres Yata”, parodize politicos. Jun Urbano’s best friend Leo Martinez directed and costarred as Tongressman Manhik-Manaog. They obviously got away with it.
Jun Urbano had other projects in mind, including one on the sad-happy life of overseas Filipino workers. Another is about a U.S.-born millennial balikbayan who learned that the good in the homeland outweighed the bad so decided to stay. Friends were eager to finance him. But in at least two press interviews he said he felt he was about to board his final flight.
He did last Saturday, Dec. 2. But not before two fitting tributes.
On August 13 The Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences honored Jun Urbano with its highest accolade. The Dr. Jose R. Perez Memorial Award was for his “outstanding achievements and lasting impact on the film industry.”
FAMAS recognized Urbano’s dedication to the craft, “cementing his legacy in the annals of Filipino cinema.”
The University of the Philippines-College of Mass Communications revered him too. On Oct. 11 UP-CMC gave him the Gawad Plaridel 2023 for “outstanding accomplishments in the fields of television, advertising, and film.”
The citation said it all: “For creating productions in television and film that elevated the substance and form of comedy that future generations of Filipino media practitioners can look up to as models for creating media productions with superior quality and social commitment.”
Gawad Plaridel is granted only to living communication artists and scientists. This is because it has a requirement – for the recipient to lecture on his craft.
Jun Urbano did just that right after accepting the trophy on stage. He was dressed as Mr. Shooli. And since it was in public, he dissociated the awardee Manuel Urbano Jr. from the recipient in bright red.
He said: “I’m sorry po, nahihiya humarap si Jun Urbano sa mga matatalinong propesor at estudyante dito sa UP. Ipinadala niya si Mr. Shooli para tanggapin itong parangal ninyo.” Then Mr. Shooli delivered what is perhaps Jun Urbano’s last way of making us laugh by telling us about our faults.
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS News.