Kuya Germs (1933-2016): “I started on the stage. I will die on the stage”

The breadth and depth of Kuya Germs’ influence have been continuously sold short

by James Gabrillo, photo by Steve Tirona

The late German “Kuya Germs” Moreno was The Godfather of Philippine Showbiz, yet the breadth and depth of his influence had been continuously sold short. In this exclusive interview with the Master Showman in 2011, Rogue turned the spotlight back to its rightful owner

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Kuya Germs is in pain.

His back is killing him. He’s sitting in the audience area of Walang Tulugan with the Master Showman, his weekly late-night television program. An assistant massages his back.

In the next half hour, as he waits for taping to begin, no less than a dozen people approach him, seeking his help, approval, enlightenment. “Kuya Germs, parating na raw si Tita Pilita. Anong gagawin namin?” “Kuya Germs, ano raw ang set-up ng stage sa first gap?” “Kuya Germs, pahingi ng pera pambili ng battery.” (To which Kuya Germs replies, with a straight face: “Magkano ba kailangan mo? Okay na ba ang isang milyon?”)

Kuya Germs, 68, takes it all in stride—after all, this pioneering, problem-solving, path-finding ringmaster role is one that he’s played for close to half a century.

In the 60s, German Moreno got a gig at Manila’s Clover Theater as a janitor and telonero (curtain raiser). He worked so hard and so late into the night that he sometimes slept on the stage. One day, a theater director was casting the role of Jesus Christ for an upcoming production. The director spotted Moreno, who describes himself then as “mestizo, long haired, payatot . . . yung lumalabas na ang mga buto”—in other words, Jesus-y. Opportunities opened up. He acted as a comedian of the bodabil stage and the post-war screen. In the late 70s, Moreno’s biggest break came when he hosted GMA Supershow, the network’s Sunday noontime variety program that lasted for two decades.

Then, in 1986, That’s Entertainment happened. “Kuya Germs” was born.

The youth-oriented talent show ushered in a new era of Philippine showbiz, catapulting the careers of over 200 kids, some of whom went on to become the country’s biggest celebrities.

In That’s, the teenagers were divided into five groups: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Every Saturday, all of them competed against each other, performing their group production numbers.

“My god, kung iisipin mo, ako ang nagsimula ng reality TV,” Kuya Germs says. “Yung mga ginagawa nila sa American Idol, Pilipinas Got Talent, at Don’t Stop Believing [referring to TV series Glee], eh di ba yun ang ginagawa namin noon sa That’s?”

In 1996, a decade later, GMA-7 cancelled That’s at the height of its popularity. “Pag nasa mga restaurant ako o kaya naglalakadlakad sa Greenhills, sinisigawan ako ng mga tao: ‘Walang tulugan! Ba’t di mo ibalik ang That’s?’” Kuya Germs says. “Eh my god, bakit ba nag-end in the first place?”

“They cancelled all my shows, which were all successful. Bakit? Ewan ko sa kanila,” he continues. “Siyempre may lungkot, may disappointment. But I never gave up. Kita mo naman, tuloy-tuloy pa rin ako. Kahit na alas-dos ng umaga ang show ko, sige lang.

 

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For years, his current program Walang Tulugan with the Master Showman would broadcast live every late-night Saturday—technically Sunday—at 2 A.M. The show would last for two to three hours, often ending past five in the morning, hence the “Walang Tulugan” tagline.

Walang Tulugan is a free-for-all extravaganza of a show and quite possibly the most confused program on television today. Take tonight’s line-up of guests, just for the show’s first hour: 72-year-old “Asia’s Queen of Songs” Pilita Corrales; 11-year-old Fil-Canadian YouTube sensation Maria Aragon; an American cruise ship musician who sings Tagalog songs; rock and roll band DeLara; a gay singing quintet dressed up as the Teletubbies; and an amateur college dance troupe.

“No other TV show puts out a complete unknown to perform,” Pilita Corrales says, seconds before she goes on stage to sing. “Nobody! But with Kuya Germs, okay na okay.”

We asked Corrales why she still takes the time—at her age and stature—to dress up and get made up for Walang Tulugan. “Honey, nobody says no to Kuya Germs,” she says. “You can’t find a better friend. You can’t find a better star builder. Many people think he charges a commission from the people he helps out. Hindi ganun si Kuya Germs!”

Corrales rushes on stage and belts her classic hit “Paano.” After the song, Kuya Germs joins her for some banter. When the gap finishes and the commercials roll, Kuya Germs escorts Corrales backstage. “Pili, thank you,” he tells her. “I love you, Kuya Germs,” she tells him.

Not only does Kuya Germs not charge a commission from his stars, he actually pays for their talent fees. He reveals that he spends P110,000 for every taping of Walang Tulugan, for the salaries of his co-hosts, guests, and their respective posse of assistants.

“I fund it all, not the company [GMA-7],” he says. “The P110,000 comes from the talent fee they pay me.”

We ask him how much he gets to take home for himself. “Napaka-liit na lang,” he replies, “pero di ko na iniisip yun. I’m okay. At this age, di ko na iniisip ang sarili ko. Araw-araw may mga magulang pa rin na lumalapit sa ‘kin: ‘Kuya Germs, pasikatin niyo naman ang anak ko.’

Every year, during Kuya Germs’ birthday celebration in Walang Tulugan, the song “Send in the Clowns” is played. “Yun na ang role ko dito sa industriya,” he says. “God has sent me to do this.”

We mention GMA-7’s current anchor variety show Party Pilipinas, a program that, ideally, should be hosted by Kuya Germs. Does he feel the pressure to be more relevant—hipper, younger, flashier? The pressure of the ratings game? The pressure to not be a has-been? “I’m not an old timer,” he says. “Kung anong uso, kung anong tugtog, yun ang sayaw.

Sabi nila sa ‘kin, ba’t ba di ka pa mag-retire? My god, lalo akong manghihina,” Kuya Germs says with a laugh. “I started on the stage, I will die on the stage.”

As if on cue, Kuya Germs is called back to the Walang Tulugan stage for the next gap. Right before the cameras roll, he warms up the audience, 90% of which are composed of high school students who have all most likely never seen a single episode of GMA Supershow or That’s Entertainment and hence fully comprehend the position of German Moreno in Philippine popular culture.

O, dapat naka-ngiti tayong lahat,” Kuya Germs tells them. “Kasi pag naka-simangot, papangit tayo! Gusto niyo ba ‘yun?

The show goes on-air. Kuya Germs does his thing. The audience claps. Canned applause is played. The lights go down. The show goes off-air. The entire studio braces for the next segment. Kuya Germs walks down the stage. To our surprise, he approaches us at a far corner of the studio. “Kumain na ba kayo?” he asks. “Gusto niyong magpabili ako?” We decline and say thanks. So he nods, walks away, and gets back to his dressing room, his back hunched from all the weight of the world.

This story first appeared in Rogue’s 2011 Entertainment Issue (October 2011). The issue is also available for download on Zinio.