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Public Affairs

Boobay: From soldier's son to comic wonder


Whether he’s co-hosting the reality show “Extra Challenge,” reviewing the week’s funniest Tweets on “May Tamang Balita,” or doing stand-up at the comedy bar Zirkoh, the wacky cross-dressing comedian Norman Balbuena, more popularly known as Boobay, always appears totally confident and comfortable. But in a recent episode of the GMA Public Affairs biographical program "Tunay na Buhay," Boobay shared with host Rhea Santos that he didn't always find it easy to be honest about himself—especially with his father, a soldier.
Boobay poses for a promotional photo for the January 5, 2013 episode of 'Tunay na Buhay.' For his interview with Rhea Santos, Boobay decided to go without his usual dresses and make-up.
 
Born as Norman Balbuena in the small town of Narciso in Zambales province, Boobay is the eldest of four children of Honorio Balbuena and retired elementary school teacher Aquilla Balbuena. Boobay remembers realizing he was gay when he was a young boy: "Noon, sumsali-sali ako sa boyscout-boyscout na 'yan. Tapos bigla na akong nagkaka-crush sa kanila, sa mga lalaki. Mga second year or third year high school ako nung marealize ko na may pagtingin ako sa parehong kasarian." Like so many other gay men, Boobay tried to hide the truth about himself. "Tinago ko that time kasi sundalo tatay ko. Sabi ko, malaking isyu ito! Kaya talagang nilabanan ko, sumali ako ng CAT (Citizen Advancement Training) para maprove sa tatay ko." At one point, he even tried to have a girlfriend. "Tapos sinubukan ko magka-girlfriend kahit super kadiri, pero nagkahiwalay din.  Nagdala pa nga ako ng kaklaseng babae na kakutsaba ko. Tapos binago ko boses ko. Sabi ko, 'Tay, si Catherine—girlfriend ko.'"  It was difficult for him then, but Boobay can laugh about it now. “Diyos ko, hindi ako kumportable na ikinukuwento ang mga ganito! Kadiri!” Eventually, Boobay found the strength to come out.  "After graduation ko pa nasabi sa tatay ko na bading ako. Walang sali-salita!"
 
But later on, his father learned to accept Boobay. “Gusto ko ring magka-apo kay Norman kung payag siya mag-asawa. Pero sa palagay ko eh, mas happy na yata siya sa kalagayan niya ngayon,” his father told "Tunay na Buhay."
 
Family first Boobay now enjoys a close and loving relationship with his family.  Even his grandparents watch his shows whenever they get the chance. “No words can express how I proud I am having [Boobay] as my brother,” says Diana Balbuena, Boobay’s sister. Despite his jam-packed taping schedule, Boobay makes time to visit his family in Zambales once or twice a week. But the family still has their share of heartaches.  Three years ago, his family learned that his mother would have to undergo lifetime dialysis for kidney failure. “Sa isang libong taong napatawa ko, ito ba ‘yung kapalit?” Boobay asked himself at the time. “Dati, akala ko sa TV ko lang napapanood ‘yung komedyanteng may malungkot daw na buhay. Tapos biglang nangyari sa akin. Sabi ko, ito pala ‘yun.” On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the family travels four hours from their home in Zambales to the hospital where Boobay’s mother has her dialysis treatments. To reach the hospital in time, they have to leave at four in the morning. “Pinaglalaban ko nga 'yung sakit ko eh. Imbis na manghina, nilalabanan ko dahil gusto ko pa mabuhay para na rin sa mga anak ko,” says Boobay’s mother, Aquilla. Boobay admits that his greatest fear is losing a loved one. “Mawala ‘yung nanay ko o kahit sino sa family ko, hindi ko kaya,” he said. Comedy career Thankfully, Boobay’s booming career has enabled him to help his siblings cover the family’s household and hospital expenses. In 2004, Boobay first tried his luck in showbiz by joining GMA-7’s “KiliTV Comedy Hunt,” a talent competition for comedians. Although he did not win the contest, Boobay continued to pursue his dream of becoming a TV personality. Seeing potential in the aspiring comedian, director Cesar Cosme called Boobay for a TV project that year.  Cosme gave Balbuena the screen name “Boobay” because he thought the comedian looked like the sexy comedienne Ethel Booba. After that, Boobay guested on the GMA Network sitcom “Idol ko si Kap.”  He thought his career would end here but he said, “Tanggap ko na [noon] at nagpapasalamat ako na at least naranasan kong maging isang artista.” Unsure about the future of his showbiz career, he even applied to work in a call center. Eventually, Boobay graduated with a degree in Communication Arts from St. Louis University in Baguio in 2007. He then received an offer from GMA to co-host “Takeshi’s Castle” with Joey de Leon. After that, Boobay was on a clear path to success. Kapuso star Nowadays, you can hardly turn on the TV without seeing Boobay on either GMA-7 or GMA News TV. On the GMA News TV socio-political satire and parody show “May Tamang Balita,” Boobay has his own segment entitled “Ang Twit Twit Mo” in which he comments about the latest controversial and funny Tweets posted by famous personalities. He also guests on the GMA-7 science educational program “Aha!” with Drew Arellano and “Day Off” with Isabel Oli and Pekto.
 
But Boobay’s biggest break to date has been co-hosting the GMA reality show “Extra Challenge” with Richard Gutierrez and Marian Rivera. “Matalino si Boobay, mabilis mag-isip at mabait pa siya. Professional,” says Luz Balingit, executive producer of “Extra Challenge.”  Co-hosts Marian Rivera and Richard Gutierrez share this view. “Masaya siyang katrabaho at magaling siyang host. Napaka down-to-earth pa,” said Marian. “Feeling ko bagay talaga siya sa show na ‘to,” says Richard.
 
In addition to his work at GMA, Boobay also performs with close friend and comedian Ate Gay at the comedy bar Zirkoh. According to Petite, one of Boobay’s friends from Zirkoh, “Si Boobay, talagang pursigido. At the same time, sobrang masipag. Kulang nalang hindi siya matulog.” Knowing what's important Boobay says that his experiences have made him a better person, and that he’s learned to be comfortable in his own skin. “Mas confident na ako ngayon. Nakakausap ko na rin ‘yung tatay ko ng usapang tatay-anak. Dati takot pa ako eh.” Ultimately, Boobay believes that he would not be who he is today if not for his family. He shares his success with his loved ones. He believes that the key to success is to be grateful for what you have: “Maging kuntento at masaya sa bawat maliit na bagay na dumating sayo. ‘Yung binibigay sayo, nasa sayo kung palalakihin mo or pababayaan mo.” —Ria Landingin/PF, GMA News