In search of exciting parts with AC Soriano

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For AC, most known as ItsACsLife, comedy is “powerful”: “[Dahil] napatawa mo na yung tao, nabuksan mo na yung puso niya.” Illustration by ELLE SHIVERS

I don’t think I fully grasped the ubiquity of AC Soriano’s work until I tried explaining this assignment to my parents. “I’m interviewing AC, the one who says, ‘Papunta pa lang tayo sa exciting part,’” I offered eagerly. “Sino doon?” my mom replied. “Lahat naman nagsasabi niyan.”

We are talking, of course, about AC’s one-man show “Jodi Sta. Maria: The Unauthorized Rusical,” which he premiered on Instagram live a few months ago. Taking cues from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” AC staged a full-on musical production of Sta. Maria’s most iconic roles, all from his bedroom. A remix (which he made himself) scored his transformations into scrub suit-clad Maya from “Be Careful with My Heart,” Amor Powers from “Pangako Sa ‘Yo,” Marissa from “Ang Sa Iyo Ay Akin,” and Doc Jill from “The Broken Marriage Vow.”

It’s not uncommon for a creator’s work to transcend their ownership. Internet virality, however, cranks it up to eleven: AC’s Doc Jill not only gained a life of its own, but also took center stage in the cultural zeitgeist. “Papunta pa lang tayo sa exciting part” pervaded memes and political rallies; the techno-backed “your daughter is sleeping with my husband” has been playing in our heads for weeks. In the words of TV host Wendy Williams, iconic of her own accord: “She’s an icon, she’s a legend, and she is the moment.”

While social media lends a sense of spontaneity that AC deems crucial in his work, it’s clear that much thought and planning went into the Rusical. “I had to buy the costumes, I had to look the part, I had to study the character,” AC tells me via Zoom. “Kahit na sa mga viewers, nakakatawa lang siya tignan, behind the scenes I was figuring out ano ‘yung pagkakaiba ni Jodi from this character to this character.” It helped that he had been idolizing the actress for years, using his deep familiarity with Sta. Maria’s shows to leverage his performance.

Still, he had to “really study” the roles, saying in a separate interview that it was the character studies he found more challenging, rather than the audio and graphics. I recall something AC said on the first episode of “Gabi ng Bading,” his podcast with fellow content creator Yani Villarosa, where the two laugh about the recording being unplanned: “Aminin natin na gaguhan lang talaga ‘to, pero syempre ‘yung gaguhan, dapat ineffortan para mapapa-wow pa rin ‘yung makakakita.”

This succinctly describes the caliber of AC’s work, something that comes as no surprise to viewers who have known him for years as ItsACsLife, his YouTube moniker. He began uploading top-quality vlogs — some even feature-length — in 2017, when he was still in college for digital filmmaking. “[Film] ‘yung gusto kong gawin ever since bata pa ako,” he says, and through his vlogs, he got to practice being a one-man team, from cinematography to editing to marketing. “Ang pinoproduce ko kapag nag-gaganon ako ay para siyang reality TV show, very that ‘yung treatment,” he added.

In fact, his primary motivator was his love for craft, not necessarily the fame he subsequently found. “Hindi talaga ako nagbibilang ng kung ilang views because ang main purpose ko out of it is to practice,” he explained. “Iniisip ko lagi na this is your one shot to do your best… You are as good as your last work, kaya mag-effort ka na kaysa ‘yung naglabas ka lang [nang basta-bastang video].” He doesn’t regularly upload vlogs for this reason, wanting to constantly top himself “because wala ka namang ibang kalaban kundi sarili mo.”

When I asked what his personal favorite is among his work, he circled back to the “Jodi Sta. Maria Rusical,” if only because it allowed him to flex a different set of creative muscles. “On YouTube kasi I’m just showing my real life. The challenge there is how I make the everyday life interesting, and na-gegets ko na ‘yung formula.”

Before the Rusical — where Sta. Maria herself was in attendance — AC had already been impersonating many other Filipino actresses. “It started around 2021. I created this IG highlight, parang mga stories na medyo madami,” AC says. “I started with Maricel Soriano. Iba rin kasi talaga ‘yung takbo ng utak ko kapag mag-isa ako, so I was alone in a hotel room, I was watching clips of her famous movies and kung paano niya i-deliver. Doon nag-start. Wala pa siyang damit-damit, dialogue lang.”

Jodi Sta. Maria's Doc Jill, Toni Gonzaga, and Maricel Soriano are just some of the characters AC has enjoyed portraying. Photos from ITSACSLIFE/INSTAGRAM

Then came the national elections and the birth of Otin G, his spoof of Toni Gonzaga and her stint as a guest performer at the sorties of then-presidentiable Ferdinand Marcos Jr. AC, who is a vocal supporter of Leni Robredo, was a longtime Gonzaga fan before the actress’ outright support for the dictator’s son. “For me, [si Otin G] ‘yung protesta ko, na hindi porket idol mo at sasabihin niyang kumuha ka ng bato at ipukpok mo sa ulo mo ay ipupukpok mo talaga,” he says, adding that he anchored the impersonation on showing support for his candidate. In his first run as Otin G, he commanded Gonzaga’s vocal flourishes and repeated her catchphrases (“Sabay-sabay!”), except he wore pink and performed “Kay Leni Tayo,” giving us a peek into the alternate universe where Gonzaga sided with the opposing camp.

Like Doc Jill, Otin G was brought to the streets, with AC hosting Robredo’s rallies dressed as the character. “I believe that comedy is underrated talaga. Comedy is powerful,” he says. “Pwedeng-pwede siyang maging device para i-send ‘yung message mo, and thankfully, na-send ko naman ‘yung message ko across and I’m proud of what I’ve done for the campaign.”

He cited the 2016 Vice Ganda film “The Super Parental Guardians” as a great way of using comedy as a Trojan horse for more political messages, among them extrajudicial killings and single parenthood.

“Naniniwala ako na ang comedy is a great tool to open someone’s heart,” AC said. “Ang logic ko diyan, [dahil] napatawa mo na ‘yung tao, nabuksan mo na ‘yung puso niya. Ngayon, it’s up to you paano mo ipapasa ‘yung message na gusto mo talagang ipasa.” Again, this goes back to his main guiding principle in his work: “May kinalaman pa rin siya sa art kahit na mukha lang naglolokohan.”

It is also through the veil of comedy that he and co-host Yani get vulnerable on “Gabi ng Bading,” their podcast that came to a close earlier this year. AC called podcasting a different realm, especially in terms of its psychological toll. “May time na sobrang vulnerable ko na pala, ang dami ko nang na-oopen up. Every week, ililista ko ano ‘yung pwede kong i-kwento na may trauma ako at tatawanan natin, so ‘yun, medyo napagod ako d’on.”

“Naniniwala ako na ang comedy is a great tool to open someone’s heart. Ang logic ko diyan, [dahil] napatawa mo na ‘yung tao, nabuksan mo na ‘yung puso niya. Ngayon, it’s up to you paano mo ipapasa ‘yung message na gusto mo talagang ipasa.”

“Gabi ng Bading” brandished AC and Yani's signature no-holds-barred humor: the podcast’s first upload, aptly titled “Test Upload,” is a one-minute audio clip of AC whisper-giggling, “Bakla ka ba? Kung ganoon, Pasok na!” But it very often takes emotional turns, especially as the hosts open up about their experiences as queer people in the conservative Philippines. AC, in their debut episode, recounted a dark period when he felt isolated and alone. “Kung babalik man ako [sa time na ‘yon], babalik ako as my 25-year-old self. [Sasabihan] ko ‘yung self ko na, don’t you worry child,” he begins with a laugh. “Don’t let them dictate kung sino ka. When I let go of the stereotypical comments na ako ‘yung nakakatawang bakla, na ‘yun lang ‘yung kaya kong gawin, I excelled.”

And excelled he did. But, as he acknowledged on the episode as well, time and success do not necessarily heal all wounds, and reopening them for a comedy podcast proved taxing over time.

Perhaps this is magnified by the fact that AC found a platform on social media — where people had relatively more intimate access to him, and him to them — through creating vlogs about his everyday life, no less. Authenticity is not just a given, but a demand, a prerequisite. Borrowing writer Jia Tolentino’s description of the Internet’s first-person industrial complex, it seemed AC felt the best thing he has to offer is the worst thing that has ever happened to him.

This intimate access to his viewers, however, also reminded him that love “goes both ways.” “Dati ang nasa isip ko, ‘This is my art. Appreciate it,’” he says. “Ngayon mas natututunan ko ‘yung communication. ‘Yung batuhan, ika nga, unlike before na ako lang nagbabato.” The main evidence of this is his stepping into the self-declared title of “ultimate multidogshow superstar” — he is taking pride in being “dogshow-ed,” or made fun of (lovingly, of course), by his viewers, especially since his actress impersonations are in themselves "dogshows" as well.

Right now, AC tells me he’s more than happy producing more of his unauthorized Rusicals. He had taken an interest in acting, even planning to take some acting workshops since it may prove helpful when he begins directing. He also enjoys conceptualizing and studying the characters, a creative outlet where he no longer needs to “dig into my heartaches.” And, simply, he wishes to highlight the many talented Filipino actors who are yet to receive their due. He comes from a place of pure adoration: just recently, he dressed as Iza Calzado’s Amihan from “Encantadia” for his first Pride march, a moment he says he was “super proud” of.

“Si Sang’gre Amihan ang naging ‘closet’ ko nung baby beks pa ako,” he wrote on Instagram. “Nagpabili ako ng espada noon sa Tatay ko at natuwa sya na, shet, gusto ng anak ko ng espada, lalaki sya! Hindi niya lang alam kaputukan ng ‘Encantadia’ noon at sa isip ko ako si Amihan.”

In our call, AC did talk a bit about his next muse — I’m (selfishly) choosing not to divulge to keep the surprise factor — and I kept remembering a small moment from his latest (90-minute!) vlog, where he interspersed old clips, one of which is dated December 20, 2012. “Lahat naman tayo may gusto pang gawin, end of the world agad?!” a teenage AC said, alluding to the alleged doomsday the following day. I remember Facebook posts declaring, “Papunta pa lang tayo sa exciting part” every time the headlines got a little too apocalyptic. I remember laughing. The pessimist in me wants to say this is us laughing all the way to the end of the world, but in front of me, AC is describing the costumes for his next Rusical, and I feel excited. Maybe pessimism can wait.