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Jun Urbano: Mr. Shooli, a plate of peanuts, and the lost art of satire

By Mike Diez Published Sep 19, 2023 5:15 pm

Most Filipinos know Jun Urbano as his famous alter-ego Mr. Shooli. The self-styled Mongolian character that he created in the late 1980s rose to fame for his satirical take on Philippine politics and Filipino culture.  

Yet many may not know that Urbano has also helped define a generation through classic commercials that he directed in the late 1970s through the early 1980s. 

Among that body of work was a series for a local beer. It includes an unforgettable tag that would make people of that generation suddenly become sentimental: “isang platitong mani.”

In all, Urbano directed over 2,000 commercials during that period. 

“Basically, I am a director,” Urbano tells PhilSTAR L!fe. “I have been directing commercials for 35 years (at that point). Some movies also. When I turned 50, I tried acting as Mr. Shooli, and I liked it also.” 

When Mongolian Barbecue ended, Urbano acted in various films and television series. He appeared in episodes of ABS-CBN’s Ang Probinsyano. He last became part of the movie Magikland, which was released in 2020. 

At 84 years old, Urbano is now mostly confined to his home. This October, he will be given the Gawad Plaridel Award by the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Mass Communication for his contributions to the media industry. 

Urbano says that he will not be attending the event.

“Papupuntahin ko si Mr. Shooli,” he jokes.

Jun Urbano as Mr. Shooli

Manuel Conde Jr.

Urbano was born Manuel Urbano Jr. His father was Manuel Urbano Sr., who is more famously known as the National Artist, Manuel Conde.

“Conde was a screen name,” Urbano recalls. 

“Siguro, my dad, during that time, probably thought hindi magandang tingnan yung Urbano sa theater marquee. Ginawa niyang Conde. Mas class ang dating.” 

When it was time to forge his own path, Urbano said he chose to go by the family’s original name so that he could make his own mark. 

It would have been difficult to escape his father’s shadow otherwise, as the National Artist named all his sons Manuel. He even named a daughter Manuela.

“I didn’t want to be compared to my dad,” Urbano expounds. 

“If I used his name and I amount to nothing, people will say ‘You didn’t become like your dad, you’re nothing.’ Kung umasenso naman ako, sabihin nila, 'Nadala lang ng pangalan ng tatay niya 'yan.'” 

Growing up with a creative father heavily influenced the young Urbano. At a young age, he was tapped by his dad to write and even direct some of his projects. He soon realized he was a natural at being creative. 

Nonetheless, he took up journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University. He said it was because he was unsure of himself at the time. 

“After high school, I didn’t know what I was good for. Eh sa college sa Ateneo, may kasabihan dun na ‘When in doubt, take journalism.’ So nag-journalism ako,” Urbano recalls.

“True enough, after we graduated, ini-scratch na nila 'yung journalism course. Pinag-graduate lang kami tapos inalis na,” he now laughs at the memory. 

Jun Urbano will be conferred the prestigious Gawad Plaridel for media excellence this October.

After graduating, he earnestly sought to become a reporter. But his first assignment gave him a rude awakening—so much so that he quit only after a few weeks. 

His editor then at The Manila Times assigned him to do an article about the prisoners in Manila City Jail. 

“Hindi naman kami mayaman, pero well-to-do naman kami. At Atenista ako. Pero pagdating ko sa city jail, amoy pawis, mainit… na-turn off ako,” Urbano smiles at the memory. 

He said he talked to his editor about it, saying arrogantly that he was from Ateneo and implied that the assignment was not to his taste.

“Sabi sa akin ‘I don’t care where you came from or where you studied. You have not done anything!’ Natauhan ako. Nawala 'yung yabang ko. Totoo 'yung sinabi niya eh,” Urbano says. 

Isang platitong mani 

After having flirted with becoming a journalist and failed, Urbano then pursued a career in directing commercials. This path allowed him to work with the great comedians of that era. Bert Marcelo, the cast of Bad Bananas, Subas Herrero, Noel Trinidad, and Rico J. Puno are just a few names Urbano directed during that era. 

“Lahat sila puro kulokoy, puro sira-ulo,” Urbano says, recalling the times he worked with these great talents. 

“Alam mong mga sira-ulo, pero 'yung ginagawa nila, tama. Tulad si Leo Martinez, sira-ulo yan pero maganda intention niya,” he adds. 

After establishing such a stellar reputation in the world of advertising, it would have been understandable for him to consider retirement then. For how many could boast of a body of work that, as impactful as they were then, would also become a touchstone for a whole generation of Filipinos?

Not Urbano. At the age of 50, he co-created the show Mongolian Barbecue. This is where his alter-ego would make his debut. At the time, the character was only known as “The Mongolian.” He was serendipitously named after appearing on a popular late-night talk show in the 1980s. 

“Nakumbida si Mongolian ni Edu Manzano dun sa kaniyang program na Not So Late Night with Edu,” Urbano recounts.

“During the show, natanong ni Edu, ‘Mr. Mongolian, may I have your name?’ Sinagot ko naman, ‘Surely!’ Tapos sabi niya, ‘Ah, Shooli, that’s your name!’” Urbano says, laughing at the memory of how his character was named. 

It was an instant hit. In its eight years of airing, Mongolian Barbecue won numerous awards from all the award-giving bodies there ever was in the Philippines. 

(left) Urbano wins Best Comedy Show for Mongolian Barbecue at the Catholic Mass Media in the '90s | (right) Urbano, as Mr. Shooli, bags the Dr. Jose Perez Memorial Award at the FAMAS Awards 2023

“Si Cardinal Sin minsan tatawag sa akin,” Urbano says, recalling how the former Cardinal would ask him for jokes whenever he is invited to a party.

“Bibigyan ko siya ng joke. Komedyante rin 'yung Cardinal eh.” 

On the lost art of satire

Mongolian Barbecue ended its run in the early 1990s after eight years of airing. Urbano would then be hired as an actor in different films and television series. He would be a recurring character in Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes’ fantasy movies, starting with Magic Temple in 1996. Now and then he would guest in various television series, most notably in Ang Probinsyano. 

But he would also try and revive Mr. Shooli at various points. In 2014, he was asked by cable channel GNN to go on-air as his alter-ego once more. Up until recently, Urbano would produce skits as Mr. Shooli for the online platform, YouTube. 

“Tinigil ko na. I just stopped recently,” Urbano says of his YouTube channel. 

“Maraming hindi nakakakuha ng satire, 'yung hindi na mag-read between the lines. Ako, hirap na hirap kasi kukuha ako ng isang important, serious subject matter. I-twist ko para magkaroon ng kaunting comedy. Nag-iisip pa ako kung paano gawin 'yun, pero itong si ganun, aba, nag-mura lang eh ang daming viewers! So tinigil ko na muna,” he laments. 

Mr. Shooli on YouTube

These days, he wants to produce his latest project, a film based on Alex Lacson’s best-selling Twelve (12) Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country. Lacson is a lawyer who tried to enter politics in 2010. 

“I hope to be able to do that. Dalawang storya 'yan eh. 'Yung isa, gusto ko sana (will be about) Elias, one of the characters of Noli Me Tangere.  Sayang, 84 na ako. Sana maging 94 pa ako, 104, para magawa ko lahat 'yan.” Urbano exclaims.

Nonetheless, Urbano says he feels happy that his career has made an impact on people. He adds that he really was not thinking about accolades when he was working. He was just doing what he loves doing.

“I feel so honored that somehow, I was able to make some people happy with what I’m doing. I didn’t know that it would have that effect with them. I was surprised, really.” 

“For a person who is now 84 years old and almost doing nothing, it’s such a great honor.” 

The U.P. Gawad Plaridel is the University of the Philippines’ highest award for outstanding practitioners known for their integrity and excellence in the different fields of media. It was named after Marcelo H. del Pilar, whose nom de plume is “Plaridel."

Jun Urbano will be feted the award for his social commentary as Mr. Shooli as well as his remarkable contributions to commercial advertising.  

He will be given the award on Oct. 11 at 2:00 p.m., at the UP Film Institute Film Centers Cine Adarna.