Ai-Ai delas Alas laughs easily. Whether talking about her sosyal house, or about the prospect of putting up a rolling store in the exclusive subdivision where she lives, the 43-year-old comedienne punctuates her sentences with chuckles and guffaws, along with gay lingo.
She gives off happy vibes even when she's talking about her not-so-happy childhood. "Adopted ako," she casually reveals. "Seven kaming magkakapatid. Ang nanay at tatay ko, nasa probinsiya. Yong auntie ko na nag-ampon sa akin—nakapag-aral siya dito sa Manila. Geodetic engineer siya."
The auntie, Justa delas Alas, is the spinster sister of Ai-Ai's biological father. Ai-Ai calls her Nanay.
The kind-hearted aunt also took in some of Ai-Ai's other siblings. "Ang tatay ko, parati niyang 'binibigay sa kanya 'yong mga anak niya. Mga kapatid ko, do'n sa kanya pinapalaki, kasi siya nga 'yong nandito sa Manila."
Ai-Ai was seven when she learned that she was adopted. She blames her mother's officemates—"mga atrebidang kaopisina ng nanay ko.
"One day, they asked the little girl, addressing her by her name at birth: "Aileen, sino'ng nanay mo?" Naturally, Ai-Ai pointed to her Nanay Justa. The officemates shot back: "E, hindi 'yan ang nanay mo! Ampon ka lang. Hindi 'yan ang nanay mo."
The seven-year-old's reaction to the cruel truth was to be expected. "Siyempre, cry," Ai-Ai recalls. Her Nanay Justa subsequently told her who her real mother was.
Still, among the delas Alas siblings, Ai-Ai is the most special: she was the only one legally adopted by Justa delas Alas. Her aunt did this to stop Ai-Ai's biological father from engaging in his favorite "hobby."
"Ang tatay ko, pag nakrung-krung, pinapag-asawa ang mga kapatid ko. Nag-freak-out 'yong Auntie ko. Kaya in-adopt ako legally. So, ako lang 'yong may papers talaga na anak niya akong totoo. Nasa papel. Kasi, baka getching naman ako ni Fader. '0, mag-asawa na 'yan, churva.'"
SPOILED KID. Because she was the only one legally adopted among the children that her Nanay Justa cared for, Ai-Ai got special treatment. An older sister once told her: "Ikaw, sa private school. Kami, sa public lang. Ikaw, may debut. Kami, wala."
Says Ai-Ai: "In fairness naman, inano ako ng Nanay ko—inispoiled niya ako."
In spite of the spoiling, there were moments of loneliness for Ai-Ai.
"May certain sadness talaga ako pag umuulan, pag Pasko. Kasi ang Nanay ko, busy rin siya—so iniiwan niya ako sa kapitbahay na pinsan ko. So, parati na lang, pag nagigising ako na umuulan, naaalala ko Nanay ko, umiiyak ako. Kasi, kung minsan, pag Pasko nakadestino ang Nanay ko. Wala akong kasama. Nalulungkot ako pag Christmas. Umiiyak ako parati."
Apparently making up for her past loneliness, Ai-Ai now takes pains to make her own household happier, especially during Christmas. "Pag Pasko, pinakamasaya nang araw sa mga anak ko, kasi ginagawa ko talagang masaya."
She also makes sure that her Nanay Justa is with her on Christmas Day. "Dito siya nagkri-Christmas. Inaaway ko siya pag hindi, pag nagii-enarts."
Ai-Ai holds no grudges against her biological parents, Rosendo delas Alas and Gloria Hernandez. She even gives them financial support. "Oo, supported by the masses 'yan. Oo, meron silang support by the daughter. Mader, Fader, sisterlet, slightly ang mga brothers."
What she claims to be a little pissed about is that she looks like the man she refers to as "Fader."
"Ang haba ng mukha ng tatay ko!" she groans. "Pero kung kamukha ko nanay ko, bold star ako ngayon. Ang Hit ng mukha ng nanay ko, e. Bilugan na mestisa. Ang mga kuya ko ang kahawig ko, kasi para akong lalaki."
It's now her turn to ask YES!: "Hindi kaya ampon ako ng nanay [Gloria] ko?"
But she was already adopted by Justa, right? She quips: "Twice ampon. Parang lechon—twice cooked. Di ha, merong gano'n?"
FRUSTRATED STEWARDESS. You really have to be a killjoy not to laugh when Ai-Ai is around. Her hirits and punch lines come effortlessly. She's a natural comedian, but this is something she became aware of only later in life. She was not fully aware of her special talent even when classmates at the Far Eastern University—where she was taking up mass communication, and where she became a big campus personality—gave her comic roles.
"Hindi ko alam, kasi feeling ko nga, maganda ako, di ha? Gusto ko nga, stewardess ako, e. "Tapos, having may play kami, pag comedy, pucha, ako ang 'sinasabak nila. Mga tao naman, tumatawa. Weird. Nakakatawa pala ako, pero hindi ko pa rin nari-realize. Hindi ko kinakarir."
Her perception of her own capabilities changed when she started performing in sing-along bars, where the audience, no longer composed of just students and teachers, were used to watching standup comics onstage. When she saw her audience rolling in the aisles, questions started going around in her head: "Grabe, nakakatawa ba ako? Bakit kaya ako nakakatawa?"
She found answers to her own questions: "Pag pinapanood ko sarili ko, 'A, kasi kuba ako, kasi oo nga nakakatawa nga ako.' Saka ko lang natanggap. Tinigil ko na 'yong ilusyon na magiging stewardess ako."
Not that she gave up her dreams of being a flight attendant without a fight.
"Nag-try ako sa Cathay at saka sa PAL. Siyempre: 'We regret to inform you that your application....'"
She says ruefully: "Ewan ko, siguro hindi ako kagandahan. 'Tapos, maliit ako. Kasi, uso noong '80s, matatangkad."
Although she never got to achieve her dream, she's grateful for what she later became. Today, she is the only female superstar in a showbiz niche dominated by male comedians. Her 18 years in the business have been marked by hard work and a little bit of divine intervention. She believes that career longevity is the true test of a star's popularity.
"Alam mo, doon mo lang mati-test ang artista—'yong ma-sustain mo lang 'yong popularity mo. Pag may anniversary 'yong mga artista, dapat nirirespeto 'yong gano'n. Kasi mahirap 'yong gawin, mahirap bunuin."
To celebrate her success, this early she's already preparing for her 20th year in show business, which she plans to celebrate with a concert at The Fort.
"Beyonce ang dating. Sorry! Alam mo, kahit kalahati lang no'n. Doon talaga ako magko-concert. Siyempre, bakit ang foreign artist nga, nakakapag-ano. Ako, Pinoy ako."
Jesting, she turns her invitation into a threat: "Puntahan n'yo ako doon! Kung hindi..."