Sharing Mana‘o

My mother instilled in me the belief that “whatever you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll be doing for the rest of the year.” If that’s true, I’ll be laughing my way through 2018. And counting my blessings.

Mom and I spent Monday morning at my cousin Betty’s home, enjoying a customary bowl of ozoni (mochi soup). As far back as I can remember, Mom’s family has gathered together to start the new year properly. We’d feast all day on the traditional foods prepared by Betty’s mother, Mom’s eldest sister. After Auntie Alice passed away, 16 years ago, Betty assumed the role. On the drive home, Mom and I reflected on how grateful we are for family and friends, for health and humor, and for Betty having inherited her mother’s generous nature and culinary prowess. Betty’s ozoni is even better than Auntie Alice’s.

That night, I attended Bill Maher’s seventh annual New Year’s Day comedy concert at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center with my virtual brother, Brian Kohne. Brian and I have spent much of the past decade collaborating on creative endeavors and crying on each other’s shoulders. We’re both comedic storytellers; he does it on film and digital media, I do it on stage and in writing. We share a deep appreciation for irreverent humor, so the Maher show is naturally a “must-do” buddy date.

As is his tradition, Maher brought along a couple of big-name guests. This year he shared the Castle Theater stage (and a Maui vacation) with Bob Saget and Reggie Brown, which made this the most eclectic edition yet. Maher, of course, is always Maher: an acerbic political commentator, delivering his observations and opinions with as much outrage as wit. Brown is the incredibly spot-on Barack Obama impersonator who not only bears an uncanny resemblance to our local boy former president, but perfectly mimics his voice and gestures. Of the three comedians, Saget is the only traditional stand-up performer, and he was in top form Monday night, dirty and disgusting and downright hilarious. His set was my favorite of the night, but not of the week.

Two nights before, I had the privilege of performing on that very same stage, opening for Howie Mandel. Having been a Howie fan since his early stand-up days, I knew he could be as raunchy as Saget, so I felt free to go a little blue in my own set. It wasn’t the first time I talked about sex as a widow and used profanity on stage, but it was definitely the largest audience to witness my naughty side. Even Tita got pretty nasty that night.

Howie loved it and told me so, even giving me a congratulatory hug after my set. If you know how severe a germophobe he is, you can imagine how stunned I was when he embraced me.

Brian accompanied me to the show as my cheerleader and calmer of nerves. Howie, too, had a best buddy visit backstage — comedian and producer Byron Allen. We got to chat for quite a while, and Brian and I were impressed with their graciousness and sincere manner of both men. Brian didn’t get a hug, though.

For me, even more gratifying than the Howie hug was the virtual embrace of the crowd. Maui audiences are notoriously warm and welcoming, and the folks in Castle Theater on Saturday night were the best ever. If you were there, I thank you for your love and laughter. Mahalo also to the MACC and to Howie for giving me this incredible opportunity.

Gratitude, laughter, love. I wish you the same in 2018. Happy New Year!

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is