For Hawaii football player Tuinei, it is a laughing matter

For Hawaii football player Tumua Tuinei, the toughest venue is not Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium or Michigan’s Big House.

It is in his family’s living room in Honolulu, where Tuinei, a rising comedian, tries out new material.

“My mom laughs at whatever I say, so I usually test a new joke on my dad,” Tuinei said.

Tuinei’s father — Tom Tuinei — was one of the fiercest defensive linemen to play for the Rainbow Warriors. Tom Tuinei, it has been said, could make an onion cry.

“If you can make him laugh, it’s a good joke,” Tumua Tuinei said. “He’s a tough audience. He knows what’s funny.”

Tuinei has been making a lot of people laugh since taking Nick Murray’s stand-up class at UH two years ago. Tuinei has been on the card of several comedy shows.

On Thursday, he will perform as part of the “Hawaii Comedy Showcase” at Blue Note Hawaii. Andy Bumatai is the featured comedian for the event that also includes James Mane and Daryl Bonilla.

On Jan. 11, Tuinei will be the headline performer for a show at Hawaiian Brian’s.

“I’m excited,” Tuinei said. “It’ll be my first time headlining.”

For previous gigs, Tuinei did sets between 15 and 20 minutes.

“This time, I’m trying to do 45 minutes to an hour,” he said.

Tuinei made his debut after cold-calling comedian Augie Tulba. Tulba said he would open a spot in one of his shows as long as Tuinei’s material was “clean.” Tuinei agreed.

Tulba said he gave Tuinei the “keys and a platform. The rest was up to him.”

On stage, Tuinei was an assassin. In industry parlance, he “killed it,” with observations stemming from being a half-Samoan football player with a 5-foot-9 build.

“His dad being a big guy (6-4) and him not getting the height, that’s kind of funny already,” Tulba said. “Tumua is a good guy. And he’s funny.”

Tuinei said he emphasizes local humor, but also tries to make his act inclusive to mainland visitors.

“It’s better to expand because you don’t know who your audience will be,” Tuinei said. “Sometimes I’ll perform in front of (visitors) and they don’t get the local jokes. I think everyone will get the local jokes as long as I explain the premise and I explain (the joke) to them.”

There also were silent nights.

“It’s all the process of growing,” Tuinei said of audiences with calcium-deficient funny bones. “When I first started, there were a few nights when I didn’t do as well as I expected. It’s all part of the process. I play off that, and get better each time.”

One performance caused pre-routine jitters. He was asked to perform at the Rainbow Warriors’ awards banquet last year. By the end of the routine, the Warriors were LMAO-ing.

“It was one of my favorite ones because I was able to perform in front of the team,” Tuinei said.

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