Comedy works in mysterious ways, I always say. If you get the joke, it is because you recognize the reference to the phrase: "God works in mysterious ways." And not only do you know the reference but you also have a sense of humor. Maybe you associate the phrase with something that has happened to you, and this makes the joke personal. Comedy plays off the audience’s background, their experiences, what they know and believe.
A few weeks ago, at a stand-up comedy open mic night at a local bar, I realized I hadn't laughed so hard in months. Although I couldn’t remember most of the jokes afterward, I could still feel the relief from all the laughter. I really needed this. I started wondering if it was not just me who needed the laugh. Mexico is facing many crises: political instability, falling budgets, rising unemployment, and a brutal drug war. Comedy helps us to open up, relate to each other, and realize that we are not alone with our problems; sometimes it can even change our perspective on life. Comedy is a fundamental part of today's culture, for Mexico as much as any other country.
I asked fellow comedians for their opinion on the subject. Comedian Archie Balardi for example believes that Mexicans need comedy because laughter is one of the natural idiosyncrasies of Mexicans, like eating “chile” or drinking tequila. Laughter is an essential characteristic of all Mexicans.
According to Renato Guillen, stand-up is a style of comedy that aims to show the the absurdities of society and life. “We're not laughing at others. We're laughing at ourselves. If there is one country that needs to begin noticing the load of inconsistencies and ridiculousness in their society and history, it’s Mexico.” Hector Fernandez (a.k.a. Macario Brujo) adds that Mexico is going through one of the worst tragedies in its history. “Only when we awaken from the lethargy of this oppressive reality can we reassess laughter.” And Gonzalo Curiel kept it simple: “Mexico needs comedy because it is populated by human beings, and human beings enjoy laughter.”
We’ve had comedy for many years in Mexico, but standup comedy became popular only five years ago. We are only beginning to explore the possibilities of the medium, with help of the many upcoming comedians who are just starting their careers.
Mexico City’s Juan Carlos Escalante explains that people should support those who, in their ways, make an effort to give back to society. “Comedy is a form of expression that requires public acceptance in order to exist. We have nothing to lose when we support people who have sincerely dedicated their life to make an audience laugh."
Another well-known comedian, Alex Marin y Kall a.k.a. “Ese Wey,” commented: “I think the issue here is the delay we have in terms of cultural consumption and entertainment. Our entertainment industry, if you can even call it that, from the most basic performance practices to large productions of franchises like La Voz (The Voice) and others, is stuck in the “what people want" scheme. There is no space for experimenting. To me, stand-up comedy is freedom of speech at its finest. Within five years of promoting stand-up comedy in Mexico, many of us started writing for and appearing on television. I’m not saying we’re comedy heroes or anything. But appearing on television and working in the entertainment sector until recently was reserved for the few who knew the right people. Working on our comedy and presenting it every week has placed us in the spotlight where we deliver more than “plain old jokes.” We have created a scene that is starting to improve content and helping the entertainment sector in Mexico to really become an industry.”
“Perhaps the question is not only whether Mexico needs comedy, but rather what type of comedy Mexico needs,” says comedian Francisco Antillón. Double entendre jokes are very popular, but Mexicans generally have a sophisticated sense of humor. What works best onstage? Francisco explains that for years entertainment had been used as means of social control, with mostly mindless comedy (costumes and high-pitched voices—a farce, really) that served as a distraction more than a reflection on society. “New styles of comedy are needed to make the current situation of the country more understandable to people.”
Although stand-up comedy is trending, many Mexicans still don´t really understand the genre. That is one of the things we comedians struggle with the most. Another issue is censorship. When doing television, cuss words are not the only thing we have to avoid, there are many topics that are censored or edited in the final cut of the show. Politics, religion, and similar taboo jokes are often censored by the stations.
Comedian/Actress Nina Maher added on the subject, “Mexico makes fun of almost everything that happens in the country, whether it’s losing a soccer game, the death of an artist or new laws being approved by the senate. The only problem is: self-censorship has also become part of the Mexicans’ lifestyle. The government continues to approve laws that benefit only the wealthiest, smallest portion of the population and the average Mexican jokes about it instead of standing up for their rights.”
Comedians need to be willing to take risks; we need to be aware and willing to potentially offend someone in the audience. Mexico is a culturally diverse country. Not everybody likes soccer, not everybody watches TV all the time. Not everyone is comfortable with taboo topics lampooned on stage. Comedians build up their audience with their authentic comedic style. I personally don’t push the envelope often, it’s not my style, but I enjoy some comedians who do. What has worked for me are honest jokes that truly express how you feel about something; those are funniest, in my opinion. The audience in Mexico can sometimes become a tough crowd, but pushing the limits of what’s acceptable can make a difference. Comedians can help change people’s minds.
Comedian Dario Fimbres from Mexico City concludes “We need to laugh about our own pain, when we learn to laugh at ourselves, we can heal and realize: we’re safe, we’ve made it to the greener side of the fence” Mexico needs comedy because comedy is cathartic. As I spoke to the other comedians, they agree on one thing: we all need the relief of laughter in our lives. Mexico is no exception.
Comedy, Drugs, Mexico, Politics