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Colombian Culture: Comedy

Considering the level of chaos in Colombia’s history, it would have been impossible for Colombians not to have a sense of humor, but it was not until the arrival of TV in the1950s that a distinctly Colombian comedy came into being. Shows such as “Yo y Tú” and later “Don Chinche,” used family life as a starting point for satirical barbs aimed at local culture and politics, often burlesquing regional dialects and attitudes.

One innovative program, “Sábados Felices,” (“Happy Saturdays”) offered a showcase for comics from all over Colombia, along with sketches poking fun at politicians and celebrities. A show called “No Me Lo Cambie” (“Don’t Change the Channel on Me”) integrated bits from European and American shows along with “Candid Camera”-style practical jokes.

In the 1990s, Jaime Garzón initiated a more sophisticated style of political comedy, combining an opinionated acuity, often at the expense of the government, with a theatrical flair for parodying people from all walks of Colombian life. Unfortunately, his open partisanship played a hand in his death when he was assassinated on August 13,1999, reportedly by right-wing paramilitaries. This had the effect since of inhibiting overtly critical comedy in Colombia.

Still, political comedy, as long as it was impartial, continued and in radio. Crisanto Alfonso Vargas and Guillermo Díaz Salamanca became enormously successful with their gibes at the state and citizenry, with Salamanca lauded as the “man of a thousand voices” for his aptitude at imitating public figures in all spheres of prominence. Martín de Francisco and Santiago Moure, who began in TV and later moved on to radio, gained notoriety for pushing the boundaries of decorum in their humor.

In 2004 comic Jose Ordóñez occasioned a moment of national pride when he set the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest duration—65 hours—in telling continuous jokes. However, in the last decade, Colombia’s two most notable contributions to world humor have come in the form of another comic, Andrés López and a TV program, “Betty la Fea.”

The former popularized the American tradition of stand-up and monologue comedy and achieved international renown for his one-man show “The Ball of Letters,” a sardonic and observant take on generational and cultural divisions in Colombia. “Betty la Fea,” a comedy-drama about a homely but brainy administrative assistant at a fashion agency who gets her revenge against the more easily appreciated beauties in her midst by virtue of her I.Q. and work ethic, not only became a massive hit across Latin America, but inspired no less than thirteen remakes in as many countries, including Greece, Turkey, Russia, India, Israel and the United States, where it was known as “Ugly Betty.”

John Leguizamo is a well-known actor and comedian who was born in Bogotá and immigrated to the United States at the age of four. His monologues and shows have poked fun at both Latino culture in the United States as well as popular stereotypes about Hispanics.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Colombian Culture: An Introduction, Colombian Culture: Cinema, Colombian Culture: Museums, Cumbia, Colombian Culture: Dance, Colombian Culture: Music, Colombian Culture: Art, Shakira, Colombian Culture: Theater and Colombian Culture: Literature.

By Ricardo Segreda
Growing up in New York, Rick Segreda used to cut out of high school in order to hang out at the Museum of Modern Art and catch foreign-language...
27 Sep 2011

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