Image: ModoGráfico

“Let’s see, how do we make things funny?”

That’s a question all comedians ask themselves. But a Venezuelan comedian needs to ask himself another question: how do we keep making things funny?

Venezuela is flooded with bad and sad news. Everywhere we look, we see migrants on foot, testimonies of hunger, suicides, or something even worse: Maduro making decisions. Entertainment spaces like social media, are no longer places to relax. Twitter is a pharmacy, Instagram and Facebook are catalogs of gofundmes for people with diseases, and WhatsApp is your tía’s hallway for rumors and cadenas that result in anxiety and despair.

A comedian has to make people laugh within that context. It’s not difficult, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a delicate matter indeed.

A comedian has to make people laugh within that context. It’s not difficult, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a delicate matter indeed.

Last week, firemen Carlos Varón and Ricardo Prieto were imprisoned in Mérida for mocking Nicolás Maduro. They could face up to 20 years in prison for inciting hate after comparing “His Majesty” to a donkey. This is absurd and sad news, but that doesn’t make it any less real. It makes us feel we live in a spine-chilling comedy. How’s a comedian supposed to make people laugh, if the news are sad, scary jokes?

Humor is a defensive process that keeps us from suffering, psychologists say. It can contribute to our physical and mental health and help us adapt to life’s challenges. If we can’t change a situation that produces pain, we can always change our attitude towards disgrace. Famous psychiatrist Viktor Frankl says: “Humor is one of the soul’s weapons in search for its survival; it gives it a proper distance toward its own suffering”. This comes from a man who survived the Holocaust and repeatedly faced humiliation.

Does this mean that our sense of humor helps us adapt because Venezuelans can’t take anything seriously?

Does this mean that Venezuelan sense of humor, the chalequeo and mamadera de gallo, help us adapt to the generalized collapse and growing crisis because Venezuelans can’t take anything seriously? It could, if this great political weapon backfires. But it could also help us conquer freedom, if we use it properly.

According to Freud, “Humor is not resigned, it’s rebellious”, and Hannah Arendt thinks the same way. She argues laughter is subversive and it’s “the best way to undermine authority”. Other psychologists say humor against oppressive men is a way to preserve the moral cohesion of the group, a sense of hope and self-respect. Powerful men know this, and they don’t find it funny at all. They understand the political power laughter represents.

Laughter is a liberating emotion. It releases endorphins, the neurotransmitter of pleasure, and decreases cortisol, the hormone of stress. When we laugh, we feel good. It’s an indisputable threat to an illegitimate government that knows his power relies on fear. Maduro wants us to be scared of him. If we are, we’re easy to control. If we laugh at him, we despise his questioned “authority” and overcome fear.

This means those two firemen did a better job making Maduro a less powerful man than the Asamblea Nacional declaring he abandoned his post.

Maduro wants us to be scared of him. If we are, we’re easy to control. If we laugh at him, we despise his questioned “authority” and overcome fear.

Laughter can make society bond through its feelings against illegitimate power, if the joke points it in that direction. It’s known that anger and outrage are big emotions that fuel political movements and change. But can humor mobilize us politically? Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson says that positive emotions like laughter and hilarity can “amplify the individual’s focus of attention, allowing a more flexible and creative way to resolve conflict”. So yes, humor can help us change, but only if we build a political discourse around it.

Think of Nanette, the Hannah Gadsby Netflix stand-up comedy special, which is a political statement on feminism and social justice. She says “laughter is not our medicine, stories hold our cure”, and I think she’s right. In that special, she mocks her lesbian looks as she admits she’s quitting comedy because she’s tired of humiliating herself in order to make people laugh. In the end, she reveals her rape story and her criminalization for being gay in her conservative hometown in Tasmania.  

This special caused such a revolt, that she decided not to quit comedy. She earned a bigger audience and increased the focus towards a political movement. That’s no joke.

To be fair, her comedy special is not that funny. Netflix set us up. It’s not a comedy special, but a political one. She uses humor to communicate her ideas better, but the whole point of her speech is to move people. Conmoción is the word I’m looking for. The etymology of commotion in Spanish has two levels: on an individual level, it means to cause deep and strong feelings, but on a social level it suggests political activities: agitation, violent movement, to disturb, to move, to stir up.

All this means a good political joke is one that reveals the indignity of the object of the joke; and a great political joke is one that reinforces our anger at the object of the joke. Political humor needs to take itself seriously.

A good political joke is one that reveals the indignity of the object of the joke; a great political joke is one that reinforces our anger at the object of the joke.

As writer Malcolm Gladwell points out, “Satire works best when the satirist has the courage to go beyond the joke”. A good example of this: Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and his final speech.

How can humor help us do politics in our funny but sad country, where we laugh so we don’t cry? We need political speeches that move us and make us feel solidarity towards people’s suffering, but we also need a good sense of humor to defend our psyche from state terrorism. But, could politicians start doing politics through humor? Are the diputados going to welcome a donkey to the National Assembly on January 2019 to hear his annual Memoria y Cuenta?

Beware, diputados: don’t actually do it! And SEBIN: please, it’s just a joke.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.

51 COMMENTS

  1. I think anyone with access to a donkey or a burro or a mule (never was much good at telling them apart) should go out right now and make a stupid “funny” video right now. In fact, I’m out, I think there is a tired old mule tied up on the corner, gonna go do my part right now. Can’t get us all!

    • Make sure you put a “Pancho Villa” mustache upon Sr. Burro… don’t forget the Tommy Devito (Joe Pesci, Goodfellas) wig!

    • Burro and donkey are the same. A mule is the offspring of a male burro and a female horse, typically sterile. Here they’re called mulas.

      • Always sterile…. though according to Wikipedia… there have been about 60 “known” births from female mules. since 1527. “Nature finds a way”

        Male donkey/ass is a jack. Hence “jackass”, aka the Maburro.

  2. This is silly.

    Nobody is going to start a rebellion because of a pair of comics were jailed.

    If people won’t start a rebellion because of lack of food and water, what makes you think a pair if firefighters are going to make such a movement possible?

    VZ gas much much farther to fall, sadly. Rock bottom is still miles off in the distance.

    • Mitch. You never know when a spark will light the fuse. Stranger things have started big events and when things boil over governments that are fundamentally weak do fall. Don’t be so cynical. At least Ricardo offers hope.

    • This is not the time in Venezuela’s history for a revolution regardless of the circumstances or provocations. No cultural force exists in Vz to turn back the emergent political form, which is mob rule. Those who do not heed the warnings of anacyclosis will increase their sufferings.

        • I sound like someone who learned the lesson of 2,500 years of history; you don’t. If you understood even the rudiments of anacyclosis, you would know that mob rule follows chavismo (and all forms of marxism) and you would understand the warning is against chavismo. And then you might even be able to draw the slight inference that waiting for a revolution is futile. Too bad you are not capable of accepting gentle schooling.

          But, maybe you know better than recorded empirical history (HAW!); Marx also thought he knew better.

          • Poland was not mob rule. Nor East Germany. I’m not saying they were smooth transitions. They were much better positioned than current day Venezuela. There are however things that can be done to mitigate the violence. Resigning to mob rule is a cop out.

  3. Not much room for laughter, unless you’re one of the Hundreds of Thousands of top Enchufados, is there? Those keep laughing out loud, wijkisito en mano, all the way to the bank. Or perhaps a few scattered jokes, if you’re among the Millions of average Chavistoide pueblo-leeches, kooked-up on the Narco-Regime’s direct Payroll, with regular Clapcrap food bags plus added benefits. (Aka. “Hunsionario Publico, mi pana, en la nomina y con calne de la patria”).

    The jokes must really be great in Cuba, Russia and China! About their large Kleptozuelan tropical colony in the 5th world, full of corrupt, clueless indians, loaded with oil and minerals, plus cheap, exotic ladies to entertain.. (“Cuban Mision Cerro-Adentro” and Chinese luxurious “Medical Ship”) . Putin must be cracking up, almost shitting his pants: “Right under Trumps nose, in his own backyard! Ha, ha, ha!”..

  4. There may have been the start of a revolt if all of the firemen in the country walked off their jobs in support of their jailed brothers.
    Then the people started torching the homes of all of the regimes supporters.
    If the national guard and police are sent to protect the homes of the regimes elite, torch the homes of the police and the national guard.
    What will happen when the national guardsmen fear leaving their homes? When the oppressors fear for their lives this regime will fall from power.
    People that have read my opinions know that I am having a very hard time understanding the Venezuelan culture. The passive obedience to this regime while children are dying is beyond my comprehension.
    The fear of the regime may not be the main reason that no organized rebellion has begun. It is possible that people fear a result similar to Oscar Perez. The fear that nobody else will join the rebellion.
    Is Venezuelan society so derelict that the men see no personal duty to their families, their neighbors and their country?

  5. “Is Venezuelan society so derelict that the men see no personal duty to their families, their neighbors and their country?”

    At least in rural Venezuela, most men have children with 5, 6, or 7 women and claim none of them. Perhaps that’s at the root of this? Dunno.

    Talked to a guy the other day, local owner of the only remaining hardware shop in town, which is now closing down btw, and he told me he had 40 brothers and sisters. 40.

    • Hi MR
      How are things ? How is Crystal doing?
      I just put a You Tube link on your comment about the mining. I think it is the one you were mentioning with the collapse and tsunami. It seems impossible that everyone could have survived.
      As for my remarks about Venezuelan society. I simply can’t understand it.
      The most basic animal instinct throughout the natural world is to protect offspring. Almost all of the families that I have been trying to help are single parent households and always it is the mothers. It is like the fathers have vanished.
      I sent Waltz and you a quick message a couple weeks ago. His e-mail will be in the address info.

    • We had one driver, Guillermo, who trucked all over Venezuela taking the goods we made.

      One Christmas, all 27 of his kids showed up, along with the 10 or so moms, to collect his “Utilidades y Vacaciones”.

      Guy was uglier than an old barn door, but I guess he was a smooth talker…..

    • My wife grew up in a “traditional” Venezuelan family with five kids, her mother was married once, and only the last two were from her husband. Impregnated at 15 by a smooth talker who dumped her and disappeared the minute she said she might be pregnant (with my future wife). Two more before she got married at 20 to a hard drinking womanizer who agreed to marry her if she made herself seen and not heard. He had at least 6 other kids from various women that we knew of. Probably more.

      Her saving grace were two maternal uncles who sent her to private school and then to college in the USA, breaking the cycle.

  6. John, Crystal had another setback, another surgery, but is still hanging in there. They’re in Caracas tonight.

    She, her parents, and her siblings are due to fly to Spain on 11 November. There they have her scheduled to transplant a kidney from her mother, part of her mother’s intestines, and part of her liver as well. I don’t know how the child bounces back time after time. She’s got far more strength than I ever had.

    Haven’t seen a message from waltz, but then, I’ve probably not opened yahoo since you sent him the info. I’ll try again later tonight. I’m also going to open a gmail account and communicate with him via that means.

    Thanks again for all you do. You’re a saint. BTW, I’ve now eaten okra using every recipe known to man. LOL. Those plants really produce. We’re giving okra to clients here at the bodega for them to try because most of them have never seen it.

    • My daughters and I have been keeping Crystal in our prayers. I do hope the transplant is the beginning of a happy normal life for her and her family.
      Crosman’s has a loyal following that claims their varieties yield heavily.
      I’m glad that the plants like your climate.
      We planted some of the same sweet corn that I sent you. I noticed a bunch of corn germinated in the compost. It is corn that is still on the cob that ended up in the compost. If we weren’t at the end of our season, I would keep it going just to see if it produces a decent ear.
      I have written the company to see if they would be interested in selling their unsold seeds to me again.
      My sister is driving to Florida in November so the timing works about the same as last year if I can get them.
      Best of luck to everyone, especially Crystal.

  7. MRubio, have you ever eaten “poke salad”? I really like it cooked in scrambled eggs. I would think it would grow well in your warm, humid climate. I know it thrives in southern U.S. I have no idea if seeds are available from seed companies.

    • “Poke Salad Annie”, Tony Joe White, also great version by Elvis, Las Vegas return to stage from film hiatus, early 1970’s–ALL TIME GREAT Southern tune (for those from/lived in/love the South)–don’t miss it on You Tube. Believe salad greens have to be cooked just right not to be poisonous–don’t want to get rid of MR before Chavismo gives him his day in court (NOT, hopefully).

      • Net, yes you only cook leaves from young green tender plants. If the stalk has started turning purple you do not pick leaves from that plant. Baby boomers in the south know about poke salad but gen X not so much and millennials have no clue. Lol

        Yes, I remember the song well and when you mentioned it I had to give it a quick listen in youtube. Still a good song!

  8. Ricardo, El del Bufalo, believe your commenting on humor being effective with this Regime is with tongue-in-cheek, as per your last sentence above; if not, as you may know, “wit is the surest sign of wisdom”, the latter which the Regime wants none of, and could get you at least 20 years hard time, although you might be able to skip town first and join Nina (Rancel) in Bogota doing stand-up salacious shtick.

  9. I used to come to Caracas Chronicles for good analysis… now (for at least a year) it’s been just random opinion pieces that go nowhere. I wonder if they are keeping all the good stuff for that paid political risk report.

    • You have a problem with them making money?

      Should they not be compensated for you know, being reporters and such?

      Or is it your position that they donate their hard work to you because what, you’re awesome?

      This started as a one man blog, then Nagel joined Quico. For YEARS they gave us all they knew for free.

      Now they hired staff, which needs to be paid, and quite frankly, so should the Editor.

      It’s pretty simple. You come here and read. Don’t find what you’re looking for, keep looking elsewhere.

      How bout you give us readers your work output for free? How’s that sound?

      • Or, at least contribute with constructive comments….This is a Community affair, very informative, and most (exceptions, La Pure Merde, et.al.) are happy here.

  10. They could face up to 20 years in prison for inciting hate after comparing “His Majesty” to a donkey.
    ——

    His majesty is sin ropa.

  11. Net, yes you only cook leaves from young green tender plants. If the stalk has started turning purple you do not pick leaves from that plant. Baby boomers in the south know about poke salad but gen X not so much and millennials have no clue. Lol

    Yes, I remember the song well and when you mentioned it I had to give it a quick listen in youtube. Still a good song!

    • Tom, do you live up near Uncle Slayton’s place in SE Oklahoma? (“Choctaw Bingo”, James McMurtry–another ALL TIME 16-wheeler Favorite)–he might need help somex with the cooking….

      • Net,. Lol…no I don’t live in SE Oklahoma ( known as little Dixie) but I think I may know a couple of the people mentioned in that song! Lol.

  12. Oh, how did I miss the little red bird that clearly is whispering into MasBurro’s ear? Could it be… the Spirit of Chavez?

    Best giggle of the day.

  13. What would spark the anger needed for the people to overcome their fear to the colectivos to crush their skulls with an iron pole?

    That someone claims that “poor maburrito is a stupid that doesn’t know what he’s doing”?

    Or “your kids (Relatives or you, whatever) are starving to DEATH in slow agony, all while maduro, diosdado and cilia LAUGH AT YOU WHILE THEY STEP ON YOU like a roach and they stuff their asses with prime-caliber beef?

    Do we need humor? Okay:

    “A colectivo went to a protest to score some kills and get his bonus, but as he arrived, a stone someone tossed from a house threw him off his bike, then 30 angry countrymen descended like hugry locusts on him and beat the living crap off him. The colectivo decided that he better worked elsewhere.”

    • The problem being, nobody wants to throw that first stone. Because they fear the 30 angry countrymen do not exist… that perhaps their neighbors are sympathetic to the colectivo cause. And the colectivos know this.

      Colectivos don’t exist outside of their own little barrios in the “normal” world. I remember some thug popping off after the Rodney King riots in Watts saying, “Next time, we be comin’ for the three B’s!” (Bel Air, Brentwood, Beverly Hills) Which was nothing but farce and bravado, since thugs are afraid to come out of the area they are familiar with (where they might find support) and they KNOW they will get DEAD quite quickly in the neighborhoods of the well-to-do.

      Want to keep the colectivos out? Kill a few. Its that simple.

      • ** “Because they fear the 30 angry countrymen do not exist…”

        And the “wait for elections, don’t step on the peines, don’t fall in provocations, ANYTHING that’s not an election will make chaviztas angry and they’ll KILL you tomorrow!” propaganda the mud (aka official opposition) has forced down everybody’s throats for 20 years.

        ** “that perhaps their neighbors are sympathetic to the colectivo cause”

        Actually, in 2017 I know of several cases where sapos were promptly purged from communities.

        With fire (On their houses, okay, but it’s a start)

        ** “And the colectivos know this.”

        The colectivos know that people has been conditioned ala Pavlov to NOT TO DEFEND THEIR LIVES, because that’s what the “pacifist” propaganda from the mud has done to the collective mindset of the people in the country.

        ** “Want to keep the colectivos out? Kill a few. Its that simple”

        And film it, taking care that everybody’s faces are conveniently covered with hoods.

        Like the Joker said: “What matters is to send the message.”

      • “The problem being, nobody wants to throw that first stone.”

        And that’s why you need to stoke the anger and hatred against the oppressors.

        As long as the anger doesn’t surpass the fear, chavizmo (and by extension the cubans) have won.

        Yes, AS LONG AS.

  14. I’ve been calling him “MaBurro” for a few years now…. I think the situation calls for everyone to refer to him that way 🙂

  15. Nothing will cause a rebellion in Venezuela. Those bastards are so empty-head, brain-washed, chickens, cowards, etc. They like it. Are Venezuelans so illogical and irracional? No, they like it.

  16. Divorce,drama, loss of a job, health problems about
    yourself or someone you worry about – these items
    happen. Would it mean gaining or shedding pounds and after that being more active,
    physically or socially. Each day, set goals for your sorts of
    foods you’ll stick to as well as any exercise you could incorporate in your routine.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here