Photo: Ampli retrieved

Since 2008, El Chigüire Bipolar has been Venezuela’s foremost source of political and current-events satire. A parody news website on the mold of The Onion, its over-the-top stories (such as “Lady From El Cafetal Marries Marco Rubio Tweet,” or “Young Man Gets Passport After Using Liam Neeson as a Fixer”) can get mistaken for over-the-top or real-life news. One was even used as reference in a pro-government school history textbook.

Now Plop Contenido, the crew behind El Chigüire, has started a new project named Ampli, in which they stop being funny by reporting made-up news, and start being funny by reporting real news.

El Chigüire, has started a new project named Ampli, in which they stop being funny by reporting made-up news, and start being funny by reporting real news.

In its first three-part story, Ampli covers the Lavajato scandal, where a Brazilian car wash company was used to launder ill-gotten money linked to construction conglomerate Oderbrecht, revealing a web of corruption spanning the entire continent. Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela particularly stand out among the countries involved.

“After doing political satire for over 11 years, and being on good terms with many journalist friends, we decided to take the first step closer to serious narratives and investigative journalism, while maintaining our personality,” says Juan Andrés Ravell, Creative VP of Plop Contenido, adding that “Maybe getting older is what drives us to try new things.”

Ravell, son of Globovisión’s co-founder Alberto Federico Ravell, is no stranger to the media. He’s the executive producer of Ampli and also one of its writers, along with comedians Jesús Roldán and Víctor Medina (better known as Nanutria).

One of the things that really make Ampli stand out is the fact-checking and research work, here credited to Romina Mella of Peru’s IDL-Reporteros. There’s also the director of Univisión’s investigative department Gerardo Reyes, and journalists like Mexico’s Ignacio Rodríguez-Reyna and Alejandra Xunic, Colombia’s María Jimena Duzán, and the Peruvian legend Gustavo Gorriti, who’s also director of IDL-Reporteros.

Another asset on the Ampli team, is production by Johanna El Zelah with extensive, diverse, and fluid animations that make some of the most intricate details easy to follow. Between María Isabel Quiroz’s art direction, animation by Marieven Artigas, and editing by Clara Gónzalez, it’s all elevated from the usual talking heads interrupted every now and then by visuals.

A new path for journalism in Spanish

“Political satire has always existed and also the hunger for it,” comments Ravell, when asked about the rise of content mixing real news and comedy. In Europe, publications like Britain’s Private Eye and France’s Le Canard Enchainé have offered a mix of serious journalism and hard-biting satire for decades. In the U.S., The Daily Show, Full Frontal and Last Week Tonight are ostensibly comedic while interviewing presidential candidates and visiting Kurdistan.

For Ravell, this is a medium with lots of potential that has yet to be explored in the Spanish-speaking world. “When it comes to mixing humor, information, and entertainment in an audiovisual format, Latin America is still very much virgin territory. In a different format, such as illustration, Pictoline has been, to me, the most successful.”

A quick scan on YouTube reveals a video trend of humor, information, and entertainment wrapped in sleek visuals coming not only from media outlets that were born and bred online, like Vox and Huffington Post, but also from highly respected, centennial paper-and-ink landmarks like The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal.

“Political satire has always existed and also the hunger for it,” comments Ravell, when asked about the rise of content mixing real news and comedy.

This isn’t the first time Plop Contenido has experimented going from funny fake news to funny real news; in the past, they’ve produced Pero Tenemos Patria and, most notably, The Daily Show-inspired Noticiero Semanal, hosted by comedian José Rafael Briceño, available on the streaming service VivoPlay.

“A lot of joint work with investigative teams across the region is coming, such as what we did with IDL-Reporteros from Peru,” adds Ravell, highlighting the importance of serious research, in contrast with Plop Contenido’s previous works. “Audiences today demand a certain type of content; there’s a more democratic production and consumption since it’s not financed by brands or supported by the state. The relation between content and audience is closer.”

At the moment, Ampli shows a promising start with its work on the Lavajato scandal. Their most watched video at the moment has over 12 thousand views. But the vital question to Ravell and the rest of the Plop Contenido crew is where to go from here.

“Video series as ambitious as Lavajato, but simpler ones too, more segments. We won’t limit ourselves to just video or social media, that’s what I can say for now.”

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Freelance journalist, speculative fiction writer, college professor, political junkie, lover of books and movies and, semi-professional dilettante. José has written for NPR's Latino USA, Americas Quarterly, Into and ViceVersa Magazine.