By Dorie Perez
Dr. Raquel García, a newly minted doctoral graduate visiting Merced from our sister UC campus, UC Davis, presented work that was part of her recent doctoral defense and long-standing research project. She writes about the political nature of Mexican comedy as something transgressive, a newly popular form of entertainment that comes to Mexico by way of the traditional North American comic’s role as entertainer-come-social commentator. Yet the tropes of stand-up comedy that many American audiences are familiar with – the Jerry Seinfeld-style routine of humorous critique offered up to a crowd looking for both commonality and shocking amusement- are new to Mexican audiences, even in the boundary-pushing performance arts community within Mexico’s cosmopolitan districts. It is a testament to cultural diffusion and the growing space for social critique in a country with strict rules about private and public spheres that stand-up’s popularity as a medium is growing.
García identifies several key elements at play in her analysis. García discusses the role of performance as its own manifestation of transgression from socially-accepted norms in Mexican society. The play-acting, the “just kidding!” qualifiers that comedians add to their politically astute analysis of historical inequities in Mexican society are indeed played for laughs, but their meaning is clear. A strong critique of the role of political and governmental corruption in everyday life, including the dominant power regimes of the narcotic-trafficking cartels that run great swaths of Mexico’s countryside are main targets, even as the comedians themselves equivocate their jokes as mere humor. Comedians Horacio Almada, Manuel Nava and Jürgen Scritto are included in García’s analysis, and her observation of their practice adds an ethnographic layer of analysis to the discourse they have created that reads as a new modality of resistance. All three comedians are centered in Mexico City, and they maintain a social media presence as a way to both reach out to transnational audiences and re-inscribe their work as social commentary meant for both the Twittersphere and the political landscape they live in as Mexican citizens.
In a heavily Catholic country, Almada’s humor that centers on the dogma of the Church and its frequent hypocrisies is a high wire act, yet the responsive nature of his audiences (seen as Youtube footage in García’s presentation) shows that he’s struck a vein of truth that many share and are even eager to have deconstructed. In a passionate fury, he acts out both the argument of the devoted and that of the priest admonishing his flock, asking about heaven and hell and wondering where he will go if he refuses to commit murder but misses Sunday mass. García includes this bit as a moment signifying the comic’s role as arbiter of truth, or rather, a shared frustration, that many social-media savvy, contemporary Mexicans enact within the confines of a more traditional society. Through comedy, García argues, the pressure valves of duty and propriety are released for both Mexican audiences and a socially-aware comic eager to showcase his vision of the world gone topsy-turvy.