The Viña del Mar Festival and the evolution of Chilean humor

VIÑA DEL MAR – The 60th Viña del Mar International Festival is now underway. The event focuses on music, but humor has become an increasingly important ingredient. Chilean humor has also evolved at the festival: social criticism and related issues have moved to center stage.

Year after year, the comedians are the ratings peaks for the Viña del Mar International Festival, and their routines – controversial in some cases – are the hottest media topics the day after.

This year, the comic programming of the festival was not without controversy: among the confirmed artists is Dino Gordillo, an “old school” comedian.

This brought a stir, because Gordillo said that he would continue in the usual vein and would touch the same issues that he has always treated in his routines, such as mothers-in-law.

An evolution of styles

Humor has become an essential part of the festival, generating discussion about the role comedians play; and the history of humor at Parque Quinta Vergara shows that comedy has evolved at the festival.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chilean comedy was full of the so-called “joke counters,” masters of fast quips and quick stories, jumping from one subject to another, and relying heavily on riffs about mothers-in-law, homosexuals, housewives, and “colitas” (either ponytails i.e., young girls, or gay boys in local parlance). Gordillo, Álvaro Salas, and Bombo Fica, among others, were the stars of the time, and a near certainty at the festival.

But the passage of time and shows such as El Club de la Comedia (The Comedy Club) have ushered in a new line of comedians, who focus their routines on the “stand-up comedy” format “imported” from the U.S.

Stand-up: the new leader at the festival

Thus, although it was not until 2014, when Argentinian Jorge Alís went up to the stage at Viña del Mar with a stand-up routine, that the festival’s course changed in this regard, today, the so-called “standaperos” are the entertainment force at the festival. This year, four of the six comedians at the festival are “standaperos.”

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It’s a matter of age

This change in comedy is not just presentional, but also generational. The younger comics pursue stand-up, while the older ones track the humorist “joke counters.”

Nicolás González, comedian and panelist of Maldito Día (Damned Day), a BigRadio’s program, spoke with Chile Today and said that although he believes that this presents a generational clash, “it is logical that one is going to have more affinity with someone who is the same age, because [of what you] as a comedian have experienced, therefore people close to your age feel more reflected.” At the same, González emphasized that it should not be like this, because “as comedians, [we] should make the routine as general as possible.”

Comedian Ja Ja Calderón, who has also performed at the festival, agrees and told Chile Today that “there is a tremendous generational clash, therefore people have had to take sides for one or the other.” Calderón also added that this year the difference can be seen between Gordillo, on the one hand, and comedian Felipe Avello, on the other.

A reflection of society

Humor, whether at the festival or in any other scenario, has become a tool to reflect what we are as a society. By means of jokes and comic stories, Chilean humorists reveal in one way or another Chilean behavior and attitudes.

Rodrigo Larraín, a sociologist and academic at the Central University of Chile, told Chile Today that humor “is not an X-ray to Chileans, but it talks to us,” and it is expressed through “different niches,” so there is a divide in terms of what people like.

For González, “humor is a reflection of society.” But he clarified that “comedians do not have the moral power to decide what is right or wrong.” At the same time, he also implied caution in certain matters, and said that if Chilean society is “macho,” that is not an excuse for making jokes as Gordillo does.

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Larraín also believes that stand-up has revitalized the national humor, because the “standaperos” are using humor “in a more political way,” with the idea of making “a social criticism.” Younger comedians are creating routines to point toward the powerful.

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