Friday, November 28, 2014

Mexican Comic Icon "Chesprito" Dies

Famed Mexican comedian Roberto Gómez Bolaños passed away on Friday at the age of eighty-five at his home in Cancún.

Prior to becoming an actor, Bolaños was an amateur boxer, studied engineering in college and wrote scripts for film and TV.  He short stature and prolific writing earned him a nickname that was a play on words from "Little Shakespeare" and would remain with him throughout his life: "Chespirito".

His big break came in 1968 with a sketch comedy show that allowed him to develop numerous comic characters over the years including wacky medic "Dr. Chapatín", petty crook "El Chompiras" and bumbling superhero "El Chapulín Colorado". Yet he was best known for his role as "El Chavo del Ocho", an orphan who resided in a barrel located inside a lower-class Mexico city neighborhood.  An episode of El Chavo often showed his good-nature hijinks with his child friends and adult neighbors though his penchant for wordplay sometimes masked social commentary.

"El Chavo interprets every word in the literal sense and, thus, suffers the injustice of the world.  He questions society and our relations of power and friendship by emphasizing the significance of language," noted Colombian television critic Omar Rincón.

Bolaños' humor made him a superstar across the Spanish-speaking world where numerous countries still show his programs even though he stopped recording TV material roughly twenty-five years ago.  El Chavo-themed restaurants in Puerto Rico and Colombia have dishes named in honor of the characters from the program homage while visitors can travel to an official Chavo theme park in Venezuela. Bolaños himself claimed in a 1999 interview "this may sound blasphemous in Mexico but in Peru I'm seen as the most important Latin American comic of the millennium. And I believe it."

Despite having millions of fans, the career of "Chespirito" has not been absent of controversy and criticism.  In 2007 he denied rumors alleging that he was paid to perform for ex-Colombian drug kingpin Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela.  He faced lawsuits from several of his former costars including Carlos Villagrán and María Antonieta de las Nieves over intellectual rights and ownership of the personalities played on TV.
"The situations created by the characters (on "El Chavo del Ocho") may seem funny...but the program offers no solutions for them to improve their lives," bemoaned Mexican professor Raúl Rojas Solano who also accused the program for promoting bullying, machismo and violence.

His catchphrases have become a part of the Spanish lexicon in the Americas though perhaps none as appropriate on this solemn day as the one mentioned on the Twitter account of Mexican rock band Molotov:

(Translation: "And now who will defend us? #RIPChespirito")

Bolaños' programs have been shown worldwide in more than ninety countries and translated into dozens of languages. The accident-prone Simpsons character Bumblebee Man was allegedly created after series creator Matt Groening viewed Chespirito while at a motel along the U.S.-Mexico border. 
Aside from his television work, Bolaños appeared in several movies and plays while his live shows often played out to sold out stadium crowds. 

He joined Twitter in 2011 but by the time of his death he had gathered some 6.6 million followers.  "All my love, for Brazil," read the final tweet that was made on Wednesday on his account and in response to a fan.

Online Sources - Reuters; La Jornada; Twitter; SDP Noticias; The Latin Americanist; El Tiempo; El Universal

Video Source - YouTube user Noah Stutzman

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