Night of Argentinian Comedy

In the US, I see a lot of live comedy. I’ve been in comedy withdrawal the past few months, as I never hear of any comedy shows in South America. That was why I was so excited last weekend when I was having dinner with my friend Agustina and she told me that Buenos Aires has a comedy scene. Not only is there a lot of stand-up, there’s improv too! No sketch, sadly. I was really curious to see what Argentinian improv would look like, so last night I went to check out Misión: Improvisación in Capital Federal.

It’s a two man show, consisting of a little guy with a lisp and a tall guy who may or may not have been Javier Bardem.

image javier_bardem

I was expecting shortform improv (short scenes/games), lots of broad jokes / physical humor, lots of audience participation. Not that I think Argentinians entertainment would necessarily be really unrefined, but Buenos Aires is the first city I’ve been in that I’ve heard of any live comedy at all. I figured there’s probably not a comedy nerd audience that has patience for longform improv and they’d have to do sillier stuff to draw in normal people.

The show actually was longform. There was absolutely no audience participation except for little notecards they let people write phrases on for suggestions before the show. I was a big fan of this because I hate the improv shows that cater to the “improv comedy means I’m in the show!” kind of audience member. The first two scenes they did, they’d pick a style, then draw a notecard and do a twenty minute scene based on what the notecard said. The last scene was just as long, but had a more shortform feel because they were just plowing through all of notecards they didn’t use and injecting them into the dialog. The last scene actually got the best response, which is what I had expected and makes me more surprised they were doing longform.

I got the sense that the improvisers themselves were experienced actors but inexperienced improvisers. They were really comfortable on stage, but they’d make a lot of rookie improv mistakes like pausing awkwardly in the middle of a sentence to think of a line, laughing at their own jokes, or walking through imaginary props and scenery they established a few seconds earlier. Regardless, I was just so delighted that they were doing longform that it was easy to overlook a lot of the flubs.

Admittedly, I was probably especially aware of the imaginary set pieces because I could only understand about half of what they were saying. In the longform scenes, I was able to follow the stories, but I usually missed the jokes. I did catch a few that made me laugh. In one of the scenes, there was a king complaining that his kingdom was being overrun by dwarves. A few minutes later, he enters the stage while strangling a dwarf to death and as he walks away, says wistfully, “¡Ah! ¡Que linda matarlos a los enanos!” (“Ah! How wonderful to kill dwarves!”). I don’t think I’d find it funny in English, but for some reason it was hilarious to me in Spanish.

One of the parts that got a big laugh from the audience was when the actors played Mexicans. Like, before there were even any jokes – just the idea of being Mexican got a big laugh. I thought it was really funny because they were trying to do a Mexican accent by drawing out the penultimate syllables of their sentences (“estoy muy cansaaaaaado”) but they still pronounced their “y” sounds like j’s, which made them sound distinctly Argentinian.

The improv show lasted about an hour and as I was leaving, I saw that the theater had a stand-up show starting in a few minutes, so I figured I’d check that out too. I assumed I’d understand more of it, since it’s a lot easier to understand a single person talking than a conversation between multiple people. Apparently not so in stand-up. If I was understanding 50% of the improv show dialog, I was getting maybe 5-10% of the stand-up. All of the comics spoke extremely quickly, especially when delivering the punchline.

Even without the punchline and 90% of the words, I could usually piece together the general idea of the routine. It was basically indistinguishable from American stand-up except for the fact that it was in Spanish. Same premises: being poor, dating, sexual inadequacy, self-deprecating observations about their physical appearance.

There was a guy hanging out by the side of the stage watching other comics wearing a shirt that said “JewTube” and looking conspicuously Jewish. I was really hoping he was a stand-up waiting to go up because, as a Jew, he was guaranteed to be funny. I don’t think of Jews as fast talkers, so I was hoping he’d be more intelligible as well. I was excited when they announced the last comic and he walked out, but he actually spoke the fastest of anyone. I got virtually nothing except a snippet where he talked about how Jews are always being persecuted and how Christmas sucks. He got a huge response – the best of any of the comics there. One guy near me laughed so hard, he picked up a chair and started slamming it on the floor. I wish I could understand what the comic was saying, but it was nice just knowing that at least there’s a place in the world where Jews can succeed in comedy.

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