Venezuelans’ lives have become tragically hard in recent years, but there’s one thing they can still do: laugh.
“Laughing is a form of insurrection in our country nowadays,” said José Rafael Briceño, a comedian who goes by Professor Briceño and whose work has flourished in the midst of the political and economic crisis under President Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.
“Jokes make people not jump off cliffs and say, ‘There are still things to fight for because I’m still human and capable of laughing.’”
Comedy wasn’t Briceño’s plan. After studying communications and journalism, he worked as an actor and taught public speaking, even helping Miss Venezuela winners prepare for international competitions.
But in a Caracas bar in 2009, during his third show, he “fell in love with the adrenaline,” Briceño, now 49, told AQ. He remembers stepping off the stage, grabbing a friend’s arm and saying, “I’ve found what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Since then, Briceño’s comedy has helped Venezuelans cope with and make sense of their country’s worsening crisis, most notably by hosting a weekly faux news show, produced by the award-winning satire website El Chigüire Bipolar. The show ended in 2018 after three years, and Briceño is today focusing on a podcast and his social media platforms, which boast some 400,000 followers.
Briceño also has a radio show that mixes news with humor, and frequently travels internationally doing stand-up shows that are popular with the Venezuelan diaspora. He tries to maintain a balance between jokes about the country’s crisis and jokes that have nothing to do with it. “Sometimes people just don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
While some of Venezuela’s comedians have migrated in search of better opportunities and freedom of expression, Briceño prefers to stay. Because they face the same challenges as the audience, Briceño believes comedians inside Venezuela have a specific role, and their work, a specific flavor.
“But to be honest,” he added, “there’s no patriotic or romantic explanation for why I stay. I’m just a stubborn fool.”
Krygier is The Washington Post’s Caracas correspondent