While all eyes are on Brazil this month for the world cup, for some time now I have been thinking about what I should write about, since I am both living in São Paulo and writing about the transition of consciousness. As Maria said to me recently, it is quite a historical moment we are living in, and I know I should be offering you all some sage and wise words about current affairs in Brazil and other sensible things.
As someone who loves football but hates corruption, I could have gone down this line of investigation. There are plenty of excellent commentators writing about this theme already, both Brazilian and foreign media correspondents who live here, so I thought instead I would continue my occasional series of articles about great things in Brazil you need to know about by writing about a fabulous comedy collective who go by the name of Porta dos Fundos (Back Door).
Before I continue, my last piece in this series was about the Brazilian Buddhist soap opera Joia Rara, of which I wrote three articles in total. The final one, Love, Peace, Enlightenment – The End of Joia Rara, with the support of a number of the cast and writers, spread across social networks here and is getting close to 900 likes on Facebook, so I guess I must be doing something fairly well in my media commentary.
In starting this analysis of Brazilian comedy, I should probably note that when you move to Brazil from the United Kingdom, there is a huge culture shock when you turn on the television. Brazil just doesn’t do political correctness, and I am talking about things such as it’s fine to black up on TV channels which are equivalent to the BBC and ITV. I wanted to mention this as any analysis of Brazilian comedy does need to at least be framed in what confronts a polite, quiet and unassuming gentleman new to the country.
However, now that my Portuguese is improving, I am exploring and enjoying Brazilian comedy. Comedy is of interest to me, especially from a philosophical point of view, as I love to study organic hermeneutical phenomenological philosophy (do what?) and as such, it is interesting to look at how language operates and is used in what is probably the most difficult aspect of a language to master, humour.
Which brings me to Porta dos Fundos (Back Door). It’s interesting on a number of levels, as it is an absolute phenomenon here in Brazil. The creator of Porta dos Fundos is one of Brazil’s most prolific, omnipresent and hard working comedians, Fábio Porchat. After rising to fame on Brazilian television, he wanted to take comedy to the next level, but realised that the medium of traditional media and television channels would be too restrictive.
As well as being a television comedian, and starring in the Brazilian sitcoms such as A Grande Família (The Big Family) he has been in a number of Brazilian film comedies, including O Concurso (about people taking exams to enter the Brazilian civil service) and Vai Que Dar Certo (Things Will Turn Out Fine) (both which Maria and I loved).
I have to say, there do seem to be quite a large number of Brazilian comedies that I have watched that really should be achieving mainstream success outside of Brazil, such as the family-orientated Até que a Sorte nos Separe with Leandro Hassum, the high-octane Minha Mãe é uma Peça (My Mother One of a Kind), which stars Paulo Gustavo in one of the most convincing performances in drag, and the more kooky Mato sen Cachorro (The Dognapper), a romantic comedy with Leandra Leal and Bruno Gagliasso, who moves way beyond his more customary normal soap opera heartthrob to play a bepeckled and bearded geek.
We can see the result of this determination to explore comedy without restriction in one of Porchat’s most famous pre-Funda dos Portas sketches “Estaremos Fazendo o Cancelamento” in which Porchat attempts to call his unnamed mobile phone company to cancel his mobile phone contract. Although this is not a Porta dos Fundos sketch, and also does not have English subtitles, you will still be able to see Porchat in action, as like many of us, he enters into despair as he experiences what many us experience, even outside of Brazil, terrible customer service – “No don’t send me a fax. No one uses fax nowadays!”
Porchat is covered in the blue paint of the characters from Telecom Italia (TIM) advertising campaign, something that would not be allowed on mainstream Brazilian television where the last thing that executives wish is to air highly critical satire.
(Just as a quick aside, I think I first discovered Porta dos Fundos via their on-line t-shirt shop, which was one of their first revenue streams for their project. These are great t-shirts along the lines of The Daily Mash, self-referencing their most famous sketches. What really made me laugh was that their email address for their customer services is email@example.com, a delightful attention to detail which tickled my funny bone.)
One of the main broadcasters here, Globo, made it clear that any new comedy would be restricted by their strict censoring rules, something that was not acceptable to Porchat. Hence he and a small team of equally creative comedians, Antonio Tabet, Gregório Duvivier, Ian SBF e João Vicente de Castro, launched the Youtube channel Porta dos Fundos in August 2012, which quickly gained a huge a loyal following.
To give you an idea of their success, the video below, Na Lata (translated means ‘On the can’), has had over 15 million views. What is interesting is that recently English subtitles have started to be added, opening up Porta dos Fundos to a world wide audience. The do have an English channel Backdoor, but as you will see, the average viewings are around 5,000 views per video. Who knows, maybe this article will help alert internauts (as web users – internautas – are wonderfully called as in Brazil) to this deliciously silly Brazilian venture.
A quick note here. The numbers of foreign viewers is almost certainly under-reported here, since I see many foreigners leaving comments in the Portuguese-version videos. Things get a little bit more complicated, since on the main Porta dos Fundos Youtube channel, if you switch to English Closed Caption, you sometimes do get well-translated subtitles, which are not the same thing as the official English subtitles on the English channel. But more of their sketches may be watchable than you first realise, so check the Youtube CC options when viewing.
So what do we find, and we tread carefully in case we find the same level of reckless political incorrectness? As you see in Na Lata, the first video chosen as it is the most popular, may or may not be offensive, depending on your point of view. In Brazil there is a trend for some families to either create names, or to use mis-heard English names, and in this video we see that these “hideous” names (he uses stronger language), as the character played by Porchat points out, can only be found on the cans of really cheap Dolly cola, and not on Coke cans which have proper names.
Just as Monty Python caused a right old ruckus in 1979 with Life of Brian, the theme of religion and God is never that far away from a Porta dos Fundos sketch. Plenty of these are quite silly, like imagining a polite Jesus working as a carpenter, where all the others swear and are macho and gross, but others are designed to point out the darker side of religion, such as the campaign to cure gay people, or consumerism in religion and the craze of “It was God who gave me this car” car stickers.
As well as appreciating the expressive extroversion of Portchat’s more extrovert characters, as a Brit the comedian I am really loving is Gregório Duvivier, who himself seems to be quite Monty Python fan, choosing Eric Idle as his icon on Twitter. Duvivier has two particular areas of comedy expertise, the first playing slightly dimwitted characters, always the last to work out what is happening, and then the more wisened laconic and droll straight man to others’ goofs. an excellent example of this is one sketch I must mention, Batalha (The Battle) in which Porta dos Fundos do a ridiculously funny take on Scotland and Braveheart.
Joining the cast is Clarice Falcão, who I recently found out is married in real life to Duvivier, and they have done many very funny couple-related sketches together. I thought I would show you this song which is not a Porta dos Fundos sketch, but does feature Duvivier too, as Falcão is also a very talented singer songwriter, in the kooky tradition, and whose lyrics are excellent when trying to learn certain Portuguese verbal tenses. In Portuguese, simple sentences in English which use “if” and “when” become extremely nightmarish to learn, as you need a whole new set of tenses, and of course in lovelorn songs there are lot of phrases such as “if you come out tonight with me” or “If I had only answered my phone then…” etc.
Of course I have to say that a very large number of Porta dos Fundos sketches do reply on crude swearing a lot, and while this can be quite fun (and necessary to learn), I have yet to really discover an equivalent Brazilian comedy which delights in playing with words, speaking them as if savouring a particularly tasty culinary experience on the tongue. I sometimes find Northern English comedians really manage this well, and also we see this in more recent indie music too.
But as I said, as I start to really get into the real experience and sense of Portuguese words, as opposed to the more intellectual and dry translation of the meaning, some of the humour will still remain lost to me, especially that which is spoken at real speed, as it often can.
Some of you may be wondering what comedy has to do with the transition of consciousness. One particular answer is political. Edward Snowden has been in the news recently discussing a possible move to Brazil, and his interview on Globo TV discussing US industrial espionage was aired this week. But the other side of the coin are Brazil’s stringent anti- satire laws, which have resulted in Governmental take-down requests. In Brazil for example, it is illegal to broadcast political satire during election campaigns, and so there continues to be intense debate and fight for freedom of expression here.
Pretty much all of the time Porta dos Fundos manage to tread the fine line between controversial for all the right reasons and controversial tasteless. In this sketch Pobre (Poor), they poke fun at rich tourists who like to visit favelas and see how poor people live. “They love it when you wave at them, but make the heart sign with your hands – they love that the most”.
Porta dos Fundos makes no pretence at politics, and neither should it. Witty, sharp, and mostly very very silly, it is a great showcase for Brazil’s most creative and forward thinking comedians. In July the entire team will be heading to Portugal where they will be taking part in a comedy festival.
It would of course be great for them to tour the rest of Europe, including the UK, but not only is comedy one of the hardest things to understand, it must surely be one of the hardest things to translate. I myself am ridiculously funny in English, and so far have only managed to come up with two vaguely acceptably humorous Portuguese jokes, although I have to say my true annecdote of how a monkey jumped on my back to steal my banana at the top of the rock of Gibraltar did go down quite well when I first related it in my somewhat broken Portuguese a year or two back.
Any critiques? As a Brit there are times that I do feel the translations lose a little soupçon of je ne c’est quoi due to them being in American English, and maybe Duvivier with his love of Monty Python could maybe look to see if some British quirkiness could add to the translation. The team themselves even have a sketch about bad dubbing from English into Portuguese, so maybe they will empathise with me on this one. I do feel at times the humour is more suited to British English, but then I would say that wouldn’t I?
But anyway, Porta dos Fundos. Crude, rude, always funny, and while grounded in the trials and tribulations of life in Brazil (Pode Ser, the sketch above, would require quite a long explanation), also cast their lens across our universal human failings, aspirations and all round frustrations of daily life, be it relationships, job interviews, technology, you name it. It’s a wonderful world of Brazilian silliness which I love. Maybe you will too. Abraços.
Below are some of my articles looking at culture and life in Brazil.
Onde estão as camisetas escritas em português? (Where are all the t-shirts written in Portuguese?) (Article is written in both English and Portuguese)
Porta dos Fundos – main site
Porta dos Fundos – Youtube
Backdoor – Porta dos Fundos English channel