They say you should never meet your heroes, and for Adele this saying was very much the case when she met but failed to collaborate with a long-time hero of hers, Damon Albarn, the lead singer of Blur. Well I am extremely happy to report that after some years now of hoping to meet and chat with Gregorio Duvivier, I can scotch this saying after an absolutely fantastic evening at the launch of his new book Percatempos.
Before introducing his book, I do need to introduce Gregorio, one of Brazil’s top comedians, and who is also an actor, author, poet, columnist and artist.
In 2012 Gregorio was one of the five founding members of Porta dos Fundos (Backdoor), the Youtube comedy channel created to overcome the artistic limitations and restrictions relating to the commercial interests of main stream television. With over 10.8 million subscribers, Porta dos Fundos recently celebrated their two billionth view on Youtube, making them the largest channel in Brazil, and the fifth largest comedy channel in the world. The sketches now also have English subtitles, so are now reaching a new audience worldwide.
Comedy can be one of the hardest aspects of a language to learn and be able to comprehend, especially as it often spoken in rapid fire, using slang and idioms, and referring to culturally specific people, history and events. For me Gregorio was one of the first comedians I was able to follow, since he has quite a dry, English style of humour, with his characters often being a little downbeat or dour, meaning a more slower speech compared to the hyper energetic Fábio Porchat for example.
In São Paulo last night, at the b-arco cultural centre, Gregorio was interviewed by Brazil’s most famous cartoonist Laerte. The conversation was philosophical, wide-ranging and also at times extremely personal, with Gregorio sharing what it is like not only to have been so successful, but also what it is like to be on the receiving end of criticism which inevitably comes when a creative person attempts to redraw the boundaries of their art and to change the consciousness of people through an edgy form of comedy what has been seen at times as controversial and heretical.
Percatempos can perhaps be translated as ‘time wasting’, but there is a comedy element in the Portuguese title due to the word being created by Gregorio. It marks a departure from his previous books Ligue os Pontos and Put Some Farofa, in that it is the first time he has published his sketches, which are accompanied by his at times wistfully humourous thoughts, observations and questions.
Many of the original sketches were on display at b_arco, and I particularly liked this one of God taking a selfie. While some may find this distasteful, for me it reminds me of a dream I had some years back, in which the phrase “consciousness is the Tao looking back on itself” came to me.
It is a shame that the conversation last night was not recorded, as Gregorio himself has a richly philosophical artistic consciousness, and he spends time thinking about the creative process and his role as both a performer who can hide behind characters, and as a public figure writing his thoughts in the first person in his weekly column in Folha de São Paulo, one of Brazil’s biggest newspapers.
Gregorio told us that he is someone who really does get affected by criticisms. He is not someone to just dash off a column and then not care less about the response:
“My column changed the way people see me. When they hate me, they really hate me and not my work or the characters being played”.
His most recent column was a reflection on the way in which we lose so many more things than we find. Laerte asked about this, and Gregorio reflected on an incident where he lost his smartphone, and what he had gained:
“Sometimes we need silence. In the media there is a mania to talk and talk and talk, but in silence we can think more. When I lost my phone I noticed the silence. I remembered things. In the time when you speak to the waiter and the time when your food arrives, you are able to sense more, and take in your surroundings. Mobile phones have killed our dead time.”
One question which I took note of was on Gregorio’s reaction to plagiarism and copying. One thing holding back innovation and startups here in Brazil is the culture of the lack of respect of others’ intellectual property, ideas and creative output. Obviously plagiarism is rife in the UK, but here it is at the level which is hindering companies who wish to innovate and be sustained by their innovations.
Gregorio has an almost Platonic way of thinking about the creative process:
“I have a Platonic idea. Jokes are out there to be caught. Sometimes more than one person catches the idea.”
One of the reasons I study and I write about comedy on Transition Consciousness, and particularly popular comedy, is the way in which comedy can change the collective consciousness and deal with issues in a way which can reach people more profoundly than a dry intellectual and academic analysis in a newspaper for example.
What is exciting to me about the phenomenon of Porta dos Fundos, and other collective-driven comedy shows such as Vai Que Cola which I have also written about, is that there is the same explosive energy and vision of the alternative comedy scene in the UK of the early 80s, such as The Comic Strip comedians Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders and Alexei Sayle. This group set out to break the misogynist and cliched comedy of the seventies while at the same time being farcical and anarchic, and while Porta dos Fundos doffs its cap to Monty Python, they continue to push the boundaries with sketches which comment critically on social and political themes.
A second theme which weaves into this power of comedy is my study of the creative process in innovation teams, and the way in which a groups collective creativity and potential is never reached due to the question of the clash of ego, fear and mistrust. While nowadays there is an obsession with networks, I coined the term knotworks to refer to this phenomena of counterfeit networks, networks with ego.
One inspirational and amazing aspect of Porta dos Fundos is their work rate. Since launch they have managed to publish two sketches per week, but this quantity has not been created at the price of quality, their sketches are consistently high quality. What I see in Porta dos Fundos are a group of extremely talented creative professionals who all appear to be great friends, and who have managed to overcome any issues relating to ego, issues which ultimately cause creative groups and teams to implode and collapse.
I’ve chatted a little with Marcelo Medici on Twitter. Marcelo is a comedian and actor who plays Sanderson in Vai Que Cola, and he confirmed my observation at just how much fun the Vai Que Cola comedians have, improvising off each other. Just as an aside, some of the Porta dos Fundos comedians also appear in Vai Que Cola, there is a healthy fluid intermixing of roles and appearances in these projects.
Vai Que Cola appears to place so many demands on the actors, due to the punishing recording schedule, that the perfect memorisation of the scripts is just too difficult. But this has become a feature of the show, where slips and improvisations are kept in the final edit, as the show is recorded live and the audience play an integral role in the whole experience of the show.
Maria asked Gregorio about the collective creative process, but I should say that since Gregorio is an intellectual (in the good sense of the word) and given that there was not really time to fully outline the question to explain the nuances, Gregorio took a more Freudian interpretation of ‘ego’ as opposed to the more common sense use in which Maria was referring.
But his answer was still extremely interesting:
“Empathy is so important, and it is a part of our learning process. Animals have a natural empathy. In comedy we need to have humility, or perhaps I can describe it as fragility. Comedians such as Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen were like this. Fragility is absolutely fundamental for my art. It is dangerous for the comedian to be vain. For me, humour is connected with humility.”
Time an again this notion of humility and vulnerability comes up in group and creative dynamics and it was great to hear Gregorio explore these.
After the talk was the book signing and photos. We mentioned to Gregorio that I particularly loved the homage to Scotland in the sketch “Battle”. As my home town of Dumfries in Scotland is so steeped in the history of Robert the Bruce, I think Gregorio was slightly relieved to know that I really loved it, rather than being someone to take offence. As it has English subtitles, I thought you may like to watch it here.
Those of you who are regular readers of Transition Consciousness will know how much I have been writing about hermeneutics, and my exploration of ontology and meaning. For this reason it was brilliant to hear Gregorio explore his thoughts on thinking and how words sometimes are not enough to really express what is inside of ourselves.
Gregorio was quite funny in the way in which he referred to the art of Escher as a “headfuck” (his words not mine), and for him jokes can hit all sorts of places inside of ourselves that other ways of expressing ourselves can not. Although as a comedian you may expect him to say this, when describing the nature of a joke, Gregorio said that “jokes are the most important thing in the world.”
On my blog I have written about many aspects of Brazil and Brazilian culture that have been new to me, and which I have learned from, and which I do believe greatly deserve wider exposure in the English-speaking world. As well as Porta dos Fundos and Vai Que Cola, I have written the first English review of Fabio Porchat’s Entre Abelhas, and I have reviewed remarkable soap operas such as Joia Rara and Além do Tempo.
Gregorio and Fábio Porchat are two comedians I would absolutely love the chance to sit down with and record high quality English language interviews with, as they are are such brilliant comedians who have so much to share in terms of insights into our condition, our foibles and consciousness as well. The combination of stupidity and intelligence for me is often a wonderful thing, a happily paradoxical state of affairs which can catalyse the transition of consciousness.
It was therefore great for me when despite it being late Gregorio happily took the time for me to record this short interview. There were still people in the queue waiting for their books to be signed, and so not wanting to do a sacanagem as they say here in Brazil, I asked Gregorio to introduce his book, and also describe what a joke means to him in his words.
As I mentioned at the start of my article, it was a fantastic evening with Gregorio, and I wish him all the very best with the launch of Percatempos, which more than being just a book, is itself a little work of art.
Having had so much success online with Porta dos Fundos, the group are now continually being courted by the major television channels, and indeed last week saw the grande finale of O Grande Gonzalez on Fox here in Brazil, the murder mystery comedy in which Gregorio played the lead role of the magician Gonzalez.
When asked what lay ahead for him in the next five years, I was pleased to hear Gregorio mention how he himself felt that he would like to develop a more ecological and environmental consciousness. As I said, comedy has a huge potential to change people’s consciousness, and with comedians who have the humility to continually expand and evolve their own, comedians whose reach extends to an audience of multiples of millions as Porta dos Fundos have, then we can look forward to the transition to a better world with a bloody good launch to go along with it.