Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Sunday Feature: First-Person, Martha Chaves

A Day in the Laughs
by Martha Chaves
(Editor's note: This is the beginning of an occasional blog series stand-up comedian Martha Chaves will be writing for The Charlebois Post-Canada.)
Someone asked me recently in an interview to describe a day in the life of a female stand-up comedian as if it would be the easiest thing to do. But I have no idea what other female - or male - stand-up comedians do with their day and even if I knew I would not tell on them unless I'm under a subpoena! And frankly, the idea of just “telling” about a day in my own life seems like an odyssey in and of itself.
Where to even begin? Should I start at the moment of going to bed at the crack of dawn, after non-stop consumption of world news, Facebooking, Twittering and hunting for vegan food, or at the moment of getting up at the crack of brunch when all of the above mentioned activities begin?

I’m here invited to The Just for Laughs Festival to host a show for OMNI TV; “The Spanglish Show”...

Sometimes it takes a week to make a day and sometimes it's the other way around. The news becomes dated faster than fish because fishing for news is quicker than lightning. Time is relative. At this very moment it’s all a dream. I’m dreaming I’m living the dream. I’m in Montreal, and to add compliment to beauty, I’m here invited to The Just for Laughs Festival to host a show for OMNI TV; “The Spanglish Show”, the Spanish portion of a Just for Laughs/OMNI multilingual production. Now, it's not remotely my first time in JFL - I'm a veteran of twelve - but it's the first time that I will perform for other Latin “allophones”, in Spanglish. I’m thrilled in the way that one can be thrilled when one has signed up to walk a tightrope, without a net, on stiletto heels. It will be fun, no doubt, but there´s a chance that the jokes could fall flat on their culo. Speaking of which, ¡Tabernáculo! We´re in Montreal! Latin American immigrants do not English speaketh! When assorted members of the Latin tribes arrive in this province (after perilously swimming two borders) either running away from the Right or from the Left (or from the bulls), the Quebec Language Forces, forces them to learn French!

In our native countries Latinos don’t have freedom of speech; in this province we can say whatever we want… as long as we send the government to go se faire foutre en Français. Forget “Spanglish” l’espectáculo will have to be in Spanfranglish, franchement. Now, there's a myth that Latinos learn French easily because French and Spanish are very similar but that is pure unadulterated “Le toro caca” Not even Spanish and Spanish are very similar. For example, Costa-Rican Spanish is not even close to Guatemalan Spanish- not to mention how differently those two nations kick a soccer ball! Holy Saint Frijoles! The audience is going to be a casa divided! There will be Rightists and there will be people who love Fidel. There will be Leftists and there will be people who wear Ché Guevara t-shirts thinking the face belongs to the singer from Rage Against the Machine. There will be homos in the closet and there will be queers in the cupboards. Latin people are very diverse and are in constant dispute with each other but – in my experience-- they are united in one common thought, “Fear the homo”. And as you know, fear is a killer; but not on a comedy stage. What am I going to talk about to those people? Oy Mamita! To put a cherry on that iceberg, they will be a studio audience: Non-paying, non-comedy consumer Latin people who may bring along the octogenarian grandmamá and the new-born bebé to a TV taping. Chit! And they'll be mainly Catholic… but c'mon! They will be in a great mood! It's a free show! A TV taping inside an air conditioned place! Sure I have to be tactful regarding my material; sure I have to stay away from controversial topics like politics, religion, and sex… or carnivores; just watch what I say. Don’t tell them things like, "The church's Padre is a carnivore who eats filet mignon off the bum of an altar boy." Don't tell them that. Especially don't tell them that when you were growing up in Central America, the death-squads would shoot members of the clergy and that now you believe it was a good idea, that those were “the good old days”…that's a no-no! Stay away from dissing the priests and everything will be fine. Don't talk about Latin politics. Forget Chávez, joke about López. Facebook says J-Lo just lost 32 pounds.

What? I thought Marc Anthony weighs at least 52 pounds! I'm glad you got rid of that weight, López! I haven't lost one single pound. I have been a sober vegan for about two months now and I'm in Montreal. You heard about the land of Milk and Honey? Montreal is the land of booze and Schwartz. Being a sober vegan in this city is like being a nun at a dildo factory: The temptation to stuff your mouth is always there but you know that rubber is not good for you. Thing is, I'm looking very zaftig these days. Black, I must wear black, but it's so hot. I wonder if it's OK to wear flip-flops. Comfort is vital to foster hilarity and thanks to all the morons who burn Styrofoam to celebrate they've purchased a mini-van, global warming has finally arrived! It's so hot, today on St. Laurent Blvd, I heard a cockatoo telling an iguana that she wanted to move to somewhere where the weather is cooler, like the planet Mercury. But I must not fixate on the heat. Maybe I should visualize we are in February, waiting for the bus in Winnipeg at the corner of Main and Portage, wearing a bikini… but in my panic-stricken-tofu-munching-diva-in-training-Latin-allophone-brain all I think is that my hair is going to be very easy to straighten out in this humidity.
As easy as trying to steal a steak off the three mouths of Cerberus, the Devil´s pooch. As easy as convincing Daniel Ortega that he can't say to the poor that he's the champion of the poor because to be the champion of the rabbits there have to be the rabbits and to be the champion of the poor there have to be the poor! The poor do not want to have a king. What they want is to stop being poor! My hair won't be easy to straighten out! It will look awful. It will shrink into a bowl of curls. I will look like Patof Le Roi des Clowns. I wonder what is better, to be Le Roi Des Clowns or to be Le Fou du Roi? It beats me…“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand”, says Mark Twain. Oh my goddess! “They” will think this is the perfect opportunity! The government of my native Bandana republic may send their peeps to the show, to shoot me! - and not with a camera. I'm aware that I'm not important and they have bigger fish to fry but tyrants like humor as much as they like Amnesty International and they hate me! I have a knack to denounce them in a jockety-fuckety way, on a daily basis, on Facebook and on top of it, I always advertise where the hell I'm going to be! I may be paranoid but hey!
I'm also a narcissist; people have to know where I am so they can follow my splendorous ass to assassinate me…shhhh…shhhh… I must avoid speaking about any shooting. There's that asshole on the news, you know, that guy that murdered all those innocent people in Norway. That idiot who looks like a James Bond wannabe who sings in an ABBA tribute band, that fucking guy! The handsome psychopath who claimed all those lives in the name of Jesus, as it usually happens in cases like that No one kills a bunch of people in the name of Dick! No one that has a Richard Dawkins tattoo murders people on a whim, it's always the fucktard with the crucifix tattoo who does it! But don't you dare say that to a Latin Catholic audience, especially in Montreal, where the streets have Saints names… speaking of which You know that there are people in Latin America who name their son “Jesús”? What about the third commandment? “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. I have an immigrant friend who named her child, “Jesus de Montreal Perez”. The kid gets beat up at school on a daily basis; the class-mates make fun of her because Jesus is not a girl's name. True story. Where was I? Oh yeah, a day in the life of me. I'm a bit anxious, I have no more fingernails to bite but deep down inside I know this show will kick ass with the power of a bionic mule that just snorted lava off a Nicaraguan volcano. I will work it baby! Laughter is the best… exorcist! To perform an exorcism you do it in LATIN! For Latinos to endure all we have endured we had to have laughter.

People think that humor comes from a rosy place but hell they are wrong! Laughter is a byproduct of evil! You can bet that in Paradise they didn't laugh. What were they going to laugh at? Everything was perfect until the Fall of Man you know, when a monkey threw a banana peel on the scale of evolution and Adam slipped making Eve laugh uncontrollably when she saw his goofy privates for the first time! Coño! What? Someone just twitted that Amy Winehouse died. They presume she overdosed. I have to resist the impulse of saying, ahhhhhgggg and suppress the desire to lie down and cry. I have a show to do and Amy would not want me to screw up my mascara. I hope no comedian in this festival makes a joke about Amy. Laughter is NOT the best medicine in this case. The words “medicine” and “Winehouse” are not to be pronounced one beside the other. Not now. Do not joke about that, please.

It's show time!

It's show time! The set is gorgeous. The air conditioner is delicious. I look like a million dollars, ahem, a Canadian Million Dollars. The Americans who came to the Festival now know what is like to have a dollar with an inferiority complex. The loon has humiliated, bitch-slapped and made George Washington say “uncle”. It feels great! But must not say that on the show because there will be gringo show-biz industry.

Om, breath, Om…I feel scrumptious. The hair and make-up people have concocted their magic upon me. The audience looks friendly and happy, as if they were given cotton candy laced with Ecstasy. I like them except… there seems to be a child in the front row. My show is for adults and he looks 10 or 11, tops; I’ll pretend he's18 but malnourished.
Hola! Gracias! It was over too soon. The pressure is off! But I wish I would still be into the groove. The audience rocked, the language floated out of my mouth fluent, mellifluously and perfect, just like Shakira doing a shimmy. I still do not know what I said. All I know is that they laughed like hyenas being tickled with feathers while under the influence of cannabis.

Back at the hotel I call my partner to re-live the magic of the moment but instead we get frustrated because we can't hug each other via Skype; and then we sob a little for Amy Winehouse.

Martha E. Chaves
Just For Laughs, Montreal, July, 2011


  1. Well done! Funny and poignant. Can't wait to read the next!

  2. I enjoyed the piece a lot in spate of a lot of risqué material.


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