No Laughing Matter: Venezuela’s Comedian Crack Down Continues

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Between looking like the human version of Super Mario and his open assurances that Hugo Chavez appeared to him as a bird, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro makes for great comedy fodder. And in a nation in the throes of economic crisis, where people are facing daily shortages of food and basic necessities, it’s no surprise that Venezuelan comedians have been poking fun at the crisis. Comedy and satire are, after all, a way to laugh at the things that aren’t so funny. But Maduro and his cronies are cracking down on the comedians who are joking about the inflation and corruption. Some comedians have lost their jobs, been blacklisted, or been treated in ways that make them wish they could leave the country.

Shows similar to The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which mix comedy and politics, have disappeared from the airwaves, The Wall Street Journal reports. Emilio Lovera’s talk show Misión Emilio was abruptly canceled last year, and he’s been unable to find another job on TV or anywhere. Lovera and funnyman Laureano Marquez – who said that the socialist revolution was crumbling under bad policies and corrupt officials – were set to perform in three different venues in Barquisimiento, Valencia, and San Antonio de Los Altos. The shows were canceled because all three venues were accused of tax evasion. Many of the hotels that serve as comedy venues are state-owned.

In the case of Luis Chataing, whose TV show on Televen was canceled the day after playing a bureaucrat who haphazardly glued papers together to support his conspiracy theory, Maduro says that he is not to blame. Comedians being challenged in Venezuela is nothing new. In 2006, 50-year-old radio show Radio Rochela was canceled after Chavez launched the socialist revolution. It’s also not something limited to just Venezuela. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa launched a campaign where he basically operated in the way overzealous Twitter tweens do. Tweets critical of the president or the government were either met with public call-outs by Correa during his national addresses, or bombarded with pesky messages. And when John Oliver dedicated about four minutes to Correa on Last Week Tonight about the president’s decision to embarrass his social media critics, Correa went off on Oliver in a Twitter rant.

In this day and age, comedians can at least take their work to YouTube. Isla Presidencial is an animated series completely voiced by Lovera that no television network runs. In it, Latin American leaders are shipwrecked and have to work together to survive. Others, like Marquez, leave the country to do their bits. He is actually able to perform in places where there are growing numbers of exiled Venezuelans, and Marquez is not willing to change the way he approaches comedy. “I am not interested in being an escape valve,” he said. “I want people to leave my shows worried and bothered.”

And then there are other comedians that Maduro can do nothing about.