21 November 2008

Pop Culture 002 – Chespirito, Chapulín Colorado, & Chavo del Ocho

In a recent post about entitled “Cri-Crí, El El Grillo Cantor” I wrote about a talented contributor to Mexican culture named Francisco Gobilando Soler. There is another very talented man whom I'd like to introduce to you named Roberto Gomez Bolaños. He is popularly known as “Chespirito” and he has also found a secure place in the hearts of the Mexican people. He was the star of two very popular children's shows, one called “El Chapulín Colorado” (The Red Grasshopper) and another called “El Chavo del Ocho” (The Kid of Number Eight). Both shows ran concurrently in Mexico as well as other Latin American countries (and Spain) from about 1970 until 1979. El Chavo del Ocho continued on intermittently in various forms until about 1992. It is in reruns all over the world and there is now an animated version. At one time it had approximately 350 million viewers.

Roberto Gómez Bolaños was born on February 21, 1929 in Mexico City and has had multiple careers as a writer, actor, director, comedian, humorist, and songwriter. Before beginning his writing and acting career he was an amateur boxer. He also studied Engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He wrote a number of plays, and contributed dialogs for the scripts of Mexican films and television shows, and also did some character acting work before he became really famous. His stage name of Chespirito was given to him by a producer during his first years as a writer and comes from the diminutive form of the Spanish pronunciation of the name of William Shakespeare or Shakespiercito, meaning "Little Shakespeare". He is quite an all around guy and as “Chespirito” he is very funny.

El Chapulín Colorado was a television series, both created and played by Chespirito, that was a parody of superhero shows like Superman and Batman. A typical episode would have some person get in some kind of trouble and then say out loud, "Oh! And who can help me now?" and the Chapulin Colorado would burst in through the nearest door or window. He would be dressed in red tights and yellow shorts and he had a big yellow heart on his chest with the letters “CH” in red which stood for “Chapulin” (or perhaps Chespirito?). He had two red and yellow antennae that beeped whenever something dangerous approached. He always carried a red plastic hammer as his weapon and could swallow some of his famous "pastillas de chiquitolina" (pills of smallness) which would shrink him down to the size of a mouse so he could squeeze through small openings. He also had a "chicharra paralizadora" (paralyzing buzzer) which was a bicycle horn that would would freeze a person in their tracks when he pointed it at them and honked.

The Chapulín Colorado was usually introduced with the words:

Más ágil que una tortuga, más fuerte que un ratón, más noble que una lechuga, su escudo es un corazón... ¡Es el Chapulín Colorado!
More agile than a tortoise, stronger than a mouse, nobler than a head of lettuce, and his shield (emblem) is a heart... It's the Red Grasshopper!

The Chapulín Colorado always bumbled along making one mistake after another but somehow, mostly by odd luck, he ended up saving the day. He had a lot of one line phrases that were injected into the dialog and you always knew when they were coming. He was a consummate Laurel and Hardy type bumbler and everyone loved him.

The other character that Chespirito created and in fact the one he is most famous for is “El Chavo del Ocho”. The character El Chavo del Ocho is an eight-year-old orphan. The word “chavo” means “kid” and generally Chavo is enthusiastic, creative, and good-natured but on the other hand he is also rather naive and very gullible. He is not particularly bright and is rather clumsy which sets the tone for many of the scripts. Chavo arrived at the neighborhood at the age of four and lives in apartment number eight with a mysterious elderly woman who is never seen. In any case, Chavo spends most of his time inside an abandoned barrel that he calls his "secret hideout" and he is constantly craving ham sandwiches. Some of his supporting cast members are:

Quico [Kiko] (Actor Carlos Villagrán) is a nine year old boy who wears a sailor top and a multicolored beanie. He is a friend of Chavo

Don Ramón (Actor Ramón Valdés) is an unemployed widower who never seems to pay his rent.

Doña Florinda (Actress Florinda Meza) is the widowed mother of Quico.

Profesor Jirafales (Actor Rubén Aguirre) is the school teacher.

Doña Cleotilde (Actress Angelines Fernández) is an ugly woman who despeartely seeks to be loved and lives in apartment 71. The kids think she is a witch, and refer to her as "The Witch of 71".

Señor Barriga (Actor Edgar Vivar) is the landlord. He does not get much respect.

La Chilindrina (Actress María Antonieta de las Nieves) is the street smart daughter of Don Ramón who is always playing tricks on the other kids.

The show "El Chavo del Ocho" follows El Chavo and the other inhabitants of the vecindad, as they go about in their everyday lives. The word "vecindad" means "neighborhood" in Spanish but in Mexico City a "vecindad" is often a big old estate house with a central courtyard that has been divided into smaller apartments of one or two rooms. El Chavo lives in this type of "vecindad" and spends most of his time in the courtyard. The show relies heavily upon physical comedy and running gags in order to amuse the audience. The dialog is a bit difficult for non native Spanish speakers to understand because it uses so many idiomatic expressions and words with double meanings. In addition, Roberto Gomez Bolaños created several words and phrases that nowadays are widely used as part of the Spanish language, at least in Mexico. For this reason less it would be well worth your while to obtain a video of this program and learn a little bit about it. Needless to say, if you really want to learn the language well you need to dig down and become familiar with this type of cultural material.


GlorV1 said...

You know, I remember my dad sitting in his easy chair watching episodes from the Spanish stations, and most of them were comedys such as this. These are childlike and very amusing.If only things were so easy. Thx for sharing. Nice post.Have a great weekend.

YayaOrchid said...

Bob, you sure do have a good grasp of Mexican culture. Funny how those shows have withstood the test of time. Modern kids still watch them! Do you watch any telenovelas? Now there's a way to learn Spanish quickly. But of course, you already are fluent in Spanish.

Bob Mrotek said...

I don't recommend telenovelas for learning purposes for two reasons. One is that they are scientifically designed to attract and trap Mexican women and like their U.S. counterparts they are an addiction. The second reason is that the language used is very "Mexico City" with special idiomatic expressions and allusions to "hip" culture. Unless you are a native speaker and understand all of the innuendos they are difficult to understand and besides, most people whom I know don't live like that. They are just a writer's and marketer's dream designed to increase revenue. My wife and my mother-in-law watch them but for me they hold no interest.

YayaOrchid said...

How true, Bob! I personally am not addicted to them. I only watched one that starred Adela Noriega. She always makes her roles very believable. Besides, modern novelas are nothing like in the old days. These days it's all about women showing off their 'assets' and men looking like 'pretty boys'. They really are a waste of time. But since dialogue is involved, you can easily pick up a word here and there that helps with learning Spanish.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.