The Interview: What’s the sense of humor like here in Uruguay?
Who am I interviewing?
Fernando, a student at la Universidad Tecnológica de Uruguay. He studies mechatronics.
He says the Uruguayan sense of humor is sarcastic and varied, implementing vocabulary unique to the region. It’s fuerte, or bold, and I mention a few WhatsApp stickers that seem to comprobar:
Tiranos Temblad, a YouTube channel dedicated to all cosas uruguayas, works through its sarcasm; the channel’s host (whose face we rarely see – wait, do we ever?) is commenting on videos that have recently been published online in a voice bien tranquila, calmly, even in situations edging on absurdity. It’s funny because, to the world, Uruguay is so randomly specific. That’s one reason I laugh, anyway. Another reason, to laugh at my past self in the form of a modern high-schooler making a video project for Spanish class:
We share a lot with Argentina, he says, repeating a word he used before: “gentilicio,” or place-name. Much of the humor is not only Uruguayan, but from the region of el Río de la Plata.
But de dónde proviene, where does this sense of humor come from? A big influencer seems to be lunfardo, a vernacular used between immigrants – some considered “delinquents,” as seen in the definitions below – who arrived around Buenos Aires in the 1800s and 1900s. It mixes and invents words by combining the various languages that met, and apparently, Fernando tells me, so that police wouldn’t understand them. “Belluza” is an example, meaning plata, or money. More examples:
“Me imaginaría que el humor sarcástico puede ser en contra de la autoridad,” I would imagine that sarcasm rejects authority in general. “Claro, es algo muy de nuestro país.” Las murgas, for example, are comedians who dress up and criticize society, “tirando indirectas,” indirectly. According to this article, “Whether in Montevideo or anywhere outside the capital, murgas always bring a refreshing humorous, satirical and critical view on current events, expressed through this traditional theatrical format with song, costume and vibrant makeup.”
And according to this documentary, political jokes thrive here. An interviewee so gracefully sums it up around 1:02:09 – “Para mí, que el humor es corrosivo…que me gusta corrosivo, incorrecto, puede parecer intolerante. Pero en el fondo, para mí es sinónimo a la tolerancia, sobre todo tolerar lo que somos. Nada nos exime de que somos seres humanos y como tal tenemos nuestras luces y nuestras sombras.” I like it when humor is corrosive, he says – even though it can seem intolerant. But for him, intolerant humor is an act of tolerance, because it helps us to tolerate ourselves. Nothing exempts us from being human, so we all have our lights and our shadows.
Next, I try to distinguish Uruguay from other countries Latin America. While I was teaching in Ecuador, I asked students how they would characterize esa risa ecuatoriana. The unequivocal answer was sex. Sex. So many sex jokes. “Cada chiste tiene a su centro, a su raíz, el sexo.”
If that has anything to do with relieving tension regarding Ecuador’s Catholicism (as humor often airs out the stresses in a society), in Uruguay, the sarcastic humor gives air to tensions regarding authority. And sex isn’t as central to jokes, maybe, because it’s not a particularly religious country.
Lastly, we talk about the country’s humor industry — that is, the comic community, stand-up. Fernando says he doesn’t know much about it, and that it needs time to develop. There are, however, various Instagram accounts that pick at tensions and pop you into laughter:
@fluouy (sarcasmo & noticias; notice the ironic comments on news, circled)
@uytraductor (memes & la vida cotidiana; WhatsApp luv games)
@pabloyhe (cómico stand-up haciendo pelotudeces)
Next, I’m coming at you with an article on Buenos Aires. Although I mostly look forward to mocking porteños, I’ll try to learn some lunfardo (probably from my host dad). Entretanto me quedo así:
Sarah Simon is a regular Slide Night contributor and currently based in Uruguay on a Fulbright scholarship. See more of her writing here.