Back doors

“Boo, Wendy Testaburger, boo.” South Park, Community, Two and a Half Men, Ylvis, and 9gag are some examples of the essence of American humor. Many of our jokes and conversations are based on references to these shows/videos/websites, for not only do they reflect what we think is “funny,” but also define it. What characterizes what we (American) English speakers classify as “funny”? Sarcasm, ironies, pure weirdness (“what does the fox say? Ding ding ding”), iconic lines (“legen — wait for it — dary”), cats, and puns are some examples of what comedy is often comprised of.

One important and equally prominent characteristic of many of these TV shows and videos is the approach to real life issues, particularly to homophobia, racism, and stereotypes as a form of humor and social criticism. And when such social issues are tackled, it’s very difficult to avoid offending or hurting certain people’s feelings. Mainstream shows such as Two and a Half Men, Friends, and Community manage to incorporate these elements smoothly; their jokes on stereotypes are usually the “laughing with them, not at them” type, and avoid being too offensive.

On the other side of the spectrum lies sitcoms like South Park, the Simpsons, and Family Guy where most of the comedy relies on hardcore dark humor. Because of their mercilessly satirical content, these shows have caused much controversy and many still cringe when they hear South Park’s “Minority Song,” for making fun of Jews, Asians, blacks, latinos, gays, whites and Jesus isn’t exactly appropriate. It’s very difficult to get away with anything racist or homophobic in the media.

Although many shows do tackle this topic, all is done without the intention of offending any minority, and when they do, a lot of controversy stirs up often resulting in the banning of such shows. The negative reaction to such forms of entertainment is a result of our definition of what is “OK” and what is “not OK.” This line between comedy and disrespect differs from one background to another. Perhaps the disparity between Graded students’ and teachers’ tolerance (or intolerance) to such shows comes from the fact that we are all exposed to different cultures and beliefs.

Taking such factors in consideration, “funny” differs from culture to culture. My sincere apologies if I made you think of TOK right now. Here in Brazil, popular shows/vlogs like Porta dos Fundos, Barbixas, Pânico and P.C. Siqueira demonstrate how our humor distinguishes itself from America’s. Most of these examples are comprised of what an American would define as loudness, insults, inappropriate parodies, blatant references to sex, “bundas,” and plenty of swearing.

Most notably, Porta dos Fundos, a web series that publishes 3-5 minute videos on a weekly bases, notorious for its irreverence and dark humor, has become a prominent aspect of Brazilian pop culture. Controversial topics such as Marco Feliciano’s Cura Gay, religion, racism, dwarves (making fun of them can be terribly offensive but terribly hilarious), vegetarians, homophobia and even satanism have been unabashedly mocked of in many of their clips, not to mention the shameless takes on taboos and indecencies that are too inappropriate to be mentioned. In other words: their videos are not for children. And we love them. In spite of such irreverence, Porta dos Fundos remains as one of the most popular shows in the country, with millions of Brazilian viewers who deem it as perfectly OK.

Even I find myself religiously accessing their channel every Monday and Thursday (the days in which new videos are published). This happens because Brazilians are a lot less considerate to sensitivities when it comes to humor. One of the episodes, for example, named “Na Lata,” explicitly satirizes names such as “Kellen,” directly correlating them with social class.

In America, this subject is also made fun of, but it’s done at a much subtler level. Rather than weaving its way around it, Brazilian humor “puts the finger on the wound.” Especially when it comes to the most serious of topics, Brazilians tend to take everything lightly and are not afraid to make fun of them, which can be both a relief and a drawback. On one hand, our laid-back nature makes us a loving, pleasant people, but the inability to take anything seriously also holds the country back.

What we see in American and especially in Brazilian television reflects not only what each culture deems “funny,” but also the most sensitive issues faced by them. The different takes on such issues are a direct result of different cultures and values, which may create a discrepancy between what is acceptable and what is not. So, next time you see a Porta dos Fundos video, don’t feel so guilty for tearing up; remember, it’s only inappropriate if you make it so. Eitcha lelê.