Why you should care
Brazilians laugh their faces off while the nation’s politicians and corporate fat cats squirm. What more could you ask for from comedy?
Ladies, imagine this: it’s a routine visit to the gynecologist and the doctor notices something strange and amazing — the image of Jesus Christ between your legs! Next thing you know, there’s a crowd of awestruck believers around your stirrups snapping photos and holding a candlelight vigil. If you can’t picture that, allow the Brazilian comedy group Porta dos Fundos (literally “back door”) to do it for you and the other six million people that have watched the video on YouTube (pro tip: turn on the English subtitles).
Not all of them were amused. Congressman and evangelical pastor Marco Feliciano denounced the video, calling it “rotten” and attempted to get it taken down. Which is, for Porta dos Fundos, a sign of success.
They have an unforgiving, borderline-offensive take on touchy topics like corruption, police brutality and religion.
Nobody could have predicted their extraordinary emergence onto the comedy scene. Going by what’s on television, it seems like Brazilians are mainly interested in two things: soap operas and soccer. But the meteoric rise of a cohort of Rio de Janeiro-based comedians ranging in age from 25 to 45, and their unforgiving, borderline-offensive take on touchy topics like corruption, police brutality, religion and that time your anti-balding meds made an arm grow on the back of your neck, is teaching traditional media a crucial lesson: Brazilians have an insatiable thirst for the absurd and provocative. “They’ve blown open the door for everyone else” says Joseph Straubhaar, a professor of media, film and T.V. at the University of Texas at Austin, referring to the YouTubers likely to follow Porta dos Fundos’ footsteps to fame.
They’re the largest YouTube channel in the nation of 200 million, and they don’t seem to be slowing anytime soon. As the group makes periodic forays into television and works on a movie set for release in June, many are anxious that the homogeneity of Brazil’s mainstream media will sand down the group’s edges. But if their latest video — featuring women sharing diet tips for the upcoming beach season: crack and chemotherapy — is any indication, the crew’s wit is still razor sharp.
It’s not by chance that Porta dos Fundos, founded by five comedians and veterans in the film and television industry, is a markedly different beast from anything else on air. The group was sick of the conservative, non-confrontational approach from the mega-media conglomerates like O Globo, which is known to have tight ties to the political elite. Porta dos Fundos’ first big hit was a spoof of Italian fast food chain Spoleto and their notoriously shitty service — it garnered 10.8 million (and counting) views. But instead of fighting back, Spoleto took the low blow in stride, going so far as to employ the group for follow-up videos. “We saw their potential and we immediately knew we should join them,” the company’s head of marketing told O Estado de S. Paulo. They’ve made videos for other corporate big wigs as well, including Visa, Fiat and LG, for approximately $100,000 per video.
It’s ironic: the rebels who soared to fame partly by roasting the rich and powerful are selling their services to their very victims. But, hey, everybody’s got to get paid.