He’s Conquering Latin America With Acid Humor
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these Ecuadorian YouTube stars are breaking the comedy mold.
As a pro wrestler delivers a blow, the young man whips himself into a frenzy on the couch, cheering the on-screen violence. Then his two dads walk in, and the son flips the channel. “What were you watching?” the father asks. “Me? Glee,” the son replies. “Don’t you love their choreography?” The dads retreat to fret: Is their son … straight? In four minutes of quick-hitting situations, “The World Upside Down” parodies what life would be like if heterosexuality carried the stigma homosexuality does in many cultures, and is just one example of how a merry band of Ecuadorians is flipping Latin America’s comedy scene on its head.
The director of the Enchufe TV sketch comedy empire is Martín Domínguez, a humble yet ambitious 27-year-old Quito resident. Born and raised in Ecuador’s capital, Domínguez knew he wanted to be a storyteller since he was a kid. At 15, he attended a film camp and found his calling. “If I wouldn’t have decided this, I would’ve been a soldier like my dad,” Domínguez says. Some years later, he met Enchufe TV’s founding partners — Leonardo Robalino, Christian Moya and Jorge Ulloa — in film school. They got together to reinvent Ecuador’s audiovisual world but ended up redefining comedy for a new generation.
Domínguez dreams of making films and of becoming the mogul behind “the Disney of Latino digital content.”
They found success targeting everyday situations in Ecuador, which turned out to be strikingly similar to Latin America’s 30-plus countries. Their accents were also an asset. “Ecuadorian” is a neutral Spanish that practically anyone in the region can understand, as it lacks the ornate sounds or expressions of many other regional accents.
“Before we began, people would tell us to do sketches in English or in a Mexican accent to be successful,” Domínguez says, as Mexican Spanish dominates TV and movies in the region. “But our objective was to make comedy that would reach the people.” They released their first video in November 2011, “The Worst Casting,” a clever three-minute skewering of aspiring actors. It quickly took off, and before Domínguez knew it, they had conquered Colombia and began headlining hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Peruvian computer screens. Viacom’s Comedy Central Latin America started airing their content across the region in 2016 and even dubbed sketches into Brazilian Portuguese, the first Ecuadorian product to be dubbed, according to Domínguez.
The core fans are people between ages 15 and 25 who personally relate to the sketches mocking social norms and taboos. Today, Enchufe TV has more views on YouTube than the BBC, Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj channels, and its 17 million subscribers are more than BuzzFeedVideo or VEVO. Bits including “[Girl] Super Champions,” “Condom Buyer” and “Types of Students” have been viewed tens of millions of times.
Their inspirations include the College Humor franchise in the U.S. and Mexico’s El Chavo del Ocho, a show that first aired in 1971 and still runs in over half a dozen countries with an estimated 90 million daily viewers. They paid homage with a surreal movie that turned the Mexican icon upside down featuring suspense and even sexuality-filled scenes. “We aspired to internationalize our humor [like Chavo did] with its authentic, everyday nature,” Domínguez says. His production house, Touché Films, has more movies and a series for a large network in the works. Domínguez dreams of making films and of becoming the mogul behind “the Disney of Latino digital content.”
Enchufe has managed to find success while bucking Latin America’s affinity for cookie-cutter comedy shows that — with a few exceptions — juggle the same topics, typically scorning minorities. “We wanted to be the anti-humor of Ecuador,” Domínguez says. “They laugh at the gay person for being gay, they laugh at the Black person for being Black. We wanted to break that and question [stereotypes] to shed light on them. And we wanted to really differentiate ourselves by having good camera work, [building the] actors and polishing our scripts.”
Orlando Herrera, Enchufe TV’s content director, believes they’re educating a new generation to reject stereotypes. “It’s funny how things have changed,” he says. “Conservatism has now become the counterculture. And we work with that.” Aside from “The World Upside Down,” Enchufe tackled sexuality with “Gay Privileges,” in which a heterosexual man learns the perks of being homosexual.
While Enchufe’s humor is quirky, its development of scripts and actors is highly professionalized. “There are not a lot of comedy producers in Spanish who really bring this level of craft to their work. [Their system] is like the American system with writers, rooms and rigid schedules,” says Benjamin Odell, director and chief operations officer at 3Pas Studios in Los Angeles. “They understand that the creative process prospers when you work within pre-established parameters.” Odell has worked with Domínguez producing content for Enchufe TV with actor and director Eugenio Derbez, one of Mexico’s most prominent comedians and one who also breaks his country’s comedy norms with unorthodox jokes and unique characters.
While Enchufe TV has stormed Latin America, it has not yet broken through with the vast Latino population in the U.S. “They need to always evolve and never be complacent,” Odell says. “They need to transcend cultural sensibilities to be funny to the greatest number of people.”
Evolution is not a problem for the Enchufe crew, who are always eager to push boundaries. “Humor is inherently transgressive,” Domínguez says. “If you’re not breaking rules, then you aren’t making good humor.” And it’s relatable too: ”When you break your toe, you won’t say, ‘Geez!’ You’ll probably say ‘Puta madre!’”