Fala cados, beleza?
Welcome to The Brazilian Gringo, an ongoing column about life, pop culture, politics, and history in Brazil from the perspective of a permanent resident who has lived in the country for three years and counting. If you have any suggestions for subjects you’d like to see covered in future articles, let me know in the comments!
I’ve long maintained that comedy is one the easiest things to get lost in translation. Sometimes a comedic film/series/book/whatever can travel the globe, making millions laugh in the process. More often than not, so much explanation is required that the humor usually evaporates faster than water on hot asphalt. One of the many things I love about life in Brazil is the brilliantly sarcastic yet playful sense of humor. Yet even with a solid grasp of Portuguese, a lot of it can still fly over my head. Even with this, I come here today to discuss the HBO Brasil late night news satire series, Greg News with Gregório Duvivier. And as you probably guessed from the header, its structure can basically be described as “Last Week Tonight but Brazilian.”
However, Gregório Duvivier’s approach is considerably droller than his British-American counterpart. Sure, he can indulge in a more flamboyant style at times (in the series’ first season he had a charmingly over-the-top musical number about the alphabet with each letter representing something that terrifies conservatives). His background is with the comedy group Porta dos Fundos (literally “back door”). The group’s comedy has a controversial reputation. In 2018 they released the Netflix special, The Last Hangover, followed by a sequel in 2019 called The First Temptation of Christ. Duvivier played Jesus Christ in the latter special and the depiction of Jesus as having a gay lover proved… divisive in the world’s largest Catholic nation. The First Temptation of Christ resulted in the office of Porta dos Fundo being firebombed by a right-wing extremist (mercifully no-one was hurt) and later faced a censorship attempt from a conservative judge in Rio de Janeiro (thankfully the Brazilian Supreme Court slapped down the request and chastised the judge for wasting everyone’s time). Duvivier is also a well-known newspaper columnist and fierce Bolsonaro critic; he’s no stranger to controversy, regardless of the medium.
Naturally, he’s one of the best choices to host a series talking about the insanity of politics and day-to-day life in Brazil. But with so much Brazilian news already reading like parody (and launching millions of subsequent memes), Duvivier adopts the role as the jaded but always amused chronicler. This is not to suggest that he doesn’t show exasperation or rage in his segments, particularly those concerning the many, many incidents of injustice in his home country and around the world. But with so much chaos, especially in Brazil, there’s a general feeling of “I laugh so I don’t constantly scream.” His show can feel like an oasis of calm amidst the fatiguing nuttiness.
Full disclosure: much like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, I find both series more “informative with a side of laughs” than true comedy gut-busters. Greg News is no different. But if this approach sounds appealing, there is a lot to be enjoyed.
Some of the segments of Greg News are international in scope and wouldn’t be out of place in a US-based news satire program, such as this segment below about healthcare professionals:
Or this sobering piece about police brutality (like the US, it’s also a terrible problem here):
Sometimes there’s analysis about issues in the United States, which bring a funny albeit jarring look at how Brazil sees the US, as demonstrated when Greg News covered the 2020 elections:
Or when he tried valiantly to explain the batshit insane QAnon cult:
But in my opinion, the most insightful and thought-provoking segments concern deliberately Brazilian subjects. Like this piece about Indigenous Brazilians, their rich cultures, and the continued injustices they face:
Or his scalpel-sharp exploration of the skyrocketing food insecurity crisis Brazil is facing during the pandemic:
Even as a resident of the country, there is still so much I need to know and it can feel bewildering with all the rapid social changes. Given much of the world focuses disproportionately on the hardships of life in Brazil, often with a supercilious sneer of “look at those people,” Greg News is a welcome antidote: shrewd, sarcastic, weary, but always clear-eyed and no nonsense.
For those who are curious, here is the YouTube playlist below. English closed captions are available and are actually done well! Some of the culture specific jokes and word play will almost certainly be lost on people who don’t understand Portuguese, but besides this, most of the jokes are accessible.
At the end of the day, exasperation and incredulous laughter with the state of the world are the truly universal languages.
Playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRhP9oJut01keHMlDtBtSm3lMmj6As83N