HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 17 – Perhaps in other parts of the world a comedy group isn’t a big deal. I don’t know; I’ve never had the opportunity to leave my country.
In any case, a few days ago I went to the Infanta Cinema, where I rediscovered a slice of my adolescence, my youth.
There were only 13 people there, counting the documentary’s director, Eduardo del Llano. The projectionist made a mistake: instead of “GNYO” (an abbreviated title that to a great extent prevented the public from realizing what the film was really about, which is perhaps why the theater wasn’t full), he began to show a fiction short that, according to Eduardo’s attestations, had nothing to do with his documentary.
Fortunately, before that happened, the director had the opportunity to speak to the audience and describe how this, his first full-length documentary, was a very personal work. In addition to speaking about the comedy group “Nos y Otros” (We and Others), he had wanted to discuss the comedy group movement that emerged in universities and other educational centers in Cuba from the 1980s to the mid-90s; he especially hoped to rescue the spirit of those high school and university years.
In the middle of his presentation, an usher entered the room to let someone know (loudly) that they would be showing “Diva” (a Brazilian movie) at 8:00 p.m. in the theater next door.
With so many interruptions and only 13 people in the theater, it all seemed like a sketch staged by the group Nos y Otros. It was as if this were the latest skit by the comedy group that made history in our country; a group that made thousands of Cubans reflect, laugh and applaud.
Absurdities of Cuban Daily Life
In the documentary, Del Llano interviewed everyone who was ever in the group from their founding in 1982 up to 1997, the year they broke up.
Gradually their texts -full of the absurdities of our daily life- were included in the humor section of DDT, in the magazine Alma Mater. Then they decided to take to the stage, at which time trova musician Frank Delgado helped them to work at the Casa del Joven Creador (Creative Youth Center).
An entire generation of Cubans spent afternoons and evenings in that place, but not only with Nos y Otros. It was there that we also sang to the rhythm of guitars, read poetry, had exhibitions and heard theatrical monologues. It was, like its name implies, the perfect place for young artists who hardly had opportunities in theaters or the “grand” cultural centers.
Now it’s a rum museum. The Creative Youth Center no longer exists.
However, it was the film “Alicia en el pueblo Maravillas” (Alice in the Town of Wonderland), by Daniel Diaz Torres, that launched Nos y Otros into the limelight – though in a negative way from the official point of view.
The script for the movie was produced collectively by the group (which caught Diaz’ attention). I recall that tremendous commotion took place around the movie. As was recounted by Orlando Cruzata, a member of the comedy group who is now a television director, some Communist Party members he knew got into trouble because they laughed when they saw the movie.
The Witch Must Be Burned
The film didn’t say anything every Cuban didn’t already know. It criticized the double standards that since those days have eaten away at our society (this defect has been palpable since the 1980s; it didn’t begin with the “Special Period” crisis of the 90s). The movie especially reflected the absurdity and decay of a system plagued by a bureaucratic structure. “The witch must be burned!” was one of the phrases repeated in the film.
From then on, the group’s fame for being controversial grew even more.
Several anecdotes were present in the documentary. At one moment a recent journalism graduate invites the group to the studios of Radio Rebelde. Among their usual routine was a news skit. At the radio station, they presented the news (without an explanation).
Listeners began to worry when they heard “The salsa group Van Van was attacked in Kenya,” when while performing in that drought-ridden country they sand their classic “the aunt died of thirst”. The supposed news continued in similar directions, but the climax came when they announced the holding of a “children and sex competition.” In it, children had to respond to questions such as, “What do you feel when your teacher bends over to pick up the chalk?”
They cut the transmission.
All of this was only because it hadn’t occurred to anyone to alert the listeners that it was not a real news broadcast, but one by a comedy group. But since the chain always breaks at its weakest link, the recent graduate was fired.
Those of us who were in Theater 4 of the Infanta Multi-Cinema had the chance to laugh at the some of their works: “Anodyne,” “The Magician” (which was ultimately censored, though it received first prize at the Aquelarre Comedy Festival), “Utopia,” “Air” and “The Murder of Elpidio Valdes.”
For all of us who were teens or youths between 1985 and 1995, the memory of this group remains. As Osvaldo Doimeadiós (an actor and former-director of the Humor Promotion Center) once said,
“They were depressed comedians, cheerfully dressed in black, critical – but people who believed in utopia.”
The most important thing was the ideas and their expression with subtlety, which has now been lost. These ideas were inspiration for other comedians and creative Cubans and for those of us who think art must be subversive.