El Chavo del Ocho

El Chavo del Ocho

The other day I was posting about Chespirito, the famous Mexican actor, director and creator of El Chapulín Colorando and El Chavo del Ocho.  I mentioned that these programs hold the world record for 40 years of uninterrupted air time!!  This Mexican phenomenon has circled the globe and become a part of Latin culture.  The show is the most translated Latin-American show in history.  Just thought I’d mention that again 😉

I’m watching and listening to an episode of El Chavo del Ocho as I write this….the voices and faces are such a part of my childhood, they are as familiar to me as members of my own family!!  I’ve been trying to think of a show in English that I could compare this to…and I can’t.  I guess the idea of a group of adults playing the parts of children living in a lower-middle class housing complex…..just doesn’t sound too appealing.  But strangely enough, those are part of the reasons that this Mexican sitcom has been such a long-lived success.

In the early 1970’s, Roberto Gómez Bolaños (aka Chespirito) came up with the idea for El Chavo, with his trademark tattered plaid hat and dirty clothes held up by an old pair of suspenders, a poor orphaned boy who lives in “La Vecindad”,  a typical Mexican townhouse neighborhood, owned by Señor Barriga who constantly comes to collect the rent (especially from Don Ramon!). The sitcom explores, in a comic manner, the problems that many homeless children face on a daily basis, such as hunger, sadness and not having someone responsible to watch over them.  It always seems like Chavo lives in a barrel in the main patio, but he says he lives in “#8”, thus his name, The Boy from #8 (chavo is Mexican slang for boy or kid).  (It was originally the “#8” from the channel that ran the program).  His life consists of his longing for food and hanging out with his pals and enemies in the neighborhood, but portrayed in a real, yet lighthearted way, always good for a laugh, but with deeper meaning.  The character of Chavo has struck a resounding note in the hearts of people all over Latin America, with each country adopting him as a symbol of their own poor needy children, from the barrios of Tegucigalpa to the favelas of Brazil.  Brazil especially has taken Chavo, whom they call Chaves, as their own.  (Portuguese also lends itself to better translation, since it is similar to Spanish).  In Brazil, Peru, Chile and other South American countries, as well as in many other countries of the world, the series is still very popular and has developed a large cult following by generation Y.

Even as a kid, we realized that the children in the show were played by adult actors, but that never took away from our enjoyment.  Even now, as I watch it, I realize they are adults, but somehow they are real kids to me….I suppose that someone seeing it for the first time might be put off to see the adults portraying children, but if you give it a chance, and let yourself get into the show, you’ll find that the actors do such a great job!  Especially the actor Chespirito who plays El Chavo….he has such a sad little face and portrays so well the orphaned boy who stands up to adults, but also gets put down a lot….but he never gives up and looks on the bright side, all those heartwarming characteristics!  The show really plays up the kids vs. adults theme, showing how incomprehensible each is to the other.  There’s tons of slapstick and all the recurring humor and gags makes it a fun show for kids to watch, even if Spanish isn’t your first language!

The main cast of actors all worked together so seamlessly.  Doña Florinda and her son Kiko (Quico), Chavos frenemy, live in the neighborhood, and she is being “courted” by the children’s teacher, Profesor Jirafales.  Don Ramon is the single down-on-his luck dad of La Chilindrina, Chavo’s friend, and he is always being pursued by Doña Clotilde, who the children think is a witch and call “La Bruja del 71”, an older single lady.  El Señor Barriga comes to collect the rent and his rich-boy son Ñoño comes to play with the kids.  A few other characters are Jaime the mailman, La Popis who is Kiko’s cousin and Paty, the girl that Chavo likes!  I always enjoyed the scenes where the kids are in school and their teacher El Profesor Jirafales so earnestly tries to teach them, but of course the kids always misunderstand him, say his name wrong and tease him about Kiko’s mom!

Just hearing the opening notes of the theme music for the series (which was “The Elephant Never Forgets”, a playful version of Beethoven’s “Turkish March” in 1967 by electronic music pioneers Perrey and Kingsley) makes me smile!  And when they start their well-known routines and phrases, it’s hard not to say it right along with them (ok, I do).  Some of the phrases have just become a part of our everyday language. Some examples of Chavo’s favorite expressions:

Fue sin querer queriendo“; “Bueno, pero no se enoje“; “Es que no me tienen paciencia“; “Se me chispoteó“, “Vas a ver a la salida” y su clásico “Eso, Eso, Eso
Some of the examples of recurring humor (and many more from this site):  “El Chavo getting scared: whenever something spooks El Chavo out, instead of running, screaming or fainting like the others from the vecindad, he suffers a Garrotera (“the stiffs” or “piripaque” in Portuguese): he freezes into an awkward stance with his knees bent, back slouched, left arm dropping down and right arm hanging out with only his hand dropping downward. The only way to return him back to normal is a splash of cold water on his face.
or Don Ramón takes the blame: the kids are notoriously mischievous and their games often end in tears (or, more accurately, slapstick). Don Ramón tends to intervene and confiscate the offending “toy” (be it a brick, a steaming iron, a hammer or something else with potential harm risk), invariably at the wrong time: if Quico was at the receiving end, the tearful kid produces a short account (omitting the culprit) for his enraged mother, Doña Florinda… and Don Ramón, still holding the main body of evidence, realizes his situation; he tries to explain what really happened to Doña Florinda, but she, with very rare exceptions, doesn’t care for his version of the story, soundly slapping Don Ramón. In addition, Quico rarely tells his mom Don Ramón is innocent. The routine includes Doña Florinda’s advice to Quico not to mingle with riffraff (“no te juntes con esta chusma”), Quico’s victory dance (a comical imitation of a boxer’s movements, accompanied by “chusma, chusma”, and ending with a mock punch to the man’s chest as he blows a raspberry), their dignified stage exit, and Don Ramón’s trademark tantrum (throwing his hat onto the ground and jumping repeatedly onto it, regardless of where it lands).”
Anyways, I still love watching the show, what can I say, and my Spanish is peppered with phrases from the shows.  (My most-used is from the El Chómpiras sketches and is “pues ¿pa’ que te digo que no, si sí?”!)
The other day (last year) my son came home from his spanish-bilingual school and was telling me about this cartoon they watched in class….I said, let me guess, was it El Chavo del Ocho? 🙂  He was surprised that I was so smart, heh heh!! 😉 In 2006 a computer animated series was launched and has been quite popular (As a background, a 3D computer model was used, though for the characters, 2D drawings were used).  The kids watched the cartoon on our last trip to Guatemala.  I couldn’t be more pleased.There are a whole bunch of other things I’d like to mention about this program and it’s cast, by my coherence is leaving me.  They worked together so well and did many other sketches and shows, like I mentioned in my other post, they did El Chapulín Colorado and Los Loquitos.  Some of our favorite sketches included impersonating Charlie Chaplin and their El Flaco y El Gordo: impersonating Laurel and Hardy.  The actors Chespirito and Edgar Vivar (Sr. Barriga) once received an award from a Laurel and Hardy fan club for performing the funniest impersonation of Laurel and Hardy in Latin America. (impersonation made during an episode of El Chapulín Colorado).  Something else that I thought was cool was finding out that our friends’ father had once had acting lessons with Edgar Vivar!  Oh, oh, oh! One more thing that I learned from watching the Chespirito’s Bio interview (link at the end of this post) was that he gave Chavo some of the mannerisms from his own kids, such as that Chavo’s little jump/dance of excitement was something Chespirto’s own daughter would do when she was little!  One more fact: Chespirito was still acting in episodes of some of his shows when he was 66 years old!  Good job! 
I guess you can tell that this show was something that we enjoyed for many years while we lived in Guatemala. 🙂  I think that it was such a fun part of our experience of living in Central America, learning the language and just having a good, clean laugh; enjoying the simple things!
Today I watched this episode of El Chavo del Ocho.  Aqui se puede ver el programa de Biography de Chespirito.  Let me know if you are a fan, too! 🙂

6 responses »

  1. The more I try to find American shows that are similar to Chespirito or Chavo, the more I think it bears a closer resemblance to television shows of the fifties that were modifications of radio plays. They mostly take place on a single set and have a strong emphasis on reoccurring situations (the sit in the sitcom). Baby Snooks might be the closest example of the adult portraying the child in the US, but I don’t know that it ever made it out of the radio era.

    The slapstick in Chavo is possibly even more delightful now in that it allowed for cartoonish-levels of violence (bricks to the face, steaming irons on the ear, bowling balls to the head), but because it was also all done on a limited budget, it was always obviously funny without being obscene.

    I remember quite early as a kid being aware of the commentaries on class that were present in Chavo. There was Chavo, the poorest orphan who may or may not have a home– La Chilindrina, who was poor but had a father and a home–Quico, who was the richest kid in the neighbourhood (and quite spoiled)–and then Ñoño who was the son of the owner of the neighbourhood and thus richer than all of them. The distinctions were quite clear, and who sided with who was usually based on who else was around–so La Chilindrina might pick on Chavo if it was just the two of them, but then when Quico would show up it was both of them against him, but then if Ñoño showed up it was the three in the neighbourhood against him. But in the midst of all of it, they often would also forget their differences and just play together.

  2. Pingback: Loving Papito’s Culture » Growing Up Bilingual

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