Chespirito

Something sad happened a few days ago that has all of Latin America mourning: Roberto Gómez Bolaños passed away, famously known as Chespirito (little Shakespeare, a reference to his prolificness, talent, and short stature). Chespirito had a variety show where he played several different characters, but he’s most fondly remembered for the show El chavo del ocho, as well as El chapulín colorado. El chavo del ocho was and still is an absolute phenomenon throughout the region: though the show’s heyday was in the 70s, tens of millions still tune in daily to watch reruns.

If you spend time in Latin America and even halfway embed yourself into the culture, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across references to El chavo del ocho, whether you realize it or not. I remember that my first year here in 2009, I went to a Halloween party (dressed as a gypsy) whose costume contest was won by a guy dressed as El chavo del ocho. I had no idea who he was supposed to be: he just looked like a hobo to me. I was so confused, as well as a little indignant that such a shabby costume could take top prize. Saying that he was el chavo del ocho made no sense to me! What the heck was a chavo, and from the eighth what? Here are a few general pointers to know about the show, with no need to actually watch it. If you ever have an hour to spare, though, I definitely recommend catching an episode or two. Think of it as an infusion of culture.

The show was Mexican, and chavo in Mexico means boy. Ocho refers to the apartment number of where he supposedly lives, though I’m told you never actually see the apartment. El chavo is an orphan, and we mostly see him on the patio of an apartment complex. He spends a lot of time in a barrel on the patio.

Main characters: El chavo (orphan), La Chilindrina (friend), Quico (friend), plus several adults.

I think that most of the current love for the show is based on nostalgia. It gets a few laughs out of me, but El chavo is just too woebegone and pitiful for me to really enjoy myself. When it was being shown during the seventies and eighties, many countries only had one or two channels, and much of Latin America was under dictatorships. Something about the perpetual down-on-his-luckness of the beloved underdog and the working-class cast really spoke to people. Trying to describe its almost inexplicable success and appeal to Americans, one Internet commenter described it as The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and Charlie Brown all in one show.

In El chavo, the kids all speak in these very whiny voices (and I think the Mexican accent can be a little chillón to begin with), so I sometimes find it a little hard to make out what they’re saying. If you ever catch an episode on TV, though, watch it a for a few minutes at least–it’s good language practice, and you’ll get a healthy dose of Latin American culture in you. Actually, a fair amount of the humor revolves around language: misunderstandings and double entendres, and then the meanings will be spelled out with plastilina for the slow-witted characters who didn’t get them. Great for a Spanish learner to eavesdrop on.

¡Uno de cuatro (el último) no está mal!

¡Uno de cuatro (el último) no está mal!

I watched part of the first episode of El chavo del ocho that came up on Youtube and loosely transcribed an interaction centered on language.

¿Quieres por favor poner las petacas en la escalera? [El chavo then goes and sits on the stairs.] (petaca = suitcase in Mexico; petacas = buttocks in Mexico and the Caribbean) (Could you please place the suitcases/buttocks on the stairs?)

¡Estoy hablando de mis petacas! (No, my suitcases/buttocks!)

¿Qué quiere, que le empuje pa’ que dé un sentón o qué? (What, do you want me to push you so you fall on your butt or what?)

Estoy hablando de las maletas, ¿no sabes lo que son maletas? (maleta = suitcase; idiot, good-for-nothing) (I’m talking about the suitcases/idiots–don’t you know what suitcases/idiots are?)

Ah, sí, los árbitros de futbol, dice Don Ramón. (Oh, right, soccer refs, according to Don Ramón.)

Mira, estas son maletas, [points at his two suitcases on the ground] o petacas, son sinónimos. (Look, these are suitcases, or luggage: they’re synonyms.)

¿Son sinónimos? (They’re synonyms?)

Claro. (Of course.)

Ah, o sea que [walks over to the suitcases] este es un sinónimo chiquito y este es un sinónimo grande. (Oh, OK, so this is a small synonym, and this is a big synonym.)

Voy de nuevo, eh. Esta es una maleta. (Let’s try this again, OK? This is a suitcase.)

Ah bueno, sí, también. (Oh, OK, that, too.)

¿Tú sabes si Doña Florinda ya hizo su maleta? (Do you know if Doña Florinda already packed/made her suitcase?)

No, las compró ya hechas. (No, she bought them pre-made.)

Me refiero a si ya preparó su maleta. (I mean whether she packed her suitcase.)

Ah, pues no sé. (Oh, I don’t know.)

¿Quieres echar un ojo a las maletas? (Could you keep an eye on/throw an eye into the suitcases?)

Ay no, quedo tuerto! (No, then I’d be a one-eyed man!)

Pues, por favor si quieres vigilar mis maletas mientras yo voy a hablar con Doña Florinda. (Look, just watch my suitcases while I go talk to Doña Florinda.)

Ridiculous? Absolutely. All of the humor here centers on words with more than one meaning, as well as expressions taken literally. Great practice for learners, though, and de paso you can learn some very colloquial and Mexican Spanish.

El chavo and Chespirito in general also have left a great legacy on the Spanish language. Here are some phrases you’re very liable to hear in day-to-day life.

From El chavo del ocho
Fue sin querer queriendo. (It was accidentally on purpose.)
¡Se me chispoteó! (Whoops, it just slipped out!)
Es que no me tienen paciencia. (I just can’t get a break.)

From El chapulín colorado (The Crimson Grasshopper)
¡No contaban con mi astucia! (They never saw it coming!)
Calma, calma, que no panda el cúnico (Pobody nanic.)
Lo sospeché desde un principio. (I smelled a rat from the beginning.)

chespirito

These shows are really near and dear to most Latin Americans’ hearts, so I recommend that you at least have a cursory knowledge about who their beloved Chespirito was! The comedian made generation after generation laugh, and people will always be grateful for how he brought so much cheer and love to their lives. Que en paz descanse.

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13 responses to “Chespirito

  1. Que en paz descance. I grew up watching El chavo del ocho (I’m 30, so this was in the late 80s and early 90s, way past the show’s heyday, which speaks volumes to its longevity!) and it’s one of those shows that for Latin Americans, transcends cultures and generations. My 50-something year-old Mexican coworker and I constantly make references to it during our workday. Just the other day, I suggested that he’d done something “sin querer” and then we both smiled and said at the same time, “fue sin querer, queriendo” (classic Chavo speak). I’ve attempted to share my love of the show with my Jersey boy American husband, but he’s completely baffled by the notion of adults playing children. I suppose it’s one of those things that you just have to know. An acquired taste, perhaps. ;)

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    • Exactly; it absolutely transcends cultures and generations. (Though it never made its way to the U.S., curiously…) I’ve heard that it was also enormous in Brazil. I’ve seen pictures of the cast arriving in Bogotá back then, and they were like rock stars.

      An acquired taste, yes, and one that’s best acquired in childhood, I think. Though I know that parents and grandparents also loved the shows. I can’t think of anything like it in my own experience! Hopefully when some random reference to El chavo comes up, readers will now at least have a clue and a mental image.

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      • Its popularity in Brazil explains why, when I shared an article about his passing this past weekend, a Brazilian friend of mine “liked” it. I was wondering how she knew who he was, but that makes sense now! After all, Brazilian star Xuxa was also wildly popular in Spanish speaking Latin America when I was growing up as well. So was the telenovela “El clon” about a decade ago or so. We’ve had a lot of cultural exchanges over time.

        You are right, even adults enjoyed it as well. My mom watched the show right along with me and laughed just as hard as I did. Although I admit a lot of the word play and puns at the time went right over my head, since I was too young to understand (not to mention the Mexican slang). I can certainly appreciate its wittiness better as an adult. I suppose it appealed to adults for its dialogue and to children for its physical comedy. (Similar to I Love Lucy, another favorite of mine to this day.)

        Thanks for the post in honor of our Chespirito. He will forever live on through his art.

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        • I’ve heard about and even watched a little of El clon!

          It’s so interesting that no matter how much you perfect a second language and absorb a foreign culture, you’ll never be able to have the childhood that the people in your adopted country have. And our childhoods and all the culture that permeates us shape us so much! I wasn’t joking with the graphic I shared- if I end up with a Hispanic long term, my future kids almost certainly will grow up watching El chavo, and then in a way I’ll get to have that experience as I watch it with them. Better late than never.

          It’s been a hard year for comedy! As Chris Rock said in an interview that I read yesterday, we lost Robin Williams, we lost Joan Rivers, and, in a way, we’ve “lost” Bill Cosby. And now Chespirito. All of them will keep us laughing through their art, though.

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          • Indeed. Being Puerto Rican, I grew up with a foot in each culture, so to speak, US and Latin America. As a child, I watched some shows that American kids grow up with (often dubbed into Spanish!), but not all of them. For example, I never watched Sesame’s Street, nor did I have access to very popular Nickolodean shows that American kids watched in the 90s until I was much older and unable to enjoy them the same way. But I did watch others like Captain Planet, classic Tom & Jerry/Bugs Bunny/other Loony Toons shows, and shows that aired on the old Disney Afternoon lineup in the mid 90s. But living in the US, I notice that the shows I watched as a child usually have more in common with fellow Latin Americans from my generation than with the American ones. Funny how that is, considering my dad has already (lovingly) given me up for “gringa”. ;)

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  2. Great article! Thanks for sharing. What wonderful memories he has left us.

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  3. I loved Chespirito and had my share of laughs during my childhood, adolescence and adulthood with his sketches. El Chavo, Chapulin and Chaparron Bonaparte are my favorite Chespirito characters. It was great growing up and being able to share the love for the show and its characters with my parents and grandparents. Btw, I think the show was called El Chavo del 8 because when it started out it was shown on channel 8. ¡Qué en paz descanse Chespirito!

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    • I’m so happy that you and so many other people had so much joy brought to you by this one man. And I don’t know about channel 8, but I read in multiple places that he lived in departamento 8. Very mysterious, though, because we never see it, nor do we ever learn el chavo’s real name! I wish that I too had a beloved show to share with my parents and grandparents.

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  4. I just recently discovered Chespirito for my own Spanish practice. I so wish I had found him sooner! His sketches are so clever and so memorable! Que en paz descanse, Chespirito, you brought joy to a lot of people.

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    • What an inspiration! And here I was assuring people that they only needed to spare a few minutes or an hour to minimally familiarize themselves with him. I too plan to watch more of his work–glad you enjoy it so much!

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  5. Interesting! I absolutely love puns, so I loved that dialogue you plucked out from the episode! Thanks for sharing :)

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    • Yay! The scene is in this episode, and starts around the 14:28 mark.

      And I never would have understood about petacas or maletas without looking them up, but it was obvious that there were puns, there.

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