All day long, I’ve been thinking about Chiquito.
Years ago, when I was just starting to play with Scandal Jackson, my bandmate Fredi asked if I knew who Chiquito de la Calzada was.
‘Me suena,’ I said (if I remember correctly).
I had not been here very long, and had gleaned most of what I knew about the local pop culture from reading satirical comic strips in the magazine El jueves (as I’ve mentioned before). One reference that popped up again and again in strips like Para tí que eres joven and others was the name ‘Chiquito de la Calzada‘.
A week later, Fredi brought me a DVD of Chiquito’s ‘greatest hits’, jokes taken from appearances on various ’90s TV programs, galas, etc.
That night, I took it over to Belén’s house. We had just started going out, and she seemed genuinely flabbergasted that I would have a DVD of Chiquito in my possession, and that my friends were sufficiently friki to suggest I would be into such a thing.
It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ll never forget slapping the disc into Belén’s laptop and watching Chiquito for the first time.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from this DVD, but whatever it was, Chiquito was not that.
This was not the self-deprecating confessionalism or wry observational humor that someone in the Anglophone world might associate with the idea of a ‘comedian’.
I didn’t know what the hell this strange, balding man in the blousy paisley shirt was on about.
I don’t think I understood a single word of the first few jokes on that DVD. Part of that was down to the accent and my listening skills, to be sure. By the sixth or seventh joke, though, I realized: I didn’t understand because more than half of the words coming out his mouth were complete gibberish.
Beautiful, sublime and utterly weird gibberish.
For the unitiated, Chiquito’s humor takes (if I may continue using present tense here, as if he were still around) as its base a ‘joke’ in the most basic ‘have you heard the one about the guy who…’ form, with punchlines which (all due respect) are frankly not great.
But the greatness of Chiquito, however, has little to do with the jokes themselves. Oh, no no no.
Part of his greatness lies in his often-imitated-never-duplicated way of moving across the stage–well, okay, that’s a pretty big part. Another part of it has to be the high-pitched squeals and snatches of popular song (the theme from Bonanza for example) that constantly break the narrative thrust of each joke.
But what really endeared the art of Chiquito to me is his language. And I mean his language. A comedic idiolect entirely of his own making.
This includes catchphrases made up of actual words that appear in the Diccionario de la RAE (‘¡Por la gloria de mi madre!’‘¡Pecador!’, ‘¡Cobarde!’, ‘¡Al ataque!’, ‘no puedo, no puedo…’, ‘físicamente i moralmente’) but which appear and recombine in fascinating permutations, with little regard for anything resembling context.
(I would be remiss if I did not also mention here his obsession with that most overlooked of organs in our digestive system, the duodenum (variably pronounced as duodeno or ‘diodeno’)).
More often, though, Chiquito seems to delight in just making up words. Smurf-words, if you will, that seem to mean whatever you need them to mean when you say them, but are mostly useful as interjections: «fistro», «Acondemor», «Jarl», «Apiticawn, mor nau», «A güán, a peich, agromenáuer». The list goes on and on.
The joke at 1:43s of this video gives a decent sample.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Chiquito de la Calzada had on the impressionable young minds of 1990s Spain. (See the outpouring of grief on my social media feed.) In an often fractious society with huge amounts of mistrust between sectors of society for reasons political, linguistic, and otherwise, our friend Chiquito seemed to be something everyone could agree on. As one person said on Facebook today, ‘Este tío consiguió que todos hablaramos el mismo idioma’‘ (This guy got us all talking the same language’).
And as a newcomer here, getting to know and love him was, odd though it may sound, a big part of my cultural adjustment here. I love me some Chiquito. He embodied the style of joyous homespun surrealism that most appeals to me in Spanish humor. I even paid my own little homage to him years ago now, sampling melodic interludes from two of his performances for a song entitled ‘C de la C’.
Anyways. I should probably get back to watching videos of Chiquito on Youtube.
Gregorio Esteban Sánchez Fernández, DEP.
Hasta luego, Lucas.