The Joke Teller

The Joke Teller

Joke telling is considered a tradition in Venezuela, is part of our culture. In every Venezuelan gathering (could be a birthday party or even a funeral) is pretty common to find two guys starting a spontaneous “joke fight” were one guy tells a joke about a particular subject and then the other guys tries to say a better joke about that same subject i.e: drunks, regional stereotypes, international stereotypes, social archetypes, old people, children, whatever, etc.

People in the party (or funeral) will start to stand around these two guys and watch and listen to the joke exchange for their own amusement. The attention is now focused in the jokers, the birthday girl or the guy in the casket are a thing of the past ‘cause you now… is Joke Time!

The more the people laugh the better the jokes get. The joke tellers are now trying hard to remember all the jokes they’ve learned. If one guy tells a joke the other guy had in mind before him, he has to quickly think about another one or change the subject to his strong subject. Family and friends from each side start to remind them jokes they’ve had forgotten.

Jokes in Venezuela are usually stories with one strong punchline at the end. They often start with “Once upon a time” and they are quite different from “Why the chicken crossed the road?”, “How do you call a…?” or “Knock-Knock” jokes. These jokes are more like: “a priest, a lawyer and a police man walk into a bar…” well, in Venezuela will be more like: “This guy jumps into a bus with a gun…”

People learn these jokes through their lives; these are not Stand Up Comedy jokes. There is no “copyright”, no such thing as my joke, your joke, you stole my joke, can I use it? etc. A good joke teller in Venezuela is a guy who can remember lots and lots of jokes and has a “special” way of telling them like adding accents, characters, impersonations, better timing, better description of the situation, etc. As you know, is not the joke, is how you say it.

Well, I was a “Joke Teller”. I don’t know why but I started to remember jokes from my grandpa since a very early age (around 4yo). I never missed an opportunity to start a “joke fight” and I loved adding more and more funny descriptions to the jokes I told and I also had a special interest in doing accents and impersonations.

Venezuela has a really old tradition in Joke Telling. Having said, Stand Up Comedy as a format and as a career, is fairly new in the country.  Is not that Venezuela never had famous professional comedians. No, we have had them for ages, some as professional joke tellers (non-“copyrighted” jokes) and some as Stand Up comedians (written “copyrighted” routines). Most of these comedians started their careers as TV sketch comedy actors and the others, whom I call “the veterans”, started in Cabaret clubs that where very popular more than 30 years ago (these clubs have been closed for over 20 years now).

In 2007, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez refuses to renew the broadcasting concession of the oldest running TV station of the country (RCTV) due to its anti-government editorial along with a dozen radio stations (don’t remember the exact amount but I’m pretty sure it was more than a dozen).  RCTV was the home of the most popular and long running TV comedy show in Venezuelan history named “Radio Rochela” that started in 1961. It was transmitted weekly in prime time every Monday and was by far Venezuela’s “tension release valve”.

The lack of  “Radio Rochela” plus a very tense political/social/economical situation in the country and over 20 years without “new faces” in the Venezuelan comedy scene prepared the ground for the first Stand Up Comedy Open Mic Night ever in Venezuela! A Venezuelan guy with American background named George Harris, who is now a very good friend of mine, opened “Microfono Abierto” (Spanish for Open Mic) dedicated to give a space for comedy and especially to new comedians (including him). It opened in a small local bar in Caracas (Capital city of Venezuela) on Monday nights coincidentally on the same time “Radio Rochela” would’ve been on.

At the time this is happening, I was working as a “Brewing Specialist” in a massive brewery in a Venezuelan town called “San Joaquin”; 2 hours drive from Caracas. (Yes, I am a brewer and a food technologist. I studied food tech in Brisbane-QLD and Brewery in Madrid- Spain. I will tell you later about this).

I love beer and I love making beer but honestly I don’t think I was as good at it as my fellow brewers in the brewery. I was good at telling jokes inside the brewery though! Every Friday afternoon when drinking beer with the bosses and union workers was my moment to “get to work”, tell jokes and keep my well-paid brewery job with comedy.

One day I was having lunch at the brewery’s food court and the Big Boss, the brewery Manager, called me and asked me to go immediately to his office. I went to his office freaking out and thinking, “I’m getting fired”. When I got there, his secretary tells me to go to the Manager’s Bar (The coolest private bar in the brewery). I knocked on the door and a well-dressed waiter opens it; the board of directors and high ranked managers of the company from all over the country where having lunch after an important meeting. The Big Boss was the host of that meeting. When I came in he introduces me by saying: “Hey guys this is Ivan, one of my new brewers, this kid tells some fucking good jokes” and then followed by “Ivan, have a beer and tells us a joke”. This was the first time I was asked to do something inside that brewery that I actually considered I was an expert and that no one could’ve done it better than me. It was my time to work!