The Cuban comedian Alexis Valdes has always been on news, but by these days the reasons to interview him have increased: his monologue The Caveman has successfully ran since September in Miami’s Trail Theater, and he has just presented, in the recently concluded International Book Fair in that city, his first book ¨Con todo mi humor.¨
As if that were not enough, a sense of uncertainty about his return or not to TV is present in many Latinos after the suspension of the airing of his popular show ¨Esta Noche Tu Night¨, of the Mega TV Channel.
The e-mail interviews are usually very cold, but with Alexis Valdes, nothing is cold; accompanied by his invariable smart laugh, he spoke with OnCuba,-in about ten messages-on that news and other unavoidable things among Cubans.
To what do you attribute that Esta Noche Tu Night has become the most watched comedy show of Hispanic television?
Esta Noche Tu Night , -which was an improved version of ¨Seguro que yes¨, was a program that took to the people of Miami a fresh humoristic proposal, a mix of what I had learned in Spain, in Cuba and in the world. It was a bold and innovative proposal in the context of Miami.
We were mostly honest and not simplistic. What has always triumphed, doing humor with Cuban politics? Well, we did not do that. At first, the executives did not believe h would be possible. I did believe, because I think that human beings always have the desire to improve, and we were telling people: “you deserve seeing something better, more elaborated”, and that pleased people .
I would say that the success of both programs, their golden era, was extended from 2005 to 2010, more or less. After that, we started to copy ourselves. Daily television is really exhausting if you do it with creativity.
In your performances in Esta Noche Tu Night, you were often using a sort of “humoristic impartiality”, would you like to conceptualize from the humor point of view this, let us say, trend?
I do not know what humoristic impartiality means, I guess it means that we were “Against All Flags”. I think a comedian, who should always question the society, should not have commitments to political trends. We all have a political thought, and always something emerges in what you do, but it would be dishonest to use humor to make political opportunism, but to question politicians, because if comedians do not do it, who is going to do it? Marti said, “Humor is a whip with bells on the tip.”
Do you know that this program has been followed in Cuba and despite not being in the air is still watched? What do you feel about that?
It makes me happy. It’s my country, my people and it was a present for them. We did not do it on that purpose, it just happened. I performed for the market in which I was: Miami. One day we were told “the show is a smash hit in Cuba” and we said, then we must consider that we are also working for people in Cuba, and we started doing things also thinking on the people of the island.
Then a time came in which I felt a certain responsibility with them. The people of Cuba get clear of their daily struggle with us; we have to continue for them, I even thought that. Whenever I analyze returning to television, I also think about the public who needs to laugh in Cuba.
There are a lot of rumors on both sides about your return to television or not. Would you like to announce something about it?
We’re working on it long time ago. I’ve spent a year discussing contract and working conditions that make me a little happier. People think it is just for money. If I would be interested only in money, I would a banker, not a comedian; although I know comedians who should be bankers and bankers that should be comedians. The negotiations have almost finished. Maybe on January I will be on air.
Last September you premiered at Miami’s Trail Theatre the monologue ¨The Caveman¨, comedy written by American actor Rob Becker in 1991, Laurence Olivier Award for best entertainment play that year. For the first time you come up to the stage with a text which is not yours. What conceptual or formal elements of this work interested you for wanting to interpret it?
I liked the approach of the text, its intention to unite rather than divide, which always moves me, and its worldwide success, I thought, “if it worked everywhere, who am I to refuse to do it?” And I was right thinking that way.
It is a magical text that tries to funnily and wisely explain the differences and disagreements of men and women. I wish someday I could write something similar that connects to eight million viewers worldwide .
It’s been a great success, perhaps the most notorious recent success of theater in Miami, and I am grateful for it. I’ve felt myself artist and actor again when doing The Caveman.
I recommend everyone who reads this interview to see the play; i t is unique, a train of laughs. I thank the Trail Theater, Nancho Novo , Spanish friend and actor who directed it; Claudia Valdes, who helped me a lot, and all those who put their two cents. If you want you may enter at www.teatrotrail.com or call 3054431009, you will not regret.
This is a very versioned monologue, it is said it has been seen by more than eight million people in various countries, and has been taken to over 30 languages. What did you provide to this script?
I made my Cuban-Miami adaptation, I added it my jokes, my occurrences, my experiences. I worked a couple of months on the text. The president of the Icelandic company that owns the rights told me: “For the first ten minutes people do not laugh, but do not worry that the play is that way.” But I can not spend ten minutes without making people to laugh, I get depressed. So, I adapted the first ten minutes, and became it a real giggle.
What was the reaction of critics and audiences?
There was a critic that seemed to be paid by myself … it says that Rob Becker unwittingly wrote it for me. It’s a great compliment, and I appreciate it to the journalist ; my self-esteem rose for a whole week. But the public has done everything with their laughter, applause, and the feedback that packs the theater each week. I had never made an every-night-show on which at the end everybody to stand up every night, wow!
What are your experiences in the Spanish show Club de la Comedia? What did you get from there?
The Club de la Comedia changed humor in Spain, and I am honored to have been part of that first group of comedians who did it. I wrote a lot for the club and that approached me to the job of humoristic writer; the book ¨Con todo mi humor¨ exists thanks to the Club.
Just a few days ago, this volume was presented at the Miami International Book Fair, from which you have expressed: “When public see me on television, movies, or theater again, I’m sure they will smile otherwise, in a more accomplice way and will say: ¨I know this guy pretty well¨. Is it your autobiography?
No, it is not my autobiography, maybe my non-authorized autobiography? It is a joke. There are monologues and pieces of my life that have to do with these monologues; they are like the monologues´ making of. I enjoyed the writing process; I could put on paper so many things I have told among friends who died laughing. People are enjoying it a lot.
Even I laugh when rereading it. It has moments of emotion also dedicated to my father, my grandmother America, my mother. I think you would love to read it … and would know me better; you’d not have to interview me.
What comedians do you revere, and from whom did you learn the most?
My references were always Chaplin, perhaps the greatest in the world; Cantinflas, probably the best in Spanish language; Leopoldo Fernández *, in his time was the most successful Cuban comedian, and had great significance in Latin American radio.
Later I met Gila **, in Spain, and I learned a lot watching him, I even made contact with him, and I also really admire Peter Sellers, the actor of the Pink Panther, The Party, From the garden, and other genialities.
Guillermo Alvarez Guedes influenced on me through his unique way of telling a joke and a word that is supposedly rude, and keep being stylish. That is mastery.
In my youth I was also influenced by my countrymen Alejandro Garcia, Virulo, by his way to make humorous songs; Carlos Ruiz de la Tejera, in that of being artist besides humorist; and of course my father, Leonel Valdes, my involuntary teacher, from him I learned that comedian first and foremost is an actor, a comedian actor.
In the brief review of the book that appears in the site www.prisaediciones.com, you can read: “the beloved Cuban comedian invites us to a gathering in which he speaks without censorship, telling everything he could not say on TV.” Am I right?
There is always censorship on television, beginning with that whistle that appears when you say an alleged curse. What hypocrisy. “War” is a curse and it is said daily, or “corruption “; the name of some politicians is already a curse, it is an offense. But television is that way; too much hypocrisy and interests. It’s the game and we play it. The book is free … until the style corrector gets it, but it’s true, I say things on it that I will never say on TV, it would not be the context.
How was the reception by the crowd at the fair? How about the sales?
It was fine; I signed many copies, and made some pictures. The volume is being sold in all stores in Miami, and in the theater. I do not need to be a bestseller to be happy … but I did not displease me at all huh? Let us cross the fingers, just in case.
Consciously, which do you consider the keys of your success?
Consistency is the first. I was always stubborn. I have a friend in Spain who always tells me: “Fuck Alex, you are a tireless fighter,” and he almost tells it pissed off.
I was always conscientious. I o nce had to make voice rest and spent a month without speaking with a sign around my neck saying “I can not talk, I can write.” My brother Nelson always remembers it, and says, “Only you do that.”
I have the ability to withstand effort, such as high mountain cyclists , but today I only do it if it is worth. Perhaps the other thing is honesty, the most that I can, this also brings you enemies, but at least you’re not an enemy of yourself. If anything does not like me, I say it. I try to do it in the best way, but that is the best way for those who do not accept criticism, then I pissed off and say it anyway. I have to get over that … or not.
What do you remember most about your relationship with the public in Cuba?
Many things. That was my first public and gave me great joy, not great, but huge. It all started with the character of Bandurria and people began to love me, to laugh with me. It was a love story: they gave them laugh and I struggled to make it better, to learn, to surprise. The public in Cuba spoiled me. When cultural institutions still ignored me because for them I was still a rookie, an upstart, Cuban public had me already in very great esteem.
From there, with this partnership, you can be free to create, to take risks, even to be wrong. Because when they love you, they forgive, justify you, and get you another chance. I even remember simple people on the street giving me some sage advices for my career. Some presentations I did as Bandurria in theaters and cabarets were so tremendous that I feel,-even knowing that the memory idealizes, that there was a magic, a state of grace, which I’ve never experienced again, or maybe I did it, but differently, without that innocence or happy unconsciousness.
Would you like to perform in Cuba again?
Cuba is my land. There are a lot of people having the same roots as me, the same childhood, which is fundamental. When comedians tell their infancy to the public of their land, it is shared with tenderness and misery, sometimes that is unsurpassed.
I learned many years ago to act for those who were not from my land, to translate, to try that hard thing that is to be a generic comedian, those who can perform either in Madrid, New York or Santo Domingo. That was something I looked for, and I worked and I’ve achieved a good part of that path, I think.
And you go out to the arena as a bullfighter, and you win the public, giving it all and sometimes you manage to cut two ears. But with the public of your country, you have already one ear in hand. Thank God for letting me start with such a good bull.
* Leopoldo Augusto Fernández Salgado (Jagiiey Grande, December 26, 1904 – Miami, November 11, 1985); Cuban comedian, creator and performer of the character Jose Candelario Tres Patines of the radio and television program ¨La tremenda corte.¨
Miguel Gila Cuesta ** (Madrid, March 12, 1919 – Barcelona, July 13, 2001); important Spanish humorist.