Venezuelans find solace in comedy amid economic travails

Wed Jul 30, 2014 3:52pm EDT
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By Peter Murphy

CARACAS (Reuters) - A genie appears from a lamp in the hands of an astonished Venezuelan boy to declare: "You can ask for anything - except toilet paper!"

The world's highest inflation and shortages of basics from milk to toilet roll are really no laughing matter for Venezuelans, but they find solace in a thriving comedy scene lampooning the governance behind the economic strife.

Through cartoons like the genie, stand-up comedy, and online satire, humor has become a prominent and poignant form of criticism as mainstream media exercise more self-censorship.

"Despite oil at $100 a barrel, Venezuela is living through the worst economic crisis of its history ... It's the Midas touch in reverse," stand-up comic Laureano Marquez told Reuters before entertaining a 600-strong audience at a Caracas theater.

His 90-minute routine delivered a witty critique of problems from food queues and medicine shortages, to government corruption and skewed courts. The stand-up branded his show a "sit down" because of the serious themes at which it pokes fun.

"Humor may be mankind's most serious attitude because we use it to say some very painful things," said Marquez, 50, who warmed up his audience with jokes about the trials of the weekly grocery shop, and the queues and squabbles caused by shortages.

One audience member afterwards called it "therapy."

The 1998 election of ex-army commander Hugo Chavez swept in a socialist "revolution" that won plaudits for dedicating more of Venezuela's oil wealth to helping its poor. But 15 years on and a year after his death, price increases and crime are plaguing Venezuelans while under-investment is constricting oil output.   Continued...

A customer uses a mobile phone while sitting inside a shopping trolley next to children at a state-run Bicentenario supermarket in Caracas May 2, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Silva