Venezuela’s crackdown on comedians is the latest flashpoint for one of oldest forms of political dissent.
Over the past few months, comedians in Venezuela have found it increasingly hard to get new gigs. The bars and clubs they used to frequent are increasingly getting shuttered and their performances are getting canceled. At first blush, this seems like another symptom of the oil-rich nation’s tanking economy, where even essentials have become so rare and expensive that procuring the basics has become almost a full-time job. In this environment of scarcity, comedy might seem like a frivolity. But there’s a demand for comedians in Venezuela, where jokes about toilet paper shortages and the price of water versus the price of oil are seen as therapeutic. The economy is not the problem for these comedians—instead, it’s a hyper-sensitive government, eager to quash criticisms of the once-beloved socialist system set up by the late Hugo Chavez, as it succumbs to external pressures and internal corruption under the regime of his bumbling successor, President Nicolas “Mango” Maduro.
“They think that because we did jokes about Chavez or Maduro, we are going to bring down the government,” local comedian Alex Goncalves recently told National Public Radio.