Paul Bouche Gives Us a Mouthful
The Quirky Host of “La Boca Loca” Talks Marx, Shakespeare, Chicks, and Salsa
From the September 27 edition of the Harvard Independent
By Frances Martel
In assuaging the growing pains of our prepubescent childhood—that age in between Barney worship and Backstreet Boy crushes—our parents often turned to innocent physical comedy. Many in our generation associate bedtime with Nick at Nite’s daily reruns of “I Love Lucy”. Others hold fondly the memory of post-dinner doses of “Family Matters” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”.
Coming from a bilingual family, my childhood television memories are seasoned with slightly more Latin flavor than the mere memory of Desi Arnaz. I booed singing contestants offstage with Sabado Gigante’s (“Giant Saturday”) trumpet-playing Jackal; in lieu of the Ricardos or the Winslows, I drew parallels between my family and the Peña’s, the main characters of America’s first fully bilingual sitcom, ¿Que Pasa, USA?
And I went to bed listening to raunchy jokes told by a white dog puppet named Azuquita (“Little Sugar”).
This last memory, from a segment of independent late-night bonanza A Oscuras Pero Encendidos (“In the Dark, but Turned On”), I hold near and dear to my heart. A Oscuras, in its purest form, was an overdone spoof on Latin American variety shows that never really gave any sign of being intentionally absurd. The Emmy Award-winning program—the brainchild of host Paul Bouche—featured puppets, transvestites, scantily-clad models, mini game shows, and, of course, the token fat sidekick. It was an overdone version of SNL’s “Showbiz Grande Explosión” skit. Sex was the recurring theme of conversation, but since no one ever mentioned the word and the visual impact of the characters transcended language, I laughed anyway, oblivious to Bouche and company’s mischievous intentions. This was the genius of the program: it was the perfect blend of Sabado Gigante, Blue’s Clues, and Howard Stern, and no one under the age of ten could have possibly picked up on it.
Bouche is once again up to his old tricks, launching a new program, La Boca Loca de Paul, on October 29th. The program, broadcast on Miami’s Channel 8 and soon to be syndicated in Puerto Rican and American markets, will stay true to the nature of A Oscuras, and appeal to the same audience, while spin-off project Chicks and Salsa will attack the uncharted terrain of the English-speaking demographic.
Bouche agreed to chat with the Independent via telephone from his native Miami. He is ebullient and impossible to offend (he laughs when reminded that I have referred to him in previous articles as “torturously unfunny”). He changes subjects mid-idea, fluctuating between the practical and the ideal. His English is clear, quick, and eloquent, his speech a reminder of his academic background (Bouche is a telecommunications professor at Barry University and Miami International University). The few words he speaks in Spanish are tinged with the unmistakable vernacular of Miami’s substantial Cuban population, but are the obvious result of residing there for so long, and not the natural state of his speech. His voice is veiled in as much ethnic ambiguity as its owner.
For a preview of La Boca Loca, click here
Indy: Hi Paul, thanks for speaking with us! So tell us a bit about La Boca Loca de Paul, and how it will differ from A Oscuras Pero Encendidos.
Paul Bouche: Hi, and thanks for having me!
[We want] an aura where adults can have fun with us, but kids won’t know what’s going on and [still] have fun.
The title is the biggest difference [between the two shows]. We changed it because it’s a new century, new era, new time, and the defining quality of what we do is that I say things on the air that most people wouldn’t say out of political correctness, but I say it in a non-threatening, decent way so that no kid would ever know what we’re talking about. If I would ask the average person what my defining quality is, they are: the things I say, that one [of my] eyes is bigger than the other, and my mouth is crooked. There is a caricature of me [on the show] with my eye being bigger.
I: Are you ok with that perception of you?
PB: You have to be ok with who you are, and if you’re not, then it’s not easy to do anything. Let’s not even talk about television—it’s not easy to live.
I don’t expect anyone in their teenage years to accept themselves fully, but I am much more at ease with myself now than I was when I was 17, 18 years old. Accept yourself with all your flaws and positive points. It’s always a work in progress. If I was not ok with that, I should have picked a completely different career. I should have worked in a graveyard.
I: You work with a lot of double-entendre in your show, and you usually do it through these very innocent-seeming characters. Where did this idea of adapting adult themes to childish images come from?
PB: I think… the cultural nature and cultural essence of all Hispanics, but Hispanics of Caribbean heritage [in particular], we thrive on double entendre, on off-color jokes. The show reflects that culture. A lot of elements of the show, like Lancelot [the fat sidekick that wore Eiffel Tower hats on A Oscuras]— all an adult is, is a grown-up kid, so if you appeal to their adult interests and at the same time to their nature, to the kid inside of them, then you’ve got something. Azuquita is a puppet of a dog, and he’s cute in an innocent, childish way. However, he says things to the models that are what an adult would say.
[The message is] let’s not take life too seriously, let’s make some non-pretentious, simple entertainment.
Astracanada [the name of Bouche’s production company] is a term from the post-modern Spanish theatre that means “crude and nonsensical theatrical farce.” The objective of the genre is to entertain no matter what— the ends justify the means. You can be cheesy, raunchy, whatever it is you need to be for the sake of laughter and entertainment.
I: You just quoted Marx to justify your comedy.
PB: Yes, and I’ll quote another: “it’s too low-brow.” Most of Shakespeare’s plays were designed for the masses because high-brow people read and went to the opera. Shakespeare is the Laura Bozzo show of that century. People don’t have a clue when they criticize entertainment in general [claiming] it’s too low-brow because in reality, classic entertainment comes from theatre, and theatre was done to entertain the masses. All the classics were not designed for sophisticated people that would have a 4-piece orchestra playing in their bathrooms as they showered.
There is no such thing as low-brow entertainment. Through the years we [decided] Shakespeare was high-brow. In the end, Azuquita- everything he says rhymes. Let’s talk about gimmicks- everything in Shakespeare is a gimmick.
I’m not saying that what we’re doing is Shakespeare… [laughter].
I: You’ve worked with NBC, Telemundo, MTV, and ABC, among others. Why have you decided to maintain this independent route with most of your major productions?
PB: I like to control the product. The industry of independent TV production is very common in English-language media, yet not common at all on Spanish language TV, where networks control most of the product, from Mexico or Venezuela— always big companies doing deals back and forth. In 1995, I heard there was this tiny local station in Miami, I was 25, and I always wanted my own show since I was 13. When I heard about this new station, I contacted them and we started doing our show, which was fully financed by us. We did that for two and a half years and Galavision came over and wanted to buy the rights to show via cable. That lasted for 3 years. In the meantime, Univision tried to take us but they wanted to own the product; we never reached an agreement with them. Telemundo said, “you can keep all your creativity… as long as the show is live.” I was not that savvy back then. They turned the show from live to pre-taped, I didn’t have creative control anymore… and it’s horrible, because I don’t recognize my baby.
I: How did you get into academia?
PB: Since I was about 12 or 13, I had non-traditional professions [I wanted to be]. Every kid wanted to be a lawyer or accountant or doctor. I always wanted to be a clown, a magician, a chef, or a teacher, and I’ve done them all. I’ve made a living making other people laugh as an independent. There are two qualities I recognize in myself: perseverance and clarity of mind. I know what I want and I have something that keeps me going towards that goal. One thing is be Ray Romano and another to be this little guy that comes from a very poor family with his own TV show.
I: Why the racial ambiguity? My guess is that you are Cuban, but will we ever know?
PB: I’d rather play with biculturalism than bisexuality. It’s safer and, depending on the experience, less painful. People die to put labels on other people, [and I thought], “what if I was not from anywhere? That would drive people crazy.” People say I’m Argentine, Cuban, Paraguayan, the nephew of Don Francisco [host of Sabado Gigante]. I’ve heard it all. We don’t say it because it’s just a gimmick.
I: What, exactly, is Chicks and Salsa?
PB: Americans think all Hispanics are Mexicans. The first thing they talk about is the Chicks when they see Spanish TV. And when Americans go to a restaurant, the first thing they get is chips and salsa.
We knew we wanted to relaunch A Oscuras. The target demo [for Chicks] will not be Hispanic, it will be America. The concept of the show is the stereotypes that Americans have of Spanish TV, which is that it’s ridiculous and unprofessional, and the stereotypes that people have when they think of Miami. Our slogan is “we have turned the SAP on Spanish TV,” and Americans will be able to see Spanish TV. It is a variety show extravaganza that makes fun of itself for Americans.
Part of the problem is that people are not honest with themselves. They do not want to admit that… they are prejudiced. Once people accept that they are prejudiced, they will be able to be less prejudiced. By doing things that are consistent, organic, and according to human nature, you automatically make the world a better place.
Adora [the transvestite character] is coming back. Lancelot is [also] coming back. He is a college friend. He used to play the piano in the college common area. He was a registered nurse in Miami for a while, and he’s a trained opera singer. Nowadays he is a chef. We also have a new character, Mr. Old Man, who is an old Jewish guy completely inspired by the Muppets. He hates the show, thinks that everything sucks…
I: Any final thoughts?
PB: If there is one thing I’m not, I’m not cool. The only thing that might be cool about me is that I’m so sure that I’m not cool that that might be cool. I’m very subdued, I enjoy education, I enjoy things that are not cool. I never was a fan of MTV, I was sort of the definition of uncool, but I am extremely proud of it. I have friends that are definition of cool and they think I’m cool. I believe in many things that when you’re cool, you have to think about what discos to go to what shirts to buy—what should I be drinking because that’s what’s in. I don’t have one gene in my genetic composition that is interested in what car I drive or what brand of jeans I’m wearing. It’s about being happy with who you are. By the time I’m like 90 I should be pretty close to being happy with who I am.