(CN) — As Argentina experiences its worst economic crisis in three decades, one industry that continues to thrive is comedy, with the country’s stand-up scene reaching wider audiences in search of comic relief.
Argentina is living with yearly inflation of 58%, one of the highest in the world. Around 37% of Argentines are living in poverty and inequality continues to unravel. Despair and disappointment are generalized while uncertainty clouds any thought of the future. Beneath these darkened skies, people are seeking out spaces of relief, with comedy coming to the forefront.
“There is a greater need for humor during times of uncertainty,” said Diego Fantoni, a comedian and teacher at the Escuela Argentina de Stand Up, which operates a number of schools around the country. “Argentines have been living through economic crises ever since I was born, and I’m 47 years old. We live on humor. In the worst situations, living the worst experiences, Argentines will make a joke, and this is cultural.”
Researchers have revealed the marriage of humor and hardship, with comedy playing a crucial role during times of uncertainty, capable of bringing people together, and can help us recover from painful moments.
The pandemic sharpened this feeling in Argentina, which entered 2020 after two years of recession and would end the year with its economy shrinking by a further 9.9%. In the capital of Buenos Aires, residents endured the longest continuous lockdown in the world, with strict stay-at-home measures stretching 234 days until November 2020. Social lives were paused as people slouched on the couch in front of the TV. We shunned sci-fi and horror, with Netflix noting a huge increase in demand for stand-up comedy.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, Argentine stand-up was gaining commercial traction. Netflix began streaming stand-up specials of comedians like Lucas Lauriente, Luciano Mellera, Fernando Sanjiao, Rada, Grego Rossello and Sebastián Wainraich.
When Covid-19 reached Argentina, clubs, bars, and theaters closed — spaces where stand-up naturally thrive most. Comedians had to find new spaces to seek sanctuary.
“We had to invent ourselves again,” said Fantoni. “We had two years practically without being able to work and we are just now recovering. During the pandemic, comedians needed to express themselves. Humor doesn’t stop. But we couldn’t go out, we couldn’t perform. Performing on Zoom was quite uncomfortable. We would hit a punch line then begin a new bit, only for those with the slowest internet connection to start laughing.”
Some comedians found a digital outlet by livestreaming shows and recording podcasts. Laila Roth is a comedian who has appeared on a number of shows and channels, including Comedy Central.
“They were complicated years. We couldn’t perform because everything was closed,” Roth said. “I’m not in favor of doing stand-up online; I don’t like to do it myself. So, I explored other things like streaming on Twitch and seeing from where else I could continue doing comedy.”
Stand Up Argentina launched live shows on YouTube, including Comedians in Quarantine, which featured comedians including Laila Roth, Connie Ballarini and Mike Chouhy.
People discovered other comedy outlets during the pandemic. Cecilia de Luca is an actress, theater professor, and clown.
“There was a demand for theater during the pandemic, but it was difficult to accommodate,” said de Luca. “A lot of people, having free time, could dedicate themselves to explore a type of art, anything to get away from the pandemic and the crisis. When we offer clown courses, the first thing that many people ask is ‘are we going to laugh?’ And we say yes, obviously, but while there is a very humorous part of the clown, which is to find your own clown, not everything to do with the clown is laughter.”