Roberto Gómez Bolaños: Why Chespirito was an entertainment pioneer
Google celebrates the Mexican pop culture icon, Chespirito.
A few Halloweens ago, my best friend's dad came down to his party wearing an unflattering red spandex onesie with yellow shorts, red Chuck Taylors, and two antennas bobbing on his head. My best friend and his now-fiancé yelled out to him in unison, "El Chapulín!"
One Google search later, I learned all about Chespirito, the Mexican comedian, playwright, and humorist known all throughout Latin America. Among his most famous creations was El Chapulín Colorado, or "The Red Grasshopper," a bumbling superhero who spoofed Marvel and DC decades before the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Today, Google's Google Doodle celebrates the 91st birthday of Chespirito, a staple in Latin American pop culture. Though Chespirito died in 2014 from Parkinson's disease at the age of 85, his legacy lives on.
Who was Chespirito?
Born in Mexico City in 1929, Roberto Gómez Bolaños grew up to become a renowned writer and comedian through his variety show, Chespirito. His stage name "Chespirito," or "Little Shakespeare," is a pun on the Spanish pronunciation of William Shakespeare.
Before comedy, Bolaños was an amateur boxer who attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico in pursuit of an engineering degree. He dropped out, later revealing he actually misunderstood what engineering was all about.
Bolaños' big break came when he became a performer on Los Supergenios de la Mesa Cuadrada. wetfa The show would later become his to own, renaming itself Chespirito due to his popularity. It was on Chespirito that Bolaños introduced his most famous characters, namely El Chavo, a poor 8-year-old orphan who lives in a barrel; and El Chapulín Colorado, a clumsy superhero who always failed to live up to his larger-than-life reputation. Chespirito would reprise both characters in their own respective spin-off shows, both of which lasted several seasons for hundreds of episodes broadcast all around Latin America.
Chespirito's comedic style was noted for being clean, free from vulgarity and innuendo. He was a humorist appropriate for the family, and pretty much all of Latin America resonated with his style.
The Simpsons connection
Believe it or not, Chespirito has a place in the long history of The Simpsons, as the direct inspiration for the character Bumblebee Man.
Two origins for the Bumblebee Man exist on the internet. One is that creator Matt Groening was watching TV in a motel at the U.S./Mexican border when he discovered El Chapulín. This prompted the making of Bumblebee Man. Like Chespirito, Bumblebee Man is also a slapstick comedian regularly seen in the in-universe Spanish channel, Channel Ocho.
The second origin, from the writers in the DVD commentary of Season 4, is that the writers would always see Chespirito's reruns whenever they tune into Univision.
Conservative politics and death at 85
Towards the new millennium, Chespirito retreated from public life save for a handful of public tributes to his career. In 2004, he married his longtime girlfriend of 27 years, Florinda Menza. In 2000 and 2006, he expressed support for Mexico's conservative party, and in 2007 came out in support of pro-life.
In 2009, speculation began over his declining health when he was admitted for surgery over prostate complications. In a public appearance in 2012, Chespirito looked visibly ill, appearing in a wheelchair with oxygen tanks. He later denounced the Yo Soy 132 movement, a series of protests carried out by college students in Mexico that bore similarities to Occupy Wall Street.
Chespirito died on November 28, 2014, and was buried at Pantéon Francés in Mexico City, his birth town. A public funeral at Aztec Stadium saw an attendance of 40,000. Today, if you attend football matches in South America and you spot a rowdy crowd of people in red and yellow spandex with antennas on their heads, don't mistake them for lost cosplayers. They're just paying tribute to one of the most beloved jokesters of all time.