It’s likely that Guillermo Alvarez Guedes broke the vulgarity barrier in Spanish stand-up. But he did not do so trangressively, like a Lenny Bruce, but in the manner of American ethnic comics like the masters of Jewish shtick, as the natural expression of a people. For most of his career, Alvarez Guedes’ humor was laced with vulgarity and his audiences laughed accordingly. Yet he never told truly off-color jokes. And his comic persona was deadpan and straight, sometimes affecting righteous indignation. He was just talking like any Cuban would.
That was his biggest appeal. He played — some would say he was — the cubanazo, a word well known in Miami. The Big Cuban. Too Cuban For You. Among Cubans, it was the recognition of one’s ethnic idiosyncrasies that enriched his popularity. Among others, it was being granted license to laugh at aspects of Cuban speech and culture they already found funny. As anti-Castro as any of his exile compatriots, Alvarez Guedes summed up his critique of Fidel Castro in a simple vulgarity in Spanish: He was an S.O.B. Most Cuban-Americans would agree.
“My best memories of Cuba make me sad,” he told El Nuevo Herald in 2007. “Cuba is a country that no longer exists, even if I was born there.”
The roots of Alvarez Guedes’ humor are to be found in a Cuban music hall tradition known as teatro bufo, where ethnic types drawn from the Havana barrios acted out comedy skits that were creole versions of comic theater from the Spanish 16th and 17th century. According to the EnCaribe web page, Alvarez Guedes represented both el gallego—– a handlebar-moustached Spanish immigrant, whose physical appearance was that of Alvarez Guedes himself — and el negrito, a street-smart Afro-Cuban who relentlessly mocks el gallego. And his attitude is rooted in choteo, a disregard for any seriousness that Cuban intellectual life identifies as a major component of the island’s culture.
But such academic wonderings would be dismissed by Alvarez Guedes, who in his radio show on Miami’s Clasica 92.3FM would urge his listeners, in the best tradition of choteo, to tirarlo todo a relajo — make a joke of everything.
One would imagine he might not tolerate too much seriousness about his passing, but would find in it material for one last joke.
He is survived by his widow, Elsa Alvarez Guedes; daughters Elsa Alvarez and Idania Dvoran; and grandchildren Carlos Sánchez, Carolina Sánchez, Guillermo Baldoquín and Ian Allen. Funeral arrangements are pending.