It’s refreshing to hear Javier Hala Madrid talk about the situation in his native Venezuela. He’s clear, calling the Nicolás Maduro regime a “dictatorship” and the people in power “delinquents.”
In some ways, the 27-year-old is more powerful than an army. With his comic videos, which have gone viral, he skewers Maduro’s supporters and makes other Venezuelans laugh despite all the tragedy they face.
“It’s not a secret to anyone that I, like many of us, cannot set foot in Venezuela because I would go directly to the Helicoide,” he told el Nuevo Herald, referring to the infamous prison run by the Bolivarian Service for National Intelligence. “I just get off the airplane and they would put me in handcuffs. I’ve received many threats there.”
Some years back, Javier David Romero (his real name) was just another Venezuelan living in Miami and taking basic English classes just so he could order a hamburger at a McDonald’s.
But Hala Madrid (his stage name) started to make videos from his home in Doral that turned him into a popular personality or so-called influencer on social media. Today, the business management graduate has 3.2 million followers on Instagram, 2 million on Facebook and more than 389,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.
His first viral video poked fun at Maduro after a speech in which he confused Gremlins with the Grinch.
“I didn’t expect it. When you see that the video starts to spread on WhatsApp, that people are sharing, that’s when you score a win,” said Hala Madrid, who added that his type of humor is sarcastic, “or, as we say in our country, Maracaibo, very acrid.”
Most of his humor is political. “I like to send a serious message but at the same time do it in a funny way and talk about politics in Venezuela, which are a disaster,” he said.
The comedian keeps in touch with recent developments on the crisis lashing his country, but he knows it first hand.
“I lived in Venezuela 21 years and suffered many injustices at the hands of the dictatorship,” he said. For example, he added, “any procedures that should have been easy were a pain for each and every citizen.”
Like all political humor, his jokes have angered those in power and sparked censorship. “Every time I make a video against those delinquents, I know they see it in Miraflores,” he said, referring to the presidential palace in Caracas. That’s even though he’s been told that government officials and relatives are forbidden from watching his videos or following him on social media.
“They block me,” he said, adding that his videos are nevertheless watched by a good percentage of Maduro supporters and others who say they are but are really “opportunists.”
He said that although some in his audience demand that he commit to “resistance on the internet” while holding “a Coca Cola and a greasy hamburger in their hands,” most Venezuelans are grateful for the respite from the daily misery of Venezuela that he offers.
“Javier, I had a terrible day today, since six in the morning when I took the Metro. Then, I was robbed. Later, I went to the supermarket, there was nothing. I check my bank account, I have no money. But when I get home at night, I watch your videos and you make me smile for five minutes … You brighten my day despite all the horrible things that happen in Venezuela,” one of his followers posted on social media.
“My motto is to make you laugh to keep you from crying, because the day-to-day in Venezuela is hell,” said Hala Madrid, adding that he’s convinced that “the majority of Venezuelans who are in Venezuela support those of us who are raising our voices on social media.”
The comedian also acknowledged that some of the criticisms leveled against him — “you’re in the United States. It’s easier to protest there” — doesn’t always come from Maduro loyalists known as Chavistas, a reference to the leftist political ideology implemented by Venezuela’s late leader Hugo Chávez.
“The resentment of Hugo Chávez reached all sectors, and many of those who criticize me are opposition people who are full of resentment,” he said. “Maybe one can say, ‘They are suffering over there.’ But don’t criticize me. I am not to blame for what those delinquents did.”
Like many Venezuelans, Hala Madrid is putting his hopes on interim President Juan Guaidó, with whom he identifies because he’s “young like me.”
“It fills me with pride that a young guy like me is president of Venezuela, because he’s working out very well and he’s well prepared” for the job, he said of the 35-year-old Guaidó
Hala Madrid is not afraid of running out of comedic ammunition if there’s a change of government in Venezuela, because his humor is not only political. He also makes fun of the troubles that people face at the gym and other situations.
Most of his followers are between the ages of 20 and 30. The majority are women. But he says that his audience is made up of all kinds of people.
“The most watched of my videos had nothing to do with politics. It was a piece about the differences between the children before and now, what they did, what kept them entertained,” he said of a video that was watched by 35 million viewers.
Judging from his creativity, the future of his videos on social media is assured. And Hala Madrid doesn’t need much for inspiration. By simply putting a rag on his head, he transforms himself, and out come the jokes. The camera loves him, and that’s why he does not mind being called a clown or crazy. On the contrary. That’s how he defines himself, as well as Venezuelan.
“I love it when they call me Venezuelan,” said the man who once dreamed of earning millions and today has managed not only to poke a hole in his country’s censorship but to do so with an old therapy that dictators cannot overcome: well-earned laughter. “I am proud of my Venezuelan roots.”