Filthy rat. Creeping animal. Scum of life. Shoddy monstrosity.
These are the translated lyrics Mexican singer Paquita la del Barrio (Paquita from the ’Hood) sings in her iconic breakup ballad “Rata de dos patas” (“rat with two feet”). In the song, she rips into the departed lover with satisfying insults: “Damn leech. Damn cockroach...vermin. Poisonous serpent.”
Ratas de Dos Patas (an homage to the song) is the name of a Latina comedy group based in Chicago.
“We decided to put [our] spin on it and own it,” Jessi Realzola said of taking on the anthem’s title for the group. “It’s empowering to women.”
At the beginning of their performance, the four women involved in the group play Paquita’s song, introduce themselves as “chingonas” or “badass women” and ask the audience to raise their hands if they speak Spanish. The group’s comedy is bilingual, aka “Spanglish.”
This year, Ratas de dos Patas is joining other Spanish-language comedians for the first-ever Spanish-speaking set presented in the annual Chicago Women’s Funny Festival, a celebration of women in all styles of comedy. The set is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday as part of the eighth annual fest, running Aug. 22-25 at Stage 773. Other Spanish-language segments include Chicago’s Las Tinas Improv and “La Carne Asada #2: The Seasoning,” plus Buenos Aires-based stand-up comic Eliana La Casa.
“We want to laugh but also give an understanding of our culture. The whole show would not work if we didn’t have someone be able to teach and give insight too,” said Ratas de dos Patas member Kendra Jamaica, of keeping their show bilingual. “If we just performed for people who knew Spanish it would be fun and nostalgic, but we strive to bridge the gap a little bit.”
Las Tinas Improv, a telenovela-themed improv group, opts for drama typically portrayed in telenovelas (Spanish soap operas) hyped for comedic effect. The group takes a suggestion from the crowd, translates the word into Spanish and creates the surrounding plot and characters.
“If somebody makes a crazy choice we support the hell out of it,” said Luis Castello, the only man in the comedy troupe. “Let’s say the suggestion is ‘clock.’ We translate to ‘reloj’ and we create this whole telenovela around ‘el reloj dramático.’”
Vanessa Garcia, writer, director and producer of the comedy sketch show “La Carne Asada #2: The Seasoning,” strives to strike nostalgia in Latinx audiences. The sketches, songs and dances revolve around childhood and family, and pull on familiar tropes including the cure-all “Vivaporu” and the all-powerful “chancla” or house shoe that comes for you when you forget to take the chicken out of the freezer.
Garcia said it’s important to her, thinking about the current environment of anxiety among Latino communities, to provide a kind of escape through comedy.
“My first show I had a huge message about being proud to be Latino in your own country, but this show I want to take people out, get them nostalgic and distracted,” Garcia said. After the show’s first run, she said she heard feedback like “this made me feel like I was back home in Mexico, back with my family.”
For Eliana La Casa, it’s important to raise the difficult conversations through comedy. She said she often pulls from experiences about which she feels strongly.
“I’m a woman. And I’m afraid to take taxis at night,” La Casa opened up one of her jokes from a show last summer. “Can I get an applause from all the women who feel the same?”
La Casa, who is visiting Chicago for six months to explore the local comedy scene, said it’s important for women to be able to express the common experiences and fears of being a woman, to bring down the “taboo” or shame around the topic. And while making jokes around the topic of rape and violence against women can be controversial in comedy, she said for her it’s a way of taking back the narrative.
“We’re not the ones who should be feeling ashamed of violence against women; it’s predators,” La Casa said. “So in a way it’s like OK we’re discussing this now; you should be afraid of us.”
La Casa said it’s empowering for other women to hear each other sharing these experiences, but also important for men in the audience to hear the conversation.
“It’s particularly important that it’s spoken in mass media and men can hear about it, not because men are bad, but because they are the ones who have the strongest influence and need to hear what they don’t feel,” she said.
Outside of the Spanish-speaking sets, the lineup includes a solo show by Patti Vasquez, who takes the audience on a journey of awkward dates and personal humiliation; Bosses in Bonnetts, with a “Black Girl Magic” sketch, and Super Tasty, a variety show featuring frank and funny talk about sex.
Alexandra Arriaga is a local freelance writer.