Venezuelan comic of Jewish descent pokes fun at stereotypes
NEW YORK (AFP) — Joanna Hausmann is a bubbly Latina cocktail of cultures, languages and opinion as she rants a mile a minute about how to curse well in Spanish or what’s more useful: a 100-bolivar Venezuelan note or a roll of toilet paper.
It’s the latter, by the way, says the 30-year-old Venezuelan-American comedian, actress and writer, who pokes mostly gentle fun at Latin America: its diversity, quirks, stereotypes and rivalries.
In particular, the topic of Venezuela — mired in an economic meltdown and a power struggle between two men who both say they are president — really gets her going.
“Being a Venezuelan living abroad is kind of like being someone who does CrossFit. The moment someone brings up the topic, we cannot shut up about it,” Hausmann says in one English-language routine on her YouTube channel, “Joanna Rants.” Her sets on it have accrued more than 70 million views.
She is a tornado of energy and a master of shifting facial expression and mimicking accents, both in English and Spanish.
And with long, red hair and blue eyes, one of the things Hausmann explores in her comedy is how puzzled Americans are when she says she’s Latina.
She is well-known in both the US and Latin America, especially after doing a video op-ed for The New York Times in early April in which she laid into left-wing Americans who criticize the US government for opposing President Nicolas Maduro.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido is now recognized by the US and some 50 other countries as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president.
Hausmann got a lot of praise for the Times piece — entitled “What My Fellow Liberals Don’t Get About Venezuela” — but also some pushback.
That included criticism that she did not mention Guaido appointed her father, economist Ricardo Hausmann, as Venezuela’s representative to the Inter-American Development Bank. “I am a 30 year-old woman who’s had a career completely separate from her father,” she told AFP.
“It’s easier for people to believe that I have a crazy ulterior motive, that I am a CIA-infiltrated evil oligarch that wants to take Venezuela… instead of thinking this is a comedian who has family in Venezuela, that loves her country so dearly.”
Hausmann’s origins are rich and complex. Both of her parents were born in Venezuela: her mother the daughter of Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s regime, her father the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Belgium who escaped the Holocaust.
Hausmann herself was born in Britain and grew up between Caracas, Washington, Boston and New York.
In an interview in Central Park on a sunny spring afternoon, she flipped back and forth between rapid-fire English and Spanish, gesturing animatedly with her hands.
Hausmann said that ever since she was little, she turned to being funny as a way to fit in.
“I had several identity crises. I felt Venezuelan. I felt American, but I was not American enough when I was here and I was not Venezuelan enough when I was there. I am half Jewish, but my mother is not. I didn’t fit into any box fully,” she said.
“For me, comedy was a way to fit into something and to be able to describe to others what I am.”
In her stand-up routines before live audiences and in her videos, Hausmann tries to show there is more to Latin America than just Mexico and to shoot down some stereotypes: no, Latin Americans are not always the party animal, or gardeners, or nannies, or maids.
She also ventures into politics, such as with a video entitled “Craziest Latin American ‘Presidents.’” It features a line saying Fidel Castro once gave a speech lasting more than seven hours: “Do you know how many things you can do in seven hours? You can build an Ikea dresser from scratch.”
And there are three videos on Venezuela, including one called “Reasons Venezuela is a Total Disaster.” That’s the one in which she discusses the relative values of the country’s virtually worthless currency and toilet paper, of which there are shortages.
She also blasts a movement in the US and elsewhere called “Hands Off Venezuela,” which defends the legacy of the late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, who handpicked Maduro, and the idea of leaving Venezuela alone no matter how bad things get.
“My problem with ‘Hands Off’ is that it is total inaction. It is to ignore what is happening,” she says.
Hausmann said she felt it was her responsibility to draw attention to what is going on in Venezuela.