HBO Latin America has tapped one of Mexico’s most famous YouTubers to star in the country’s first late night satirical news show which will premiere this Friday.
The cable entertainment giant is betting that Chumel Torres, a former blogger turned Mexican social media celebrity who's best known for co-writing and hosting the YouTube show El Pulso de la República (The Pulse of the Republic), can become the next John Oliver with his own brand of humor satirizing Mexico and Latin America’s current events and many foibles.
Torres' skits have earned him hundreds of thousands of viewers in a country that’s increasingly mistrustful of the cozy relationship that mainstream media conglomerates have with the government. That atmosphere has given birth to a new generation of internet stars whose growing niche has not gone unnoticed in the boardrooms of traditional networks.
Media giant Televisa recently reshuffled its programming talent, and for the first time in history appointed a woman with a reputation as an “independent” journalist to host its most important nightly newscast.
And now HBO is going big with Torres, who's happy to make the leap from internet to cable.
He says the American company upholds free speech. “I feel they focus more on the content instead of getting along with sponsors and people,” Torres says about his decision to join HBO in an internet promo. “And third, because they have Game of Thrones, guey,” he concludes with a signature punchline.
Torres has been successful at borrowing cues from U.S. satirical news stars Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Trevor Noah.
But his style is not just an homage to Comedy Central's successful formula. Torres has also incorporated his own brand of nerdiness and irreverence, with an undeniable dose of Mexicanness.
Torres is also part of the country's long tradition of laughing at its worst tragedies. He also seems to borrow a bit from a homegrown style of gestures, expressions and mannerisms made most famous by comedy actors like Cantinflas, who got their start satirizing Mexican life. So while Torres makes plenty of American pop culture references, he doesn’t go full gringo.
The idea of launching a mainstream Mexican late night comedy news show has been floating around for a while. Comedian Adal Ramones found much success in the 1990s with a show called “Otro Rollo,” but it never touched on politics and was built on monologues and skits rather than satirizing the news.
Torres, however, will be taking what has worked for him on YouTube into HBO’s weekly “Chumel con Chumel Torres.”
Torres' partnership with HBO will translate into more resources, better production quality and what many suspect will be the type of journalistic investigations made famous by John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.
While it remains to be seen if Torres can deliver in primetime, just the fact that HBO is greenlighting the show is a sign of how perceptions are changing in Mexico.
Mexico might be a fragile democracy, but it's a democracy nonetheless. And a democracy's ability to laugh at itself seems like a real sign of maturity.
Meanwhile the internet is pushing Mexican media to be more open and inclusive.
Media monopolies, which allegedly helped catapult Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto into power in 2012, are now scrambling to reinvent themselves to appeal to a younger, digitally native audience. The government’s telecommunications reform has opened the door for more competition as Mexico becomes a crucial market for brands trying to develop Spanish-language content. Oh, and it’s now becoming a national sport to openly criticize President Peña Nieto for everything wrong with the country.
Torres has plenty of merit as a satirist, but his rapid rise to fame couldn't have happened at a better time.