Spanish-Language TV: Perverse and Profound

Late at night, the dwarves and strippers come out to play.

"He'll be a good father," nods Triana. "It's good that this is happening now because, who knows, [the boy] could grow up and fall in love with one of his sisters."

Carlucho is used to his personal life creeping onto the small screen. People often stop him around his Westchester neighborhood to ask about the show, he says. He and his wife have discussed the child. If it's true, she'll forgive him. "I'm a gordito, and to find out that there's a woman out there with a fantasy that she had my child, well, today, I feel more alive than ever," he says. "The program is like that — a diversion."

Raised in Havana, Carlucho first appeared on television at age four. He was on a Saturday children's show, Siempre Brilla el Sol. He played the sun. Growing up after the Cuban revolution, he spent his early years taking classes in the morning and picking strawberries and tobacco by afternoon.

Carlucho and the pope get down to it.
Jacqueline Carini
Carlucho and the pope get down to it.

At age 18, he was accepted into a selective arts school where graffiti in the boys' bathrooms read, "Yo quiero ser Hamlet" ("I want to be Hamlet"). "I wanted to be a leading man," he recalls.

"But with this body and this face?" chuckles the portly comedian lounging near the pool of his gated, half-million-dollar Spanish-style home on SW 83rd Avenue on a recent day.

At the acting school, Carlucho earned a role in A Midsummer Night's Dream. After he uttered his first lines onstage, the crowd exploded into laughter. It wasn't supposed to be funny. A teacher advised him to pursue comedy. The 19-year-old quit school and began working in theaters and cabarets. At one he met Liz, a 17-year-old dancer, who would become his wife.

In the early Nineties, he began Bufomaniácos, a duo steeped in the island's vaudeville tradition. He and his partner toured underground clubs and theaters, using the act as a way to criticize the modern-day regime of Fidel Castro. Carlucho stepped into the role of a handlebar-mustached Spaniard called El Gallego. His partner donned blackface; El Negrito was a clever character who painted his counterpart as a fool, Carlucho says.

"It has nothing to do with racism," he assures. "It's what the characters say that makes it so controversial."

But he believed his career had peaked in Cuba. "I don't know if the government totally understood," he says. "They must have understood something because they never gave me the opportunity to be on TV."

He and Liz left the island in 2001 with their eight-month-old daughter Miacarla. They arrived in Miami by way of Mexico. Carlucho quickly found gigs in nightclubs and was eventually picked up by Univision Radio. In 2005, the year he joined La Cosa Nostra, he became a host on 98.3 FM La Kalle's El Traketeo, a morning show. Carlucho quit radio work this past March.

He's happiest on La Cosa Nostra.

"People laugh, cry, and then a woman comes to talk about sex toys," he says. "When the program goes well, it's because no one took their pill for the anxiety. When it goes badly, it's because everyone took the pill."

He admits the show confounds many viewers — even his 69-year-old mom, Ofelia. "I have a mother who has never told me that the show is bad or good. She falls into the group of people who watch it like this," he says as he turns away, holding an imaginary remote control while stealing disgusted glances.

Interviewed later, Ofelia, who lives with Carlucho and his family, says she prefers reading bedtime stories to her granddaughter, though she acknowledges seeing the photos of Carlucho's alleged child. "He doesn't look like my son. My son was never chubby like that as a child. He got chubby here."

On the April show, during a taped segment set to a sappy rock ballad, Carlucho chases the boy and pushes him on a tire swing. When it ends, Carlucho's cheeks glisten with tears. A pastor at the table holds a sign: "If Carlucho is not the boy's father, he should become his godfather." The cast sniffles.

Carlucho pledges, "I have to admit I'm the father of two daughters but I've always wanted a boy. The producers aren't such hijos de puta. This boy just needs someone to call Dad."

A commercial break comes, and Boncó returns with comic relief. Dressed in a dapper tweed suit and matching hat, the 38-year-old pushes a chair to the entrance of the set. Gregorian chants sound and a pretend pope emerges with his hands pressed in prayer. He lowers himself into the chair.

"Let me kiss your ring, Pope," a cast member requests.

"Wait, wait!" Boncó shrugs sheepishly. "I have the ring! I have the ring! Sorry, Pope, this is Miami."

Tonight's show is nearly over. The fake pope sits behind Boncó and Carlucho. "We didn't have the dancers on out of respect for the pope," Carlucho announces.

"I told the producers: 'I have no problem with the dancers,'" the pope says in his version of an Italian accent.

"C'mon, it's his birthday!" Boncó says, referring to the pope, and they head offstage. Peraza soon mounts the table to canned whistles. She slips off her top with dangling beads that bounce against her taut belly.

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