In Mexico, Comedian Breaks New Ground And Gender Barrier

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're going to meet one of Mexico's most popular standuperos (ph), stand-up comedians. Sofia Nino de Rivera is among those in the country giving comedy a new voice. Comedians in Mexico have long been controlled by the leading television networks, confining the genre to slapstick characters spouting sexually laced double entendres. Well, Nino de Rivera is fresh off a successful Netflix show and a national tour, and NPR's Carrie Kahn brings us her story.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "SOFIA NINO DE RIVERA: EXPOSED")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Sofia, Sofia...

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's the opening act of Sofia Nino de Rivera's Netflix comedy special. The slender, tall comedian takes center stage on Guadalajara's majestic Degollado Theater surrounded by two male ballet dancers.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "SOFIA NINO DE RIVERA: EXPOSED")

SOFIA NINO DE RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They told me my show had to be of a cultural nature to present it in such a fine place as this," she says, straight faced.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "SOFIA NINO DE RIVERA: EXPOSED")

NINO DE RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

KAHN: "That was the cultural part," she says.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "SOFIA NINO DE RIVERA: EXPOSED")

NINO DE RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

KAHN: "So get ready," she says, throwing out an expletive to describe the crowd. At 35, Nino de Rivera's routine is a little Amy Schumer - not as crude, but with plenty of cussing and self-deprecation - mixed in with a bit of Louis C.K.'s anecdotal comedic flair. She likes to push Mexicans' comfort zone, poking fun at regional accents and customs, even taking aim at Mexican food and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Nino de Rivera says Mexicans are the best humorists when it comes to making fun of others, but not so used to laughing at themselves, so it was time to shake things up. Eight years ago, she decided to bring stand-up comedy to Mexico.

NINO DE RIVERA: I think Mexicans wanted to see other type of content other than whatever the TV had to give them.

KAHN: She quit her job as an advertising copywriter, watched lots of YouTube comedy videos, traveled to shows in New York and, at home, performed in front of any audience she could muster.

NINO DE RIVERA: Everybody told me this is not going to work because stand-up doesn't even exist in Mexico and people don't even know how to watch it or understand it. And I said, but how do you know if it doesn't exist? How do you know it's not going to work?

KAHN: Nino de Rivera is getting the last laugh now. Her Netflix show did well. She's got a recurring part in another Netflix series, and her nationwide tour sales are good. She nearly filled a 4,200-seat pavilion in the northern city of Monterrey at a recent show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NINO DE RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Thank you, Monterrey," shouts Rivera. She calls this act "Not Netflix" and fills it with more self-deprecating jokes at herself and Mexicans, like the bit about how she loves traveling around the country, just not the resort city of Cancun anymore. It's overrun with gringos, she jokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NINO DE RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

KAHN: "Cancun is so full of Americans these days, the Mexicans there look like immigrants," she says. She goes on, a bunch of Mexicans were working in the kitchen of a restaurant when she saw a patrol car drive by.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NINO DE RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

KAHN: She says she screamed run and they all fled. By the time she could tell them it wasn't immigration agents, it was too late. They were gone. Nino de Rivera usually shies away from politics but couldn't resist some jabs at President Enrique Pena Nieto, now one of Mexico's most hated politicians. She also takes aim at her mother's home state of Chihuahua, which she says is still stuck in simpler times - she didn't know they even had Internet - and jokes a lot about Mexicans' driving habits. Local businessman Hugo Carrillo loved the show.

HUGO CARRILLO: She kept you laughing and laughing from the beginning to the end.

KAHN: So did computer technician Jareli Miranda.

JARELI MIRANDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It wasn't vulgar or stupid comedy," she says, "it was really smart and fun."

Nino de Rivera says it hasn't been easy being a woman breaking new ground in Mexico. She says the hardest part has been the misogynistic abuse on social media. But she's not backing down. She's even taking her show and comedic workshops to a women's prison just outside Mexico City. She says stand-up is catching on in Mexico.

NINO DE RIVERA: So I think it's going to be - it's going to be here for a while.

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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