It’s not easy to play a gay Jesus in Brazil under right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, as Gregorio Duvivier found out on Christmas Eve, when his comedy production studio in Rio was attacked by a mob with molotov cocktails.
Since then, the Franco-Brazilian comedian moves around in a car with bullet-proof windows accompanied by a bodyguard.
“I thought it might be time to leave the country,” said the bearded 33-year-old, the father of a little girl. “But in fact, it only strengthened my will to fight.”
Duvivier played the lead in the Netflix-screened “The First Temptation of Christ” by Brazilian production company Porta dos Fundos.
It came out on December 3 and immediately drew strong criticism from conservative politicians in the mainly Catholic country, from the church itself and from evangelicals.
It depicts Jesus returning home with his boyfriend Orlando after 40 days in the desert, as Mary and Joseph plan a surprise party for Jesus’s 30th birthday.
The production company’s headquarters in Rio de Janeiro were fire-bombed on December 24. No one was hurt. Police said several men with their faces covered took part in the assault.
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians signed a petition calling for the film to be axed and the matter ended up in the courts. In January, the Supreme Court ultimately overturned a lower court’s decision to remove the comedy from Netflix, ruling that it was not insulting to Christians.
Ditching ‘pasteurized humor’-
The son of a sculptor and a singer, Duvivier was sent to acting classes at the age of nine.
By 16, he knew he could make a living from comedy when a skit he put together with friends won them recognition throughout Brazil.
He has also turned his hand to writing: his poetry collections have won critical approval, and he also writes a weekly column for the respected daily Folha de Sao Paulo.
As an actor, he was in Brazilian director Karim Ainouz’s movie “The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao”, which won the Cannes festival’s Un Certain Regard prize last year.
Duvivier says his comedic influences are Monty Python’s “nonsense” and the French satirical puppets “les Guignols de l’Info”, as well as classic French comedy stars like Louis de Funes.
But growing up, he felt less inspired by the comedy shows he watched on Brazilian television.
“Even though there have always been excellent comedians in Brazil, these shows were full of prejudice,” he said. “This very repetitive humor based on exaggeration constantly showed stupid women, very effeminate homosexuals, redneck peasants who spoke strangely or poor and toothless blacks.”
“Basically, it was humor that hit the same people as the police.”
Porta dos Fundos
It led Duvivier to form the Porta dos Fundos comedy collective with other rising stars in 2012.
The goal was to create a different kind of humor, what he calls “non-pasteurised.”
They turned to the internet to avoid what they saw as potential restraints on their creativity.
Their success online exceeded all expectations, garnering 30 million views on YouTube in six months and one billion in two years as they stoked Brazil’s appetite for bite-sized humor with delirious three-minute sketches.
The subject matter ran the gamut of racism, religion and police violence. There were no taboos, and it proved highly popular. Porta dos Fundos is one of the largest YouTube channels in Brazil, with more than 16 million subscribers.
But Duvivier wanted to go further, adding a political dimension that had been absent from Porta dos Fundos’ output.
Since 2017, he has run a weekly series on HBO called Greg News, which delivers a satirical take on the news.
“I believe humor is a weapon, a tool for better understanding reality. It is difficult to understand Brazilian reality without humor,” he said.
‘Every artist is an activist’-
His favorite target is far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whom he considers “an enemy of the planet” — citing the near doubling of Amazon deforestation during Bolsonaro’s first year in office.
Duvivier knows that by appearing regularly at leftist political rallies, he attracts notoriety and the wrath of a part of the population, and that he will never be seen as a mainstream actor.
“Brands are not interested in people who talk about politics. The more a comedian talks about politics, the less he advertises,” he said.
“But for me, every artist is an activist. I could not see myself otherwise,” he said.
Though he often finds himself “preaching to the converted,” he thinks that in Bolsonaro’s Brazil, “the left is in need of humor and comfort.”
“Those who think like me and see my program can tell themselves that they are not alone in this crazy country.”