5 questions for a Costa Rican comedian – ‘To hear them laugh is poetry’
Hernán Jiménez is renowned throughout the country as a comedian, but his talent doesn’t stop there: he is also a successful actor, screenwriter and producer. His 2012 film “El Regreso” told the story of a Costa Rican struggling to adapt to his country once more after many years away; his standup comedy acts such as “Vamos x partes” and “¡Esto es en serio!” have become phenomena of their own. The Tico Times spoke to Jiménez about the roots of his career, what it’s like to be alone onstage, and why all artists should “get naked.” Excerpts follow.
How did your career start, and what pushed you towards it?
I decided to study theater in Montreal, and started looking for some viable way of being an artist. When I returned to Costa Rica I had to face a completely paralyzed, arid and exclusive cultural panorama. After seeing this, I decided to work on my own. I wrote and directed my first documentary about the lack of safety in San José. Then I wrote my first play, “A One-Man Show,” which really marked my life and was also a precursor of my incursion to standup comedy. These two works led me to discover that a [blend] of art, film and stage was what I wanted in my life.
My insertion in the art world is quite cliché: histrionics and a love of the camera have been with me since I was a little boy. I love what I do. Now that I’m a grown man I have come to understand that [my work] has been the only effective balm for anxiety. When I was young I discovered that theater would be the only thing that would give sense to my life. And that’s what we all are looking for, right? To justify why we are here. To me, the energy of being onstage, or telling a good joke, or the community created on a movie set, are factors that get me to happiness.
Have you ever doubted your decision to be an artist?
When I started to study theater I was determined to be an actor for life. Luckily, I went to a school with the vision that an actor can’t only be an actor, but must also be an artist. They gave me the tools to propose my own ideas instead of just sitting there waiting for a perfect audition. That’s how my path was forged. Also, being unemployed in Costa Rica at the age of 24 was pretty frustrating. So my career has also been forged through economic necessity, because to live and make films is quite expensive. Emotionally, [it has been forged] in order not to go nuts.
I think there were doubts, but I don’t think I could have lived a life without art. It’s spine-chilling even to think about it. I don’t think I’m good at anything else.
What was your formative process, and what support did you receive?
I studied in at the Methodist High School in Costa Rica, but I got a scholarship to finish [high school] in an amazing place, which certainly changed my life: Pearson College in Vancouver, which is part of the United World Colleges. That was perhaps the most important inflexion point of my life. There, I learned to think differently; I discovered myself; I changed my political and artistic perceptions, and it opened me, in every sense, to the world itself. After that, I studied at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. Next, coming and going to Costa Rica in between all these [academic stints], I studied film at the San Francisco Art Institute, and script and direction at Columbia University in New York.
If I never win the lottery in my life, my comfort is that I did win my family’s support. Perhaps it was because they were tired already –I’m the younger of four siblings – but my dad and my brother are also artists, and my family nucleus is one of those few that actually understands what being an artist means. Nowadays, to make a living from anything is hard! To graduate with a little paper that says you’re a dentist, a lawyer, an accountant, does not guarantee anything. The world has changed a lot in that aspect, so it is really sad that families still disapprove of the artistic inclinations of a child. Those are ghosts that never go away.
What would you say is the key to success for a person who wants to become either a comedian or an actor?
Just do it! Don’t listen to critics, envy, and all those people who will tell you not to do it, or that you are not good at it. There is no advice you can follow to do it right or wrong. Perhaps it would be useful learn one or two techniques, but beyond that, the only good thing is to be completely honest with your work, and do it over and over and over again until is it relatively good. Say something awkward about yourself. Get “naked.”
What do you enjoy the most about your career?
That is almost impossible to describe, you know. It is love. To love what I do is full enjoyment in and of itself. Each discipline is different, of course. I love to write because it is an incredibly introspective process, which makes me visit uncomfortable and difficult places of myself, which makes me recognize the worst of me and at the same time makes me be generous with myself. I love being a director because it is the closest to playing as a child, and that is beautiful. You make up a complete story, and then you get some friends to help you to create it, and then you film it. I love to do standup comedy because, well, first it gives me the money to live and to produce films, but also because with the power of words I can submit thousands of strangers to an involuntary reflex: laughter. To see them and to hear them laugh all at the same time is like some kind of poetry to me. It is extremely desolate to be up there alone, but what I see and hear is glorious.
Perhaps that is the only negative aspect: loneliness. The creative process, when it is honest, leads to loneliness. It can’t be different. I do not live with the romantic idea of a tormented artist. If I could do it differently I would, but there’s no other way. To create sometimes involves overwhelming anguish, which you have to face with humility and patience, and I’ve got to say that I’m not a very patient person.
[But if it weren’t for my art], I would be in a psychiatric hospital.
Here’s a taste of Hernán’s work, a segment of his standup comedy ‘Así quién no’:
Read other “Weekend Arts Spotlight” interviews here.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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