The Cuban-American comedian Guillermo Alvarez Guedes. Photo/courtesy of Facebook

“ÑÑÑÑOOOOOO!!!!” Remembering Cuban-American Comedian Guillermo Alvarez Guedes

Guillermo Ávarez Guedes, the stand-up comedian and author who made a popular Caribbean expletive (reduced to its second syllable, “ñó! ) his trademark, died on Tuesday at his home in Miami at age 86. A beloved figure in the Cuban-American community and Puerto Rico, he was well-known throughout Latin America thanks to the many recordings of his humorous monologues, which poke fun of everyday situations and characters in a highly characteristic acento cubano.

His career spanned more than six decades. Born in 1928, he started singing and telling jokes at parties in his native town of Unión de Reyes, Matanzas.  In the 1940s he moved to the country’s capital, Havana, one of the show-business hubs of the Spanish-speaking world. He worked in nigthclubs, theater, radio, and cinema, sharing billboard with some of the greatest figures of that era such as Beny Moré, Olga Guillot and Rita Montaner. He was one of the first entertainers to appear on Cuban TV, the first television system launched in Latin America.

The public identified Alvarez Guedes as the quintessential Cuban, but some critics looked down on him because of his conspicuous use of “dirty words” (which was never as on-the-face as it was in most of his contemporary English-language counterparts).  Responding to those criticisms, he recently said: “There are no dirty words, there are just words, which are dirty depending on who says them.”

Just to drive the point home, in his best-selling album “How to Defend Yourself from the Cubans,” Álvarez Guedes gives (in English) a hilarious explanation of the use of the word “excrement” and “excrement eater,” two of the most popular terms of the Cuban lingo.

One of his most popular acts was a drunkard, a blend of verbal humor and Chaplin-style physicality that showcased his great talent for comedy.

An indefatigable critic of Fidel and Raúl Castro, Álvarez Guedes went into exile in 1960. He spent some time in New York and San Juan of Puerto Rico before settling in Miami. After a decade of live presentations, he recorded his first comedy album in 1973; he would eventually produce more than 30 of them.

With his brother Rafael Álvarez Guedes he also created Gema Records, a company that help launch the international career of Cuban singers Elena Burke and Rolando Laserie and the Puerto Rican Salsa band “El Gran Combo,” among other artists. In the 1980s he began publishing his own books too.

He continued to make shows and radio presentations until very recently, when a stomach illness forced him into retirement. The news of his passing triggered an outpouring of sympathy in the social media. Here are some expressions  in Twitter:

%d bloggers like this: