If your childhood was anything like mine, you need not much introduction to the wild world of Spanish telenovelas and historias. But let’s just say your childhood was completely opposite from mine. Imagine you’re about 8 years old, visiting your grandma’s house in the inner-city west side. You see a goofy-looking man on the TV dressed in red tights and yellow shorts with antennae on his head. He looks like a bug! Taken from the Nahuatl word for grasshopper, that’s exactly what El Chapulín Colorado was—the crimson grasshopper. Sounds silly, right? But the man who portrayed what became an iconic global character was quite brilliant—and funny, too!
The late Roberto Gómez Bolaños—famously known as Chespirito—was a man whose writing, acting, and directing talents and comedic creativity inspired generations and brought laughter into millions of homes around the world. Chespirito was known for portraying funny, quirky characters, his most popular of which being El Chavo del Ocho—a show centered around an orphan boy growing up in a poor neighborhood. In El Chapulín Colorado, Chespirito portrayed a seemingly brave superhero—a grasshopper, of all things—who came to the rescue to those in distress. However, El Chapulín was often more cowardly than brave, and his meager appearance and short stature usually had his foes laughing at him rather than running scared. The show seemed to poke fun at the slew of superheroes that dominated the American market. For example, the famous opening liner from Superman: “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! . . . .” was used as a parody in the opening credits for El Chapulín Colorado, although describing Chapulín instead as “More agile than a turtle! Stronger than a mouse! More noble than a lettuce! . . . .” Yet somehow El Chapulín always managed to save the day, even if by accident.
When we started discussing the idea of designing a Chapulín shirt, we weren’t quite sure how we wanted to play the design. We wanted to honor Chespirito and his character, but also to give it our own spin. We played around with several ideas—including one that showed Chapulín wearing a Spurs jersey—before settling on the final design, which we named Calaca Colorado. The design was a skeletal El Chapulín posed in a stance with his arms crossed. We were inspired by the then-upcoming Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday and celebration of the deceased. You honor those loved and lost by creating altars (ofrendas) of the things the person loved. This was our sort of way of immortalizing the Chapulín character and showing respect to the great Chespirito. In fact, we even did this with our Friends Till The End print. Our own Catherine Contreras donned the Chapulín outfit at last year’s MuertosFest celebration in San Antonio. She recalls, “Being Chapulín for a day was amazing. Kind of like being an undercover agent in a sea of drunk people. Strangers were asking to take pictures with me, and some people even wanted me to take pics with their babies. I got mildly sexually harassed, too . . . which, for a chick dressed like a huge cricket, is pretty f*cking awesome.”
Chespirito passed away at the age of 85. His influence can be seen all over the world to this day. The Simpsons character Bumblebee Man, a Spanish-speaking man dressed in a bee costume, was inspired by El Chapulín Colorado. You may even say Marvel's recently released Ant-Man also pokes fun of the idea that insects, while small and seemingly nonthreatening, could become hero-like. Though In a world filled with mighty superhero characters on the big screen, it’s refreshing to look back and reflect on El Chapulín Colorado, a character who didn’t take himself too seriously, but, in the end, still saved the day. For me, however, as that 8-year-old kid at my grandma’s house, I just knew him as that funny guy who dressed like a bug. Oh, if only I had known any better.
RIP Chespirito! Que te sigan los buenos. [May the good people follow you.]