The group in action
Every Portuguese kid in America grows up just a little bit differently. We’re taught the names of every athlete and celebrity that has even a trace of Portuguese roots from the time we’re young, we eat, we yell, we laugh, we celebrate family, we obsess over soccer, and we are fiercely proud of where we come from. And, while others may not understand these ways, we just get it. However, it takes an enormous amount of skill to harness these moments and transform them into acts of hilarity while simultaneously appealing to all types of audiences and keeping the content relevant and relatable.
Meet Derrick De Melo, Brian Martins, Alex Sardinha, and Jason Casimiro — otherwise known as The Portuguese Kids. These four Portuguese musketeers, who hail from southeastern Massachusetts, are taking the art of the ethnic comedy act to new heights. They've become a national sensation in recent years, and they recently sat down with me for a chat about life, the pursuit of laughter, and the idea of Portuguese Power.
How did you all meet?
We all grew up in the same neighborhood. We all had the same social outlet with Portuguese parents — you know, when you grow up in that type of neighborhood you’re surrounded only by Portuguese people so that becomes your circle. We have pictures of us together from way back when, from us in the procession parades, etc. We’ve been together as friends for that long, for years.
How did the idea of the group come about?
We’ve always been class clowns, together just over the years trying to one up each other and make others laugh. One day back in college days, we were given the opportunity to do a public access TV show. We told all of our friends about it, and decided we should do it. It was terrible! Pretty much the worst thing we’ve ever done, it was just a mix of inside jokes that nobody else would get, we were just trying to make each other laugh, our friends laugh. After that, we just started getting together and sharpening things up, becoming more serious about it, and we’ve been doing it now for seven years.
Do you find that non-Portuguese audiences really get it?
It really depends on the audiences’ exposure to Portuguese people, what they’ve seen, that’s usually enough trauma to prep them [laughs]. We do get flack sometimes though from Portuguese people; sometimes they feel we’re making fun of them, they come down on us for the way we pronounce things and so on. But, the general response is great, seriously. We get some people that come up to us after the show who just want to say thank you, they see the show almost as a form of laughter therapy because what we do sometimes reminds them of people they loved and lost. They find themselves laughing and remembering those that have passed. It’s sort of like our badge of honor, making the audience feel great.
What's your creative process when writing your routines?
Honestly, 90% start from just a single idea. Brian and Jay write the majority of it, we then sit down to discuss it, read it, tweak it, and then finally approve it. Sometimes it comes out pretty badly of course, but we will say that most of it eventually makes it to the stage. It’s a group effort. When we meet, our creative process is really submitting individual ideas, talking everything through, spending a lot of time refining ideas. There’s a lot of yelling, a lot of opinions; we’re really our own toughest critics.
Best part about what you do?
Just purely laughing, we have such a good time, nothing more than that. Our hearts and passion are really in it, it’s so great that we get to do this. We travel, perform, we literally made something out of nothing. Another sweet part of the deal is we get to travel, and at every show we do there is always a group afterwards that waits for us afterwards and we have the same conversation. They become part of us, we connect with them, they really show us love. We’re all family — this is what’s most meaningful. I don’t want to get too emotional now [laughs]. For example, one day a year ago I got an email from someone who said what you guys are doing is really bridging gaps between the generations with Portuguese culture.
People consider us a catalyst for change, it means so much to us and the audience is truly who we do this all for. We have always had Portuguese pride, and to be able to promote that to everyone and bring all Portuguese people together is just amazing. We always perform at Portuguese clubs too; we want to help support the local communities. Their numbers are dwindling all over the place, the younger generation generally doesn’t want to go to these places but we’re bringing people back who haven’t been there in years.
What ethnic comedian do you feel really gets it right?
George Lopez, absolutely; he’s been a huge influence. He mimics his family perfectly in good fun and gets the ethnic side right. Another one is Freddie Soto; he passed away unfortunately but was excellent and someone that really inspired us. And, even the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding — people laughed at all of the ethnic elements, I mean Portuguese people do that too. Just like the guy in the movie using Windex all the time, my father believed bleach or Pledge fixed everything.
What's your dream gig? Who would you love to work with?
Wow, this is a tough one. You know, we’re already working with them [more laughs]. Seriously, probably George Lopez, or Portuguese actors. The serious ones like Joaquim de Almeida, the more unknown ones.
How did the now-famous "Portuguese Christmas Song" come about?
Ah, the Christmas song. We just sort of sat and wrote it one day, and that was good enough. We went back just to tweak it and decided to go into a friend’s studio to record it. But then we edited it further and put it up on Youtube on a Tuesday night. Immediately we had 300 hits, the next morning we had 5000 and now we’re close to 85,000. It’s amazing.
What's next for The Portuguese Kids?
We’re constantly trying to upgrade ourselves. We like to stick to the game plan but also create new stuff. We’re coming out with our new show, "Real Housewives of Ponta Delgada," where we’re goig full drag, which we’ve never done. Portuguese audiences love to see men dressed as women for some reason. We’re taking that and going the whole nine, live on stage. That’s what we are when it comes down to it, a performance comedy troupe and we’d love to develop that more. Comedy groups are a dime a dozen, everyone wants do improve but we’ve found our niche which has literally turned from a good time with a bunch of friends to a business.
We have an office, we really do; we need one because we really are a business. We create, we sit, we meet, we think about how to market ourselves, we critique our shows and manage everything that goes along with it. People don’t sometimes realize how much goes into it — a lot of blood, sweat, and tears but it feels great. We think often about where we started in a basement, and now we have multiple bookings for certain nights and we’re performing all over the country. It feels great.