Alvarez Guedes was born in Unión de Reyes, Matanzas, a town from where, according to a popular song, hails a legendary and probably fictional rumba king called Malanga. His showbiz career began in his hometown. There, since childhood, he would entertain crowds at parties and fairs by dancing and singing. It was natural that he would travel to Havana, not just the country’s capital but a known entertainment center. In Havana, he worked in theaters and radio shows. But it was in the new medium of television, of which Cuba was the Latin American pioneer, where he made his mark. In a city known for its nightclub scene, Alvarez Guedes appeared in popular television shows that were set in bars and clubs in the role of el borracho, the drunkard, where he mixed linguistic humor with a physical comic style reminiscent of American silent movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He worked in this medium, as well as the booming club world of 1950s Havana, where he shared billing with such stars as Beny Moré, Olga Guillot and Rita Montaner.
During that decade, the comic also began a cinematic career that would lead to roles in more than 14 movies and the production of three. However, his most disseminated medium was the recorded spoken word. In 1960, Alvarez Guedes was forced into exile, landing first in New York City then San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he eventually made his first comedy album in 1973, leading to thirty-plus albums over the years. Through the albums, he became an international star of Spanish-language comedy before settling in Miami. Alvarez Guedes and his brother Rafael, together with composer/band leader Ernesto Duarte Brito, founded Gema Records, the company that launched the international careers of "El Gran Combo", a Puerto Rican Salsa music group. A friendship united Guedes with the orchestra's director, Rafael Ithier. The company also launched the careers of Elena Burke and Rolando Laserie, among others.
An icon of the Cuban exile community, Alvarez Guedes became known throughout Latin America through his recordings of stand-up comedy, where he told jokes in an unmistakable Spanish filled with Cuban idioms that seemed to flow naturally from his native country’s street humor. Thanks to his popularity, a Cuban accent strikes many fellow Latins as full of verve and good cheer and has probably done more for good vibrations between Cubans and other Spanish speakers than any diplomatic venture.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Álvarez Guedes dedicated himself to recording comedy albums and writing comedy books. He routinely expressed his desire for Cuba to return to the way it used to be; such was the occasion when he made one of his famous jokes, involving a TWA flight he supposedly took between Havana and Miami. That route was actually flown by TWA, Pan Am and Cubana before Fidel Castro's rise to power.
Curiously, his own best-selling album is in English — sort of. In his How to Defend Yourself from the Cubans, which was released in the mid ’80s, Alvarez Guedes routines are spoken in heavily accented English — and incongruously American-accented Spanish. In the album, Alvarez Guedes warns Americans in a tongue-in-cheek manner about the Cuban invasion of United States homeland and culture. The humor works doubly with English and Spanish speakers, the latter recognizing the absurdities of their own culture. It is admitted among Cuban-Americans that Alvarez Guedes could call Cubans on their follies without eliciting any rancor from his countrymen.
In that recording and other stand-up routines, Alvarez Guedes patented the use of the expression ¡ñó! Though it stands for a blunt obscenity, Cubans use the word in both the two-syllable original and the abbreviation as a sign of awe, indignation or even reflection, without ever considering its original meaning. It is the ultimate four-letter word. But given how Cuban speech tends to slur pronunciation, the comedian picked up on its shortened version and it became his trademark.
It’s likely that Guillermo Alvarez Guedes broke the vulgarity barrier in Spanish stand-up. But he did not do so transgressively, like a Lenny Bruce, but in the manner of American ethnic comics like the masters of Jewish shtick, as the natural expression of a people. For most of his career, Alvarez Guedes’ humor was laced with vulgarity and his audiences laughed accordingly. Yet he never told truly off-color jokes and his comic persona was deadpan and straight, sometimes affecting righteous indignation. He was just talking as would any Cuban.
That was his biggest appeal. He played — some would say he was — the cubanazo, a word well known in Miami which roughly menas, The Big Cuban. Too Cuban For You. Among Cubans, it was the recognition of one’s ethnic idiosyncrasies that enriched his popularity. Among others, it was being granted license to laugh at aspects of Cuban speech and culture which the audience already found funny. As anti-Castro as any of his exile compatriots, Alvarez Guedes summed up his critique of Fidel Castro in a simple vulgarity in Spanish: He was an S.O.B. Most Cuban-Americans would agree.
“My best memories of Cuba make me sad,” he told El Nuevo Herald in 2007. “Cuba is a country that no longer exists, even if I was born there.”
The roots of Alvarez Guedes’ humor are to be found in a Cuban music hall tradition known as teatro bufo, where ethnic types drawn from the Havana barrios acted out comedy skits that were Creole versions of comic theater from the 16th and 17th century Spanish traditions. According to the EnCaribe web page, Alvarez Guedes represented both el gallego—– a handlebar-moustached Spanish immigrant, whose physical appearance was that of Alvarez Guedes himself — and el negrito, a street-smart Afro-Cuban who relentlessly mocks el gallego. And his attitude is rooted in choteo, a disregard for any seriousness that Cuban intellectual life identifies as a major component of the island’s culture.
But such academic wonderings would be dismissed by Alvarez Guedes, who in his radio show on Miami’s Clasica 92.3FM would urge his listeners, in the best tradition of choteo, to tirarlo todo a relajo — make a joke of everything.
Alvarez Guedes wrote over 20 books, and his albums, alongside television presentations and stand-up comedy appearances have made him one of the most well-liked entertainers, both among the Hispanic public and fellow entertainers alike.
- El dia que cayo Fidel Castro 1967
- Álvarez Guedes 1 1975
- Álvarez Guedes 2 1975
- Álvarez Guedes 3 1976
- Álvarez Guedes 4 1976
- Álvarez Guedes 5 1977
- Álvarez Guedes 6 1977
- Álvarez Guedes 7 1978
- Álvarez Guedes en Venezuela 1978
- 8 1978
- Álvarez Guedes 10 1979
- Vol 9 1979
- Álvarez Guedes 11 1980
- Álvarez Guedes 13 1981
- Álvarez Guedes 15 1982
- Álvarez Guedes 16 1983
- 12 1983
- 16 1983
- Álvarez Guedes 17 1984
- Álvarez Guedes 18 1985
- 20 1987
- Vol 21 1989
- Identity, Memory, and Diaspora Page 136 Jorge J. E. Gracia, Lynette M. F. Bosch, Isabel Álvarez-Borland - 2008 -"Even more chaotic if you add the nonliterary influences, which may have left a deeper mark: American song lyricists from the 1930s and 1940s; Cuban and American comedians like Leopoldo Fernández, Guillermo Álvarez Guedes, Henny Youngman ..."
- Music And Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba 2006 Page 40 Robin Moore "... established in 1957 and owned by Ernesto Duarte Brito and Guillermo Álvarez Guedes"
- Paquito D'Rivera, Ilan Stavans My Sax Life: A Memoir - Page 55 2005 "A similar scene was taking place at the home of the popular actor-comedian Guillermo Álvarez-Guedes when his friend Alfredo Cataneo—the famous comical character and member of the Trío Taicuba—went out to the balcony and, after taking a ..."
- Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook Ted Henken - 2008 -"In fact, Cuban-American comic, businessman, and anti-Castro activist Guillermo Álvarez Guedes has an entire skit famously dedicated to the many nuances of ¡ñó!."
- "Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, famed Cuban comic, dies". miamiherald. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
- "Rafael Ithier recuerda a Guillermo Álvarez Guedes y su relación con El Gran Combo". Primera Hora. 30 July 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
- "Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, famed Cuban comic, dies". miamiherald. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- Corsa, Lissette (7 June 2001). "Cuba's Jackie Mason". Miami New Times. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
- "Falleció Alvarez Guedes, el hombre de la risa eterna". elnuevoherald. Retrieved 31 October 2017.