‘Class clowns’ raise laughs and money for Portuguese charity
Derrick DeMelo and Brian Martins were the class clowns, constantly making the kids laugh in their Massachusetts school.
To no one’s surprise they decided to make a profession out of it.
“I was always a talker,” said Mr DeMelo. “My parents said that I was either going to be a comedian or a lawyer, because I would not shut up.
“They let me be creative. They were shocked that we wanted to imitate Portuguese life. They said, ‘How the hell is this even a thing? But keep going, keep going.’”
For the past 17 years he and Mr Martins have performed with Vanessa Medeiros as The Portuguese Kids. They perform skits in various wigs and beards; the men often dress in drag. Improv helps the audience stay engaged.
“Because of that, the audience helps write the show,” Mr DeMelo said. “It is really fun.”
The group is returning here next week for the fourth time as part of a fundraiser for Casa dos Açores. Since 2019 the charity has been trying to create a bricks and mortar space for people to celebrate Bermuda’s cultural ties with the Azores.
“We have had to work extremely hard to find ways to fundraise during Covid-19 times,” said president Andrea Moniz-DeSouza. “We have had amazing support from the Bermuda community in general, which we are so thankful for, however a lot of expenses still remain associated with the renovations of the community centre.”
On hold until the funds are raised are the final touches to the kitchen at the North Shore, Pembroke building as well as the air conditioning. The group hopes to officially open the building in September, with members of the Azorean government in attendance.
The Portuguese Kids Pork Chop Summer Tour is part of that effort. Mr DeMelo said the comedians were happy to help the “amazing” community that had been so “very hospitable” during previous visits.
“Casa dos Açores is a brand new organisation with a brand new building,” he said. “They got it set up and then the pandemic happened. We thought, ‘Let’s go there and do a fundraiser. Let’s help them out.’ We thought it would be good for us to bring a little joy to the community after this rough year.”
The comedians are based in Fall River which has a large community of Portuguese-Americans. They take inspiration from their own parents but insist anyone can find amusement in their jokes.
“You don’t have to be Portuguese to get it,” Mr DeMelo said.
While they grew up speaking Portuguese at home, they spoke English everywhere else.
Said Mr Martins: “A lot of people who are third and fourth generation Portuguese have lost touch with the Portuguese language. Coming to the show is their way of connecting.”
They have found a lot of commonalities between Portuguese communities in Bermuda, Canada, Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, the Azores, Portugal and Australia.
“We have this unique connection to Portuguese people across the globe,” Mr DeMelo said. “No matter where you call home if you are a first or second generation Portuguese kid you identify. We share so many things it is kind of crazy. For example, parents tend to be very strict – the daughters have to be home at 8pm, but the sons have to be home at midnight.”
Another shared characteristic: many Portuguese immigrants have a second kitchen.
“Growing up we had a kitchen in the basement and a kitchen upstairs,” Mr DeMelo said. “The family wouldn’t use one, or it was only for special occasions.
“They like to fry a lot of their foods. Instead of making their entire house smell, they will just take it to a different part of the house.”
Mr DeMelo thought it was the result of growing up in poverty in the Azores. His father, Jaime, did not own a pair of shoes until he was 12 or have an indoor bathroom.
“Going to America and having a beautiful kitchen with the best of the best, they don’t want to dirty it up because it is such a nice thing,” Mr Martins said.
Performing in Bermuda, they felt the same kinship with their audience.
“We have a lot of Mexican fans, Italians and other ethnicities. They say our parents raised us like this too with this old school immigrant mode of thinking. They can relate to us. If we say stuff in Portuguese, usually the accompanying action explains it.”
The pandemic kept them at home for much of 2020. Bermuda is their first tour overseas since they started performing again this year.
He said the group has weathered the global health crisis well.
“We went a full year, for the first time ever, without a show,” Mr Martins said. “We shifted gears with putting out content on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. We were pumping out videos and memes and staying connected with fans, that way. We created new characters.”
The response from their fans was overwhelmingly positive.
“They said thank you for giving us this outlet,” Mr Martins said. “It was a way of stepping away from the crazy and giving people a laugh. It was like medicine for the soul.”
Business also picked up for their online store, www.shopportuguese.com, which sells everything from Portuguese sausages and sweets to books and jewellery.
“We were at the right place, at the right time,” Mr DeMelo said. “In many ways, the pandemic was kind to us. It allowed us to spend more time with our families. It allowed us to reset ourselves. Now, we are ready to get back out there.”
Watch The Portuguese Kids at Casa dos Açores at 7pm on August 13 and 14. Tickets, $60 for members of the charity and $80 for non-members, are available at Cafe Acoreano in Hamilton. A Safe Key is required to attend. For more information about Casa dos Acores da Bermuda visit bit.ly/3joagkt. Follow The Portuguese Kids on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Look for @theportkids on Twitter and TikTok