David Verdaguer breaks the mold in “Tabús”, the TV program produced by El Terrat (The Mediapro Studio) bringing a more humane touch to primetime every Wednesday on TV3. The program is described as a space of human interest that laughs together with people who should not be laughed at, a courageous and risky format forcing us out of our comfort zones by placing us in front of the mirror and making us come into contact with specific social groups whose lives are surrounded by taboos (the visually impaired, terminally ill, people from different ethnic groups, people living in poverty, etc.) and who face tough situations, sometimes living on the edge. The original Belgian format of the show has also been adapted for audiences in Canada, Australia and Switzerland and has been nominated for an International Emmy Award in the Best Non-Scripted Entertainment category.
We had the opportunity to speak, (telematically) with the Catalan actor; a gifted communicator and adored by cinemagoers, despite dealing with tough competition from his young daughter , queen of the household, who was meanwhile shaking him demanding attention. The actor, who’s well-known for making life easy for interviewers, gives us the keys to this revolutionary show.
Fess up! Were you knocked off your seat when they pitched the show to you, and you realized that the king of comedy would have to ride the planes of drama?
Actually, the minute they suggested the idea, I jumped at it because as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better than comedy and humor to give visibility to everyone, in addition it’s probably the most serious way to tackle problems. Drama, as you say, is certainly a key part of the show, but I wouldn’t describe it as dramatic, at least not for my part. I listen to the lives of the guests and I have to tell you that the vast majority, if not all thirty-four guests, are truly positive folk who explain their experiences, not in a dramatic fashion, but just simply as what they have been through. So no, it wasn’t that scary a proposal.
How do you handle such tough situations as those the show covers from the get-go?
Well, by listening. Listening to my guests it became immediately apparent that this was not going to be some sort of sensationalist program. I got emotional a few times while we were recording “Tabús” but never in front of the cameras. I preferred to lock myself away in my room and cry or do whatever it takes. So, I handled the challenge by listening and being flabbergasted by just how positive these individuals as well as being amazingly nice folk.
Did you ever come away from a recording feeling depressed or, the opposite, did you ever come away feeling that what you’ve just experienced has added to your life?
It has been an entirely positive feeling, nothing negative at all. I have a tendency to do that whole pessimism-vitalism vibe, but I’ve got to say, this program has really helped me grow. I’ve learned so much and never once went home feeling depressed.
Do you think comedy cures all?
Yes. An affirmative and bold “Yes”. Humor saves lives, practically without metaphor, and cures everything. A good sense of humor is the shortest distance between one person and another. It’s the best way to treat people…, but not like superheroes or with that whole “poor you” tone.
Do you think everything can be turned around and no limits or taboos are beyond its scope?
No, not everything is possible, but the idea is to give issues a different slant and I think comedy is the best way to do that. I sincerely believe that you can make humor out of everything. In fact, you have to find the funny side to everything and if someone doesn’t feel good about a joke, it does leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, but you have to remember that it’s only a joke. We have to focus on those who are serious. I’m also speaking with the assurance that all thirty-four guests really got a kick out of the monologue, they laughed, they had a great time and I know that they’re happy about it and that’s the important part.
It was a pretty packed writers room on this one, with yours truly included. First we spend some time with our guests and then we get down to writing the monologues, which is not as experiential as explaining specific issues concerning each individual, although there are some nods here and there, but in general it’s a monologue on the subject in general, the taboo surrounding poverty, different skin colors, obesity… And yes, of course we have censored ourselves on occasion, but I think most of the time, we’re going full throttle, which is how it should be.
Has the program made you think about making the most of your time, just like we’re all doing lately?
No doubt! It makes you rethink a lot of things and in my opinion, that’s one of the virtues of the program, which raises several issues. When you listen to people like these who have such interesting lives, you certainly learn a lot, because empathy is the key to almost everything.
Do you think television is the common ground between your theater and cinema work?
No, I hadn’t done any TV for ages, and hadn’t done non-fiction since APM and that wasn’t really me but me as program host, presenter, or whatever you want to call it. So, no, it’s not the common ground as I don’t do much TV. Actually, the reality is that the way things are currently, perhaps I will have to consider making more TV and more movies. Theater…I certainly hope it reopens soon, but things are really screwed.
When did you find out you had a comical streak and an ability to draw in audiences and get them to laugh at everything you say?
(Laughs) No way! The public certainly don’t laugh at all my jokes, some jokes don’t go down well at all! Well, since I was a kid, I’ve have always been able to get on well with others and as a child, I always related to others through humor, so I’m no stranger to clowning around and acting the fool. I guess we all wear masks in life, and this is mine. That said, it’s not my case that behind the clown there’s a sad person, but boy, humor has always served me for everything, from relating to friends, meeting new people, and even flirting.
The show has helped you switch sides. Has asking questions and listening to the answers changed your perspective on life?
I’ve always been an inquisitive type with a good ear for listening. I love talking, I’m a real chatterbox and I love listening too. I’d go to bars and you know what they say about people who’d “talk the hind legs off a donkey”, well it’s not like that, but I’m interested in hearing what people have to say. Ok, maybe sometimes you’ll meet someone who does “talk the back legs off a donkey”, but in general I’m genuinely interested in what people say to me. I love listening.
Do you think what you have with this program could spark generosity and become an eye-opener for others?
I hope so, yes, and I’m confident it will, at least I hope that’s the case, that it’s an eye-opener for more than one and that people can reflect not only on what they say, but how they say it. I think that’s the key here; how these people explain their stories and how beautifully they do so.
Is “Tabús” a course in living for audiences?
I don’t know if you could call it a course in living but it’s fantastic when audiences get the tone of what you’re trying to do. So, I think the show blends everything together, it kicks off with a pretty heavy gag, really hard-hitting black humor, and then you meet everyone and laugh along with them. The key in life is always to laugh “with” others, not “at” them, and I think this shows. One of our guests even said that love was just as important as humor. By this I mean that if we didn’t love each other a little bit, me loving them and they loving me, then I don’t think it would’ve worked.
If you were a doctor, would you recommend more laughter and fewer pills?
(Laughs) Obviously. In fact, when I was little I wanted to be a doctor, but it didn’t last long, only until I was nine years old. But yes, of course, more laughter and fewer pills.
What’s life like for you these days as you shelter in place? Do you go onto your balcony to applaud healthcare workers every day?
Yes, we’re all here on lockdown at home. It’s only been recently that we were able to go out with our little daughter and our balcony is tiny, (what I would give for a terrace right now!), so we go out onto the balcony every evening at eight o’clock. We applauded and my daughter shouts “Viva la vida”.
Health, money, love… Should we keep things in that order or do you think it’s time for a reshuffle?
(Laughs) Health comes first without a doubt. About money and love… (He thinks about it). Hmm, let’s leave the order as it is.
By the way, you wouldn’t happen to be a hypochondriac by any chance, would you? Of course I am! I’m such the worrier and what a hypochondriac! I’m something else… I’m always thinking that I’ve come down with something! Everyone who loves me already knows that when I start a play I think I’m going to lose my voice, that I won’t be able to speak, and I clear my throat … It’s really terrible! Yes, yes, I’m a disaster and a total utter and all out hypochondriac. It is what it is. But then again, it could always be worse, I could have housemaid’s knee or tennis elbow!