Portuguese Kids on the Block: Comedy Troupe Celebrates Luso-American Culture

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by Steve Desroches

If you grew up in a household where your “mãe” and “pai” installed two kitchens, one to use and one largely for show, the comedy trio the Portuguese Kids has your back. Based in Fall River, Massachusetts, a community with one of the highest number of people of Portuguese ancestry per capita in the United States, the Portuguese Kids have been playfully poking fun at their ancestral community for almost 20 years. At first largely performing throughout Bristol County, which is the only county in America where Portuguese is the most common ethnic background, the comedy troupe has expanded touring the country as well as internationally, including Portugal. They are one of—if not the first—comedy groups in the country to give this kind of representation to the Luso-American experience, and they are coming to Provincetown this weekend to take part in the town’s Portuguese Festival, which celebrates Provincetown’s own deep Portuguese heritage.

Growing up in the city famous for Lizzie Borden, Derrick DeMelo and his best friend Brian Martins were the local cut-ups on the block in their neighborhood, always getting friends and family to laugh with their antics. It’s only natural, says DeMelo, that he and Martins would create the Portuguese Kids to showcase the “funnier side of growing up with ethnic parents.” Over that time they’ve produced scores of viral videos on YouTube and TikTok as well as live shows full of sketches, musical numbers, and improvisation all about growing up Portuguese in America. And now they’re joined by Vanessa Medeiros, who adds new talent and viewpoints. They’re completely stunned by their continued success both here in New England and beyond. Their stop in Provincetown is part of a larger tour taking them to other local communities with large Portuguese populations like Taunton and Chicopee, but also to ones in California and Canada before heading to a series of shows in the Azores and the island of Madeira. While interrupted by the pandemic, they are resuming plans to tour the United Kingdom and South Africa to add to their international resume, which includes previous visits to Bermuda and Australia. In all their travels DeMelo says they are fascinated that their brand of comedy lands no matter where they perform, with only minor adjustments needed to appeal to hyperlocal differences.

“It’s actually astonishing the similarities that exist within the house,” says DeMelo. “It’s outside the house where things are different.”

The variations require them to change where the driver might sit during a sketch about a Portuguese dad behind the wheel, for a country that drives on the right or the left. They also learned that local construction customs can change a joke. For instance, in regards to the two kitchens phenomenon, for it to land you have to be specific. In Portugal, homes would often have an indoor and an outdoor kitchen, something possible in a dry and mild climate. But here in New England, Portuguese families often built a fully functioning kitchen in the cellar, in part as an exercise in conspicuous consumption to show an immigrant family has “made it” in America. But when they’ve toured California, where basements are not standard, they learned Portuguese families built the second kitchen in their garages. These are just small differences of a shared culture that adapts to the surroundings. It’s also a perfect example of how to have fun and laugh at, but not make fun of, the humor of the cultural negotiations immigrant communities face when hanging on to beloved customs and trying to make a home in a new country and culture, particularly when immigrant enclaves can feel both safe and comfortable, but also removed and a bit isolated from the dominant culture.

“We were very sheltered,” says DeMelo. “I didn’t realize there were Portuguese people beyond my hometown and Connecticut where we had family and in Canada where my mother had some family. I’ve been able to travel the world and see how Portuguese people and culture has adapted—the connection to the Old World and the modern-day assimilation. That experience is universal.”

To DeMelo, as well as Martins and Medeiros, growing up with such strong ties to their respective families’ immigrant culture was incredibly special, but also illuminated the lack of representation of said culture at large. And if Portuguese culture was somehow addressed, it could often be with crude stereotypes and offensive tropes. That’s why the core of the Portuguese Kids humor and approach is a celebration of heritage, pride, and most of all, family. That’s what DeMelo loves the most about being Portuguese: the culture’s commitment to family…and the food.

The culinary heritage of Portuguese culture is centered around gathering together, be it an extended family or a community, as is evident by the popularity of food at the Provincetown Portuguese Festival. Food brings people together. Having performed at the festival many times before, this marks the first time the Portuguese Kids take to the stage at Town Hall, which is much better suited for their current show. And they are always well received whenever they come to the Cape tip. But what’s the reaction when they perform in Portugal, more specifically the Azores, where DeMelo’s family is from, originally?

“Whenever we perform in the Azores it’s usually in the summer, when a lot of our fan base here is back visiting the Motherland,” says DeMelo. “So to our fans here they love the jokes about life back home. In the Azores, they often laugh at customs we’ve held on to that they’ve moved on from. Things have evolved in the Azores, but many of the Portuguese here hang on to the way things were when they immigrated. To the people in the Azores we’re the crazy family members that left to go to America.”

The Portuguese Kids perform Saturday, June 25 at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St. at 6:15 p.m. The show is free. For more information visit provincetownportuguesefestival.com and portuguesekids.com.