The death of Hugo Chávez has left Venezuelan humorists Juan Andrés Ravell, 31, and Oswaldo Graziani, 33, scratching their heads, as their hit animated series, "Isla Presidencial" (or "Presidential Island"), has suddenly lost its star.
"Isla Presidencial" portrays caricatured Latin American presidents stranded on a deserted island. Among the cartoon cast is a perpetually stoned Jose Mujica (the President of Uruguay), a trigger-happy Juan Manuel Santos (the new Colombian president) and a wide-eyed, busty Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina's head of state).
But it's Venezuela's late bombastic president who steals the show.
"He's the Charlie Sheen of 'Two-and-half Men,'" says Ravell, referring to the void created when Sheen left the hit U.S. sitcom.
"We're really going to miss him," says Graziani.
The creators of "Isla Presidencial" had Chávez, known as "Hugito" on the show, playing an ersatz Skipper--with Evo Morales (the president of Boliva) as his "little buddy"--in a bizarre spin on the once popular "Gilligan's Island" series.
The comic duo's brainchild was an instant Internet sensation. The first season has tallied some 15 million views on Youtube since it debuted in 2010-2011. Now, with the show back after a two-year hiatus, more than two million fans have already tuned in.
Graziani and Ravell explain that "Isla Presidencial" is a departure from their fake news website, El Chigüire Bipolar, which highlights standard Venezuelan humor á la The Onion or "The Daily Show."
The website, which is named after a typical Venezuelan rodent, was launched in 2008 as creative refuge after Graziani and Ravell's first venture, a short-lived animated series called "Nada Que Ver," was deemed too racy for its broadcaster, Sony Entertainment Television.
The site has come up with catchy quips like "'If [Opposition presidential candidate Henrique] Capriles wins, he'll lead the country from Washington,' says Chávez from Havana," and "The Opposition celebrates that it was beaten in only 87% of the country," referring to the near sweep by Chávez's political party in last December's gubernatorial elections.
Even Chávez's death and his dramatic state funeral did not stop El Chigüire, which filled its front page in those days with headlines like "Planet Earth continues its rotation..." and "Entire country says in unison, 'How annoying, more elections.'
While many forms of media have run into trouble with the Venezuelan government, when it comes to political criticisms, Chigüire Bipolar has managed to stay beyond the reach of national regulators, as its humor hammers both sides of the country's political divide. Yet even with widespread success on a local level, its writers admit their material can fall flat on an international audience. "If you're not Venezuelan, or if you don't keep up with the national news, you won't get 80% of the jokes," says Ravell.
"Isla Presidencial," however, does find fans beyond Venezuela's borders. The cartoon show has been featured on newspapers from Mexico to Argentina, and is a favorite on Facebook, for Latin Americans from all nations.
Even Chávez himself mentioned the show during a weekly TV program back in 2011, in which he was chattering away next to a patently weary Evo Morales.
"There's these cartoons my son showed me, the 'Isla,' something or other" Chávez said. "Have you seen this yet, Evo?"