MEXICO CITY — The host of Mexico's hottest morning TV news show makes silly faces while interviewing important people. He uses shockingly vulgar language in his commentaries. He punctuates each news bite, however serious, with rooster crows, tambourine-banging and fake but amplified belches.
He wears more makeup than Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Diane Sawyer put together. But unlike him, they are not known for treating viewers to an on-air ambush of politicians caught on secretly recorded videos receiving suitcases full of suspected bribe money.
Well, say buenos dias to Brozo, the unshaven, green-haired clown who gives many Mexicans their breakfast-time taste of the day's news.
In what could be described as a mating of "Good Morning America" with the "Simpsons' " Krusty the Klown, Brozo and his sidekicks give issues a raucous, irreverent spin for a growing audience -- at least among Mexicans tired of drab newscasts by people in Armani suits.
While the focus of "El Mananero" may include a dose of sarcasm about President Bush and Iraq, or a Brozo tirade about disputes between politicians he calls "macho little goats," the show is seen by many as a perfectly Mexican treatment of the country's troubled times, and maybe the wider world's too.
Many Mexicans complain that their country appears adrift in a sea of spectacular scandals and political theater, with politicians neglecting urgent problems as they try to embarrass each other in the run-up to the 2006 presidential election.
Brozo likes to think of his show as the antidote, rather than another symptom.
"We coincide with the moment through which Mexico is passing," says Victor Trujillo, the man beneath Brozo's wig. "Generally, what is solemn is taken as serious, what is solemn is formal, and so what is solemn could be true. But we want to break that myth, so that laughs don't take away from the truth."
While some other news shows get more viewers, Brozo has become nearly a cultural icon in Mexico, with his face on billboards and newspaper ads throughout the capital and his show attracting increasing attention.
In March, Brozo caused an uproar when he surprised the leader of Mexico City's legislature, Rene Bejarano, with a secretly filmed videotape of the politician taking a "contribution" from a city contractor.
A top associate of Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is considered a candidate for president in the 2006 election, Bejarano sat there sweating as the video showed him accepting so many stacks of dollars that he couldn't fit them in his suitcase and had to stuff some into his suit coat pockets.
As the clip rolled, Bejarano began sputtering explanations, but Brozo confronted him in a fearsome voice, using certain, exclusively Mexican phrases heard on the street corner but almost never on TV: "Don't [fool with] me, Rene! OK, now we are [fed up to here]!"
A Brozo backlash
The Brozo segment fueled an ongoing corruption scandal in Mexico City.
Bejarano quit the legislature and other leaders resigned from his political party; Lopez Obrador, formerly the front-runner in presidential polls, saw his popularity fall.
Lopez Obrador, a popular leftist who has built his political career on anti-corruption and personal austerity, then struck back, charging that Bejarano was entrapped by an odd grouping of enemies including President Vicente Fox, former President Carlos Salinas and Mexico's largest TV network, Televisa, which airs Brozo's show.
Brozo has come in for his share of criticism for his "rude" treatment of Bejarano -- and for allegedly being exploited. He acknowledges the videotape he aired was furnished by a congressman from Fox's ruling party, rival to the party led by the mayor of Mexico City.
In his office upstairs at Televisa's studios, Trujillo, 42, is disarmingly less ferocious than Brozo. Still wearing his red face paint after his morning show, though he has shed his wig and fake red nose, Trujillo's voice is mysteriously soft, his political analysis quite un-clownlike.
Trujillo created Brozo, a character known for years as el payaso tenebroso (the gloomy clown), as part of a comic duo notorious for telling innuendo-laden and macabre fairy tales in cabarets 20 years ago.
After the team broke up, Trujillo made the leap from cabaret and theater to television, bringing along all the sexual innuendo and double entendres that made him famous.
The name Brozo, obviously a play off world-famous Bozo, also is a spin on the Spanish word broza. The term means rubbish or rotting leaves, but it also is Mexican slang for the uneducated masses.
Also slang is the name of Brozo's show, "El Mananero," which roughly translates to "the morning quickie." Launched to the theme of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," the four-hour program features Brozo's sidekicks reading the news while his face appears in a monitor over their shoulders, alternately grimacing, oohing or making faces of mock fascination.