Music [“Old Portuguese Road”]: Yeah, I’m going to do landscaping with my cousin Joe. Gonna cut grass till we can’t no more.

Gonzalez: Hey, everybody. I’m Ana.

Nunes: I’m Alex, and this is Mosaic.  

Music: Got a minivan that I drive real slow. I built the tool shed in the back; 2-by-4s are stacked.

Gonzalez: And this episode is not going to be about “Old Town Road.”

Nunes: No.

Music: I fix my own porch. Ha! Blow things with a torch.

Nunes: We’re talking about Portuguese Americans from Fall River, Massachusetts.

Music: Can’t nobody charge me nothing.

Gonzalez: And we have your Uncle Joe to thank for being here, right?

Nunes: That’s right. Good old Uncle Joe, legend in the Nunes family, but for reasons I shouldn’t get into in this episode.

Gonzalez: Alright, so go on. What happened with Uncle Joe?

Nunes: Alright, so six or seven years ago my Uncle Joe sent around this email to my whole family, and in it he says, “You guys gotta check out this video.”

Actor 1: [Video skit] Get off my grass!

Nunes: And this one was called, “Shit Portuguese people say.”

Gonzalez: And I bet it was extra funny for you, because you’re Portuguese.

Nunes: I am. 

Actor 1: It’s after ten o’clock. [Sound of phone hanging up.]

Nunes: So the video my uncle sent around was this montage of different skits. A few had Portuguese people driving in cars and getting into arguments.

Actor 1: Go ahead, put your blinker on! I no see your blinker!

Nunes: Then there were Portuguese people ordering at drive thrus. That was my personal favorite.

Actor 1: E um large potato French fry, e um shicken McNugga.

Actor 2: Hi, yes. Can I have a large diet, black soda with white ice, please?

Nunes: And I thought the video was hilarious. Like really spot on. The accents. The outfits. The guys in a few skits were dressed like my grandma.

Actor 1: [In woman’s voice.] You hungry? Want to eat something? So skinny.

Gonzalez: So, you come to find out the guys behind the video are called The Portuguese Kids, which is a comedy group from Fall River, Massachusetts—just a quick ride from our studios in Providence. 

Nunes: Yeah. And they’ve built this crazy career out of being Portuguese comedians, like doing that as their main thing: making these videos, traveling around, and doing all these live shows.

Gonzalez: Right. And in this episode of Mosaic, we set out to find out who these guys are, how they wound up doing what they’re doing, and why they like dressing up like Portuguese grandmas.

Nunes: Derrick DeMelo describes his childhood as a Venn diagram with these three circles.

Gonzalez: There was the first circle for his parents: hardworking, church-going, money-saving Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. Then there was the circle for everything else, everything American: TV, sports, movies, video games, school, dating.

Nunes: In the final circle was Derrick. The two other worlds always overlapped with his circle, but they didn’t have much in common with each other.

DeMelo: Sleeping over a friends house. My parents never let me do that. It’s just foreign to them. They’re like, “No. we don’t trust other people.” Simple as that. “No sleepovers for you.” Put it this way: just because everyone is doing it, has no consequence to my parents. They don’t care about me looking uncool. To them it was like, “Who cares?”  

Gonzalez: American families ate pizza and Chinese food. Derrick’s family ate caldo verde soup and bifana pork sandwiches.  

Nunes: Then there was the pop culture all around him.

Gonzalez: Kids on TV shows talked to their parents about their feelings. And families did group hugs at the end of episodes. Think “Seventh Heaven.”

Nunes: And then in Derrick’s case, if he broke something around the house or was being wise to his parents, he got smacked with a slipper or a wooden spoon.

Gonzalez: And then there were all those expensive gifts American kids seemed to get every Christmas, the gifts Derrick didn’t get.

DeMelo: I would come home and be like, “Ma, I want Jordan sneakers.” OK? You think I got a pair of Jordan sneakers? [Laughs.] Hell to the no. Back then Jordans were like 75 bucks. You think my mom would drop 75 dollars on sneakers? I grew up thinking we were the poorest people in the world.

Nunes: Eventually, that Portuguese thrift would give Derrick some of his best material.

DeMelo: [Video skit] Hey, you all. It’s Derrick with “Tech Talk,” and today we are unboxing the new iPhone 10, and I am super pumped. We’ve got the silver, 256 gigabyte unit here.

Father [Played by Brian Martins]: What are you doing?

DeMelo: Oh, hey, Dad. I’m just doing my “Tech Talk” video.

Father: Where’d you get the money for this?

DeMelo: Dad, I…

Father: You put it on the credit card? You already have four credit card. What’s this, credit card number five? A thousand dollars for a cellphone, Derrick? You still live at home. You tell Mommy and Daddy you can’t move out because you don’t have money. You gotta!

Nunes: Derrick grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts—the most Portuguese place in the United States.

Gonzalez: Literally and statistically, the most Portuguese place in America. The highest concentration of Portuguese people in this country, maybe anywhere outside of Portugal.

Nunes: Some people describe the neighborhood Derrick lived in as a village in the Azores that was literally lifted up and set down in Fall River.

Gonzalez: But just because there were a lot of Portuguese people around there, it didn’t mean everyone liked them.   

Nunes: Derrick would hear slurs like greenhorn and Portagee. He remembers one childhood bully in particular. A kid named Bobby.

DeMelo: Big old piece of shit Bobby. From here on in he’ll be referred to as piece of shit Bobby.

Nunes: POS Bobby. That’s broadcast safe.

DeMelo: Yeah. That’s a little bit better. Broadcast safe. POS Bobby. Yeah, my mom would walk me to school, and she’d talk Portuguese to me.

Nunes: And he would say stuff to you, Portuguese type stuff?

DeMelo: Yeah. He called me a greenhorn. He pushed me. I pushed him back. And then he punched me. And then the teachers split us up. So I guess you could say POS Bobby won that fight.

Gonzalez: Life can be hard with POS Bobbys out there going on, ragging on you for being Portuguese.

Nunes: For sure.

Sardinha: It was hard pressed growing up to feel cool being Portuguese, because you didn’t have anything representing you as being cool.

Gonzalez: This is Al Sardinha, Derrick’s best friend. They’ve known each other for longer than either of them can remember.

Sardinha: Portuguese representation, in my experience growing up, was very cultural and traditionally based. So it was like Fado singers. [Laughs.]

Gonzalez: Fado is this kind of old school, sad, dramatic Portuguese music, kind of like Boleros.

Nunes: Yeah. A little bit different than Taylor Swift.

Sardinha: There really was no modern version of the Portuguese cool guy. It was really like everything was sort of a source of embarrassment.

Gonzalez: Derrick and Al had these conflicted feelings growing up. They were really aware that they were different, and, being Portuguese, they sort of felt like their culture was invisible outside of their little world in Fall River.

Nunes: Yeah, they’re really clear that they were always proud of being Portuguese. But it bothered them that they didn’t see their own experience reflected back to them in broader American culture.

Gonzalez: Right. There are movies about Italian people, Irish, Greek people. But, in the 80s and 90s, when they were growing up, there was nothing about Portuguese people. Alex, quick question, stepping away from the story for a second. You are Portuguese. Do you relate to anything that they’re saying?

Nunes: I do. Sort of, kind of. I grew up in a not-so-diverse Connecticut suburb. So it did feel sort of invisible, and it did seem like my Portugueseness was a little hidden. 

Gonzalez: But you were connected to your Portuguese identity, right?

Nunes: Yeah, I was. So, every weekend, we’d go over to my grandparents’ house. The whole family would be there. People would be talking Portuguese. We’d eat Portuguese food.  

Gonzalez: What kind of stuff would your grandma make?

Nunes: Oh, God. I don’t know what it’s called. But it’s like you cook pork, but then you put Portuguese papo seco bread on top of it, so then the bread gets soggy. The texture’s not outstanding.

Gonzalez: [Laughs.] OK, so back to the story. Thank you for sharing that. Growing up, Al and Derrick don’t really have these visible Portuguese celebrities or public people to look up to, but at the same time they really felt like they were performers.

Nunes: Yeah, they were. So Al was always quick with a one-liner, and he loved entertaining his family.

Sardinha: I used to mimic my grandmother a lot. And my grandmother lived with us for a time before she passed away when I was young. And she wore dentures. And I remember that’s one of the things that I’d try to do—take her stuff. And she had big, thick glasses.

Nunes: You would take her dentures?

Sardinha: Uh, yeah. And her shaul, and put it over, and be silly.

Nunes: I didn’t know that someone with teeth could wear dentures.

Sardinha: Um, it’s not easy, and you certainly don’t operate very well with them in there. I mean, I just looked silly.

Sardinha: [Video skit.] Time to make sopas! Ah! Slow down so I can hit you!

Gonzalez: In Derrick’s case, he says he took pride in being the funny guy in the room. It was a way to make friends and deflect bullies.

Narrator: [Video skit] He is the most Portuguese man in the world.

DeMelo: [Video skit] I don’t always eat fish, but when I do, it’s bacalhau.

DeMelo: I was a fat kid, and I definitely used my sense of humor to kind of help me out of so many situations. I was always a big, chubby kid, and it was just because my mom’s such a bomb cook. She made the best Portuguese food. So it’s all your fault, Mom, that I'm fat. My mom hates when I say that. She’s like, “Stop it!”

Gonzalez: So, Derrick and Al are these irreverent kids. They see humor everywhere growing up. They’re jokesters, they poke fun at their families.

Nunes: And when they get to high school, they become really inseparable friends and they start to dabble in comedy really as an art form.

Gonzalez: Al gets into playing the guitar. He’s trying to write these Adam Sandler-type comedy songs, including one quintessentially Fall River tune about “cruising the ave.”

Sardinha: [Singing] Cruising around on Plymouth Avenue, trying to pick up some wicked good chicks.

Nunes: They also start shooting funny videos with their friends on Al’s sister’s camcorder. 

DeMelo: [Video skit] I got your back! Kowabunga! 

Nunes: And, when they graduate from high school, they both enroll at Bristol Community College and they start taking video production classes.

Gonzalez: And at BCC, they meet this professor who runs the local public access station based at the school, and he asks them if they want a spot on TV. Their best friend Brian Martins picks up the story from here.

Martins: Derrick and Al came back and were like, “Hey, we have an opportunity to jump on public access. You guys wanna make these videos and make it for them?” And we were like, “Yeah. We’ve been doing this forever. Let’s try it out.” And, uh, you know, they were bad. [Laughs.]

Martins: [Video skit] They say dancing isn’t a sport. I dare you say that to my face. Are you making fun of me, son? Are you making fun of me, son? Because I don’t take lightly to that type of crap in my classroom. Alright, I’m the boss in this room.

Nunes: So, Derrick sent me some of the videos. There’s one of you being a dance instructor?

Martins: Oh, my God. Yeah.            

Martins: [Video skit] I dance. Therefore...I dance.

Gonzalez: A little embarrassing now, but you gotta start somewhere.

Nunes: Yeah, true. So, they called their show “Ludicrous Speed,” a reference to the movie Space Balls.

Gonzalez: The stories weren’t really scripted. There were a lot of inside jokes in there. Some pretty crude stuff too.       

Nunes: Yeah. One skit was called “Urine Trouble.” That was mostly about pee.

Gonzalez: But they also started doing some bits about growing up as the children of Portuguese immigrants.

Martins: Once in a while we would throw in these pieces called “Portuguese Americana,” which were probably our most popular.

Martins: We would show a car accident sketch that was based on something that happened to me. And what happens when an American family—how they would deal with this car accident, where the dad was very thoughtful and thinking about the son’s good health, and making sure he was OK. 

Father [Martins]: [Video skit] Oh my God, is that my Celica?

Son [Sardinha]: Yeah, I’m really sorry, Dad. It was an accident. A deer came out, and I lost control…

Father: Son, are you OK?

Son: Yeah, I’m fine, but the car is wrecked.

Father: Shhh! Son, that car is only worth $3,000. You’re worth more than that to me, son.

Martins: And then showing the Portuguese version, which happened with my dad, where he was like, “I paid all this money for the car. Were you not paying attention? Were you playing with the radio?” Like it was my fault and not the fact that, you know, I hit a deer on the highway.

Son [Sardinha]: [Video skit] I crashed your car.

Father [Martins]: Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus Christ! Why you do this for me?! Why you do this for me?! Oh, your daddy’s going to have a heart attack.

Son: Dad, you’re not having a heart attack.

Father: Be quiet, please.

Gonzalez: They weren’t on air for long when the show started getting kind of big for public access.

Nunes: Yeah. The guys would go around Fall River and people would come up to them and say stuff like, “Hey, we love Portuguese Americana.”

Gonzalez: And Al remembers everyone in the group getting really, really into the “Ludicrous Speed” show at this point.

Nunes: But then something got in the way.

Sardinha: About a year-and-a-half in, we got into, and I’m putting quotes in the air here, “Season 2” of this show, and I think we, all across the board, were getting this pressure from our significant others at the time. All the girls across the board were like: “What’s the end game here?” Like, “What’s the point of this? It’s public access! OK. Big deal. What’s the point?!”

Gonzalez: Their girlfriends wanted them to get serious jobs. 

Nunes: Yeah. So the pressure mounted, and Derrick sat everyone down for a serious talk.

Sardinha: I remember being in Derrick’s bedroom in his mom’s basement. And he’s like, “Uh, guys, uh, we’re not going to keep going. This is gonna end. We’re not gonna do ‘Ludicrous Speed’ anymore. This is gonna be the end.”

Nunes: And that was it. The guys aired what they’d recorded already and then moved on. “Ludicrous Speed” was over.

Gonzalez: They focused on their day jobs. They thought their best bet was to make careers out of something more practical.

Nunes: Al landed a job as a stock trader in Boston. It was a shot at something stable, a job he could do for years.

Sardinha: And I hated it. I didn’t care about other people’s money. I didn’t care about investments. It just wasn’t my game.

Gonzalez: But he started making friends in Boston. And then one day, Al was hanging out in the North End of the city when he found out about a place called the Improv Asylum.

Nunes: It was a comedy theater where you could also take classes. He told Derrick about it, and then they started looking into it.

Sardinha: That kind of rekindled this idea of us being this group. And it wasn’t going to be “Ludicrous Speed” anymore. It wasn’t going to be filming things in our basement and then putting it up on public access. But it was this opportunity to do it on a more professional level.

Gonzalez: Al and Derrick signed up. Then Brian and another friend enrolled and started taking classes, too.

Nunes: They say they learned a ton.

Gonzalez: They realized they couldn’t just set up a camcorder on a tripod, hit record, and end up with comedy gold.

Nunes: They had to practice, script scenes, build sets. It was a lot of work. But they wanted to make jobs out of being live comedy performers, so they put in the time.

Gonzalez: In October 2004, Al, Derrick, Brian and some other friends were ready to stage their first show.

Nunes: They had practiced and practiced. Al went out and bought materials to make these serious props, like this one car steering wheel that was hooked up to this weird, seat contraption so you could pretend to be driving a car on stage.

Gonzalez: There were costumes and a free standing door to walk through on stage. Al even went to a plumbing supply company to see if he could have a toilet they were going to throw out anyway.

Nunes: And they worked like crazy to get the word out about the show.

Sardinha: We literally advertised the shit out of this thing. We got postcards that we ordered from like Vista Print. And we littered the city for weeks and weeks leading up to that show.

Gonzalez: The show was at the theater at Bristol Community College. And the guys were performing under the name “Out of the Gutter Comedy.”

Nunes: The night of the show, people in the audience arrived early and started grabbing seats. Twenty minutes before the show was scheduled to start, the theater director came backstage with some news: the first floor was sold out and now they were opening up the mezzanine.

Gonzalez: He said that hadn’t happened in years.

Sardinha: He’s like, “Congratulations, guys. This is pretty epic.” It was pretty crazy.

Father: [Stage performance] What do you got to talk to me and your mother about?

Son [DeMelo]: Well, Mom, Dad, as you know, Jenny and I have been going out for quite a long time now.

Father: Yeah, yeah.

Mother [Sardinha]: She’s no Portuguese, but she’s a nice girl.

Gonzalez: That night, Al and his friends did a mix of goofball comedy with some observational stuff.

Nunes: They also decided to add in some “Portuguese Americana” style skits. And that was what got the biggest laughs.

Gonzalez: Later, they decided their best work and their best shot at a viable business was to focus exclusively on Portuguese comedy. So they did, and they took a new name: The Portuguese Kids.

Music [“My Chouriço”]: “Two, three, four. When I was a little boy, my Vaw Vaw never bought me toys. She had some papo secos she gave to me and told me to play with my chouriço.”

Nunes: Fifteen years on, this is their full-time job. Al, Derrick and Brian split their time 50/50 between Fall River and traveling to shows at theaters and Portuguese clubs around the U.S., in Canada, and even to Australia and Portugal: wherever there are Portuguese people, they go.

DeMelo: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. How we doing everybody? [Clapping.]

Gonzalez: Alex and I are at the Lincoln Club in Bristol, R.I., for our first Portuguese Kids show. We’re in a small hall on the second floor, and the place is packed. There’s a small bar in the back where people are buying their Miller High Life, and they’re finding their seats. And the walls are lined with portraits of classic, Bristol Portuguese men with great mustaches.

Martins: [On stage performance] Hi, welcome to Subway can I take your order?

Sardinha: [In Portuguese accent] Can I get a Whopper Junior with extra onions, pickles, tomatsh? Can I get a potato fries and I wanna a decaf soda with ice, please?

Martins: Sir, we don’t have Whoppers here.

Sardinha: Yeah, Whopper Junior, please.

Martins: No, we don’t serve that here. We’re Subway.

Sardinha: Huh? This is not McEr King?

Nunes: [Audience interview] What do you like about the humor?

Woman 1: My husband is Portuguese, so I have to actually live these moments, so I understand it well. If you met my in-laws, you would understand the pain that I have to go through.

Nunes: What are your in-laws like?

Woman 1: They’re Portuguese. [Giggles.]

Woman 2: I am Portuguese on both sides.

Nunes: What is it about this comedy that you like?

Woman 2: I just relate to them completely.

Gonzalez: When you know the backstory of The Portuguese Kids, you can see how their lives growing up play out on stage.

Nunes: Yeah. The guys dress up like Portuguese dads and grandfathers with these old dude hats on, and these oddly patterned sweaters—which is honestly like a calling card for an old Portuguese guy.

Gonzalez: And then they play moms and grandmas too with these big dresses and wigs. But they also have their actual, natural beards, so it makes for a funny show.

Nunes: Yeah. And on stage they capture that miscommunication and culture clash between immigrant parents and second generation kids.

DeMelo [Father with Portuguese accent]: Where the hell have you been? Tell me.

Sardinha [Daughter]: We ran a little bit late. Jesus.

DeMelo: Don’t give me your attitude, OK? What time did your father ask you to come home today?

Sardinha: Are we really going to do this right now, Daddy?

DeMelo: What time?

Sardinha: Ten o’clock.

DeMelo: Ten o’clock. And what time is it now?

Sardinha: It’s Midnight.

DeMelo: Midnight o’clock. Wow!

Gonzalez: Al, Derrick and Brian say all of their parents have seen their shows. Their mothers are known to sit together and talk with each other throughout performances.

Mrs. DeMelo: I like the one they singing, “I’m Portuguese and I know it.”

Nunes: This is Derek’s mom, Ana. She’s talking about her favorite Portuguese Kids video.

Nunes: Can you sing it?

Mrs. DeMelo: No. I don’t know how to sing that.

Nunes: I think you know it.

Mrs. DeMelo: [Sings] I’m Portuguese and I know it.

Music [“Portuguese and I know It”]: Yeah, I work second shift seven days a week. I own a single family house and three rental properties. I got money in the bank, mas I’m never gonna show it. I’m Portuguese and I know it.

Gonzalez: Mosaic is a production of The Public’s Radio, edited by Sally Eisele with production help from James Baumgartner and Aaron Selbig. Our original music is by Bryn Bliska. Torey Malatia is the general manager of The Public’s Radio. I’m Ana Gonzalez.

Nunes: And I’m Alex Nunes. Thanks for listening.

Support for this podcast comes from Carnegie Corporation of New York, supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement, and the advancement of international peace and security at