A freak show (and no fakes)

Fake guests on Vanessa may be the lowest British television has gone so far. But it could get worse. Ms Feltz's Brazilian equivalent, known as Ratinho, "the Little Rat", is a lesson in how much further we could yet fall.

Like Vanessa Feltz he is a home-grown Jerry Springer, but his talk shows make Springer's look like Blue Peter. Take his popular "Deformity of the Week" feature, or his "pregnant" male guest, or the woman with the gouged- out eyes, not to mention the horribly twisted "Elephant Boy".

Ratinho, real name Carlos Massa, is far from little. He's a bulky man of 43, with a beer belly bulging over his waistband, but there is a distinctly rat-like expression in the eyes above his thick, black moustache. And he tends to spit saliva on to the camera lens when he gets worked up. Which he often does, brandishing a truncheon wildly for extra effect.

Massa's nightly offering is a distinctly Brazilian version of the talk show, catering to the uneducated masses, stirring them up against corrupt politicians, the wealthy or the intellectuals while, in turn, selling downmarket products that sponsor the show. He can move from a tear-jerking item about a woman whose hand was chewed off by an Alsatian to introduce a juggling act or a popular band.

To ensure that he maintains the audience's attention, he uses a Little Rat puppet in a booth by the side of the stage, who either acts as a straight man or repeats his comments in a squeaky, cartoon voice. The puppet also batters a miniature truncheon on the booth, like Sooty on a bad trip.

Massa, a former shoe-shine boy and circus clown, decided that he wanted to help the poor and disenfranchised in Brazil by running for congress. But he found he could get little done amid the country's bureaucracy. So he opted for TV. He made his name at the upstart channel TV Record, but after he began logging ratings of more than a third of all Brazilian viewers - often ahead of rival programmes on the nightly O Globo network, the world's fourth-largest - he was snapped up last autumn by Globo's rival, SBT Sistema Brasleiro de Televisao. The latter reportedly paid TV Record $40m to get him out of a long-term contract, and he's said to be paid about $4m a year.

On-stage fights are encouraged. The audience often joins in, as do stagehands and, on occasion, the presenter himself, truncheon and all. Ratinho will then turn to some theme - often government corruption, police violence or neglect of the poor by hospitals - working himself up to a frenzy while pacing the stage liked a caged lion.

The audience, mainly poor people unused to getting a fair hearing for their grievances, yell with delight. And their attention span is rarely tested. The "pregnant man" - surprise, surprise - turned out to be an overweight hoaxer. Massa said later that the man had been mentally unstable, but that the programme was paying for his treatment and so there was "no harm done".

After he launched his "Deformity of the Week" feature, turning the programme into a freak show, there were calls for the programme to be banned, but it is still winning higher ratings than football.

In case anyone should accuse him of insensitivity, the "Elephant Boy" was not shown directly to the cameras. All viewers could see was a heavy- breathing silhouette of a little boy with a trunk instead of a nose.

Ratinho's popularity attracts major advertisers including Coca-Cola, but the big companies avoid appearing as sponsors during the show itself. Massa can walk across the stage, after a slot showing a baby with a mass of pubic hair, to a stand where he personally advertises ballpoint pens and domestic appliances.

Seeing their ratings follow him to his new channel, TV Record came up with an antidote - another big man, Gilberto Barros. Known as Leao Livre, "the Free Lion", he has been described as "a Ratinho clone gone horribly wrong", a man with a quieter, more condescending tone.

The Lion's success? A boy who had half a face and had been castrated as a child. Barros asked the boy to bare his private parts to the camera, and the audience was treated to a close-up on a giant screen.

Well, at least that's one way of making sure the guests aren't fake.

Phil Davison

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us