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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own