Make no joke about it, Brazil's presidential election is a serious affair, devoid of Jon Stewart's wry jabs, sidesplitting Top 10 lists or the Saturday Night Live cast lampooning politicians left and right that characterized the latest U.S. contest.
The reason? Brazilian TV and radio broadcasters are legally forbidden from making fun of candidates ahead of the nation's Oct. 3 election and a possible second-round runoff on Oct. 31.
With the first wave of on-air political ads starting Tuesday, Brazil's comedians and satirists are planning to fight for their right to ridicule with protests in Rio de Janeiro and other cities Sunday.
They call the antijoking law — which prohibits ridiculing candidates in the three months before elections — a draconian relic of Brazil's dictatorship that threatens free speech and a blight on the reputation of Latin America's largest nation.
Proponents say the restrictions keep candidates from being portrayed unfairly, help ensure a level playing field and encourage candor by candidates.
The law has become a hot, trending topic for Brazilian users of Twitter and the focus of newspaper and magazine columns as well as debates at public seminars.
Long before Stewart's The Daily Show, Marcelo Tas was working as a comedian-turned-reporter to needle politicians near the end of Brazil's 1964-85 dictatorship, bluntly calling out corrupt leaders when few others dared. But 25 years after the return of democracy, his current show, CQC, is muted during the run-up to the election that will replace center-left President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The 50-year-old TV host calls it a "very particular Brazilian type of madness."
Making fun of candidates on air ahead of elections is punishable by fines up to $112,000 and a broadcast-license suspension.
Only a few fines have ever been handed out. But Tas and others say that has been sufficient to cause TV and radio stations to self-censor their material during elections.
The law holds that TV and radio programs cannot "use trickery, montages or other features of audio or video in any way to degrade or ridicule a candidate, party or coalition."
Without any comic relief in sight, Brazilians are in for weeks of deadpan news coverage of some quirky candidates.
Dilma Rousseff, the governing party candidate who tops all polls, has a lumbering speaking manner and a tough management style that earned her the nickname "Iron Lady." Her top opponent, Jose Serra, is widely seen by Brazilians as utterly lacking charisma. Despite strong — some would say strained — efforts to be seen like a regular guy, he continues to come off as an awkward, though skilled, technocrat.