Text and photos: Roberto Quintero
As soon as the door to the Argentine Embassy in Panama opens, I come face to face with one of his large, generous smiles. It’s the great Miguel del Sel, the famed comedian from Trío Midachi, who left the stage to focus on politics and now serves as his country’s flashy ambassador on the isthmus. The same man who years ago, back in the 90s when he was at the peak of his popularity and I was just a teenager, exploded onto Panamanian TV screens with his hilarious performances on Marcelo Tinelli’s program Videomatch. I’d heard about his appointment on the news, but I never thought I’d meet and interview him in his new role as a diplomat.
He invites me into his office and as we move along he greets employees right and left. He is undeniably likeable and charismatic. This may sound stupid, but you know how you wonder if television people are really as charming as they seem on the screen?
Well, I confess that I imagined I’d find him tinged with that pompous formality that almost seems a registered trademark of all civil servants (with all due respect, of course). But he’s just the opposite: a simple, polite man, “like any son of a neighbor.” as they say in Panama.
He arrived in Panama on February 29th this year with a clear objective: “As an ambassador, my role is to help Argentina and Panama connect a little more.” And he’s already doing just that, as one of the architects of the new Copa Airlines flight between the Panamanian capital and Rosario, the largest city in Santa Fe province, scheduled to begin in July.
Although his diplomatic career began only a few months ago, Miguel del Sel has felt like an Argentine ambassador for many years. “The other day I found a magazine from twenty-three years ago, with a story on the Midachis, titled ‘Our American Ambassadors.’ It was surprising to read that I was already known as an ‘ambassador,’ but it’s true: artists, more than anyone, make the best ambassadors. Countries are best known for their artists: for their movies, theater, dance, music… They are much more powerful than politicians or businessmen. The average citizen has no idea how much soy was sent to Panama or how many mangos went to Argentina, but they sure know when Ruben Blades is singing in town.”
And to think that he never planned on pursuing the art of comedy. Like all good Argentines, as a child he dreamed of playing professional soccer. “I played football in the Santa Fe league. I won the championship with Club Atlético Gimnasia y Esgrima de Ciudadela, which is the third club from Santa Fe, my city. I tried out for Unión de Santa Fe, which is my team, but I didn’t make it. I kept playing in the league until one day, after six years working at different things, I got the idea to study physical education.”
That decision changed his life forever. While studying he discovered that a teacher “has to let it all hang out. And by letting it all hang out, I released this likeable guy in me… or I discovered the power to express myself, because according to my mom and my teacher, I was always shy.” In the midst of that discovery, he met a partner with whom he immediately “clicked”: Darío “Chino” Volpato. “We formed a duo called Los Comiserios. I was the comedian, he was the serious one [laughs]. We played the guitar and then I decided to put on a wig, do imitations, and all that. Most groups develop this way: two crazy guys who meet up somewhere. Being a teacher awakened in me the urge to have fun; I enjoyed the job.”
Six months before graduating as teachers, they met Rubén Enrique Brieva, better known as Dady Brieva. They decided to do something together and Trío Midachi was born, on July 16, 1983. “He’s very talented. He’d worked in theater in Santa Fe.
We got formal training from him and he learned the informal stuff from us, because he was used to acting in theaters and we’d been doing clubs and weddings, parties full of drunks and all kinds of people. That mix turned out to be a very good thing.”
The rest is history. The Midachis set out on a crazy adventure to succeed in the world of comedy. First they conquered the province of Santa Fe, then the rest of Argentina, and then Latin America, touring Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Chile, not to mention the United States, becoming one of the most popular comedy groups in recent times. For thirty years, they worked together and sometimes separately in films, theater, radio, and television.
Their success was so great it was almost unbelievable. “If I think about it, from start to finish we were always just three bums from the Santa Fe neighborhood, three crazy guys who would do anything for a laugh. We flew around, we screamed, we dressed up as characters that looked nothing like us [laughs], but we put so much into it that people ended up loving us. We learned with each show, improving, investing, and growing. By the end, the productions had gotten so big they looked like a circus. I think we put a lot of heart into our career.”
Miguel del Sel’s current life is very different. Five years ago, after retiring from show business, he decided to go into politics, convinced that he could be an agent for change in his country. In 2011, he ran for governor of Santa Fe and won 35.7% of the vote, but lost the election. In 2013, he was elected national deputy with more than 500,000 votes.
He resigned his post to run for governor again in elections last year and lost by only 1,460 votes in a race with nearly two million voters. Two months later the new president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, appointed him ambassador to Panama.
At the end of our talk, the fan in me couldn’t help asking: “Have you thought of making a comeback?” He thinks for a moment before answering: “I don’t think so… I don’t know. Like I don’t know whether I’ll run for deputy in the next elections. Right now, I’m in Panama and I’m honored to be here. I’ve got a lot of responsibility, which fills me with energy. It wouldn’t be hard to go back to acting, but this is very attractive: being a bridge and link between Argentina and Panama is a big responsibility and an honor. When I get old I’ll be able to say I was an actor, a P.E. teacher, a national deputy, a candidate for governor, an ambassador to Panama… [pause]. I filled my life with beautiful things by sheer effort. Nobody gave me anything.”