Chapo Ba…in which we give tribute to someone who has had significant impact on Haitian culture.
Papa Pyè. Comedic.Trailblazer. Jean-Claude Joseph became one of the biggest stars of Haitian television in the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to his starring role in La Vi Nan Bouk, one of Haiti’s very first homemade TV shows on Télévision Nationale D’Haiti, Haiti’s first television network.
On the show, Joseph played the pipe-smoking, toothless country bumpkin Papa Pyè, a single parent who had to bridle his immature son Frédéric (Jean-Max Choute) through hilarious episodes of his foolishness, toppled with his own judgement-lacking personality. Added to the hilarity was Boss Marcel (Saurel Charles), a man of rather meager means, who had pretenses of being middle class, simple because he was the tutor of some neighborhood kids—Papa Pyè’s learning-challenged son Frédéric among them. Boss Marcel’s greed was often the subject of many episodes. Rounding out the cast was Gracié (Jacques Edmond), one of Papa Pyè’s closest friends, who was almost always foolishly inclined towards zany adventures.
Joseph brought sensibility to the role that was to become almost synonymous with him as a person. His style would be imitated by many, but there would be only one Papa Pyè.
Joseph would later emigrate to the United States, (as would most of the cast eventually), and aspects of life of Haitian immigrants, including English vocabulary, were integrated in the story lines. For example, in the episode “Fiti-Fiti”, Papa Pyè who is working hard in the USA, sends remittances to Frédéric in the care of the lecherous Boss Marcel. Boss Marcel purposely misstates the amount of the contributions to Frédéric, and Gracié, who only looks dumb, but is not dumb, blackmails Boss Marcel into splitting what he unscrupulously plans to pocket from his ward.
Since the heyday of his television career, Joseph has been in many films, and some will forever see him as Papa Pyè, the country hick, who would have been just that, had Joseph not given him life and vigor on the screen and on the stage. Joseph breathed life into the character of Papa Pyè, giving him all the DNA of the Haitian country peasant. His aim though was not to ridicule Haiti’s agricultural class, but to bring it to the forefront as being particularly instrumental to the life force of Haiti.
Joseph is esteemed as an originator, and a pioneer, who many rightfully place alongside Théodore Beaubrun and Maurie Sixto as being immensely influential in Haitian entertainment. Comedians like Daniel “Tonton Bicha” Fils-Aimé have publicly named him as an influence on their careers.