Miguel Gila was a Spanish comedian best known for his surreal monologues dressed as a soldier in the trenches speaking to the enemy on the phone – “Is that the enemy? Could you stop shooting for a while?” In fact Gila’s own war experiences were extremely dramatic.
Gila was born in Madrid in a poor home and started work at the age of 13 as a mechanic. At the outbreak of the Civil War he signed up as a volunteer, on the side of the Republic, at the age of 17. After a few months of fighting he was captured outside Cordoba and put in front of a firing squad. However he managed to survive by pretending to be dead. In later life he wrote about the incident in dramatic prose:
“We were shot at dusk; but shot badly. The firing squad was made up of a group of moors with stomachs filled with wine, the mouths filled with shouts of jubilation and laughter …. The cold and rain penetrated to the bone. And right there, in front of a small embankment and without the formality of a firing squad, without that voice of command which cries out: “Aim! Fire!” they pulled the trigger of their rifles and we fell one on top of the other. Fourteen grotesque jolts on that cold December evening … and on the ground soaked by the rain, our bodies lay, exhausted from daily fighting”.
Although he escaped on that occasion, he later fell into enemy hands again and spent the rest of the war in jail, at one point sharing a cell with the poet Miguel Hernández. He wrote “I was young in a generation for which hunger, humiliation and fear were our daily food”. After the war he did four years of military service. In 1943 Gila started working as a cartoonist and in 1951 he performed his first stand-up comedy, recounting the absurdity of war. He worked on the radio in the 50s but finally went to live in Argentina and was highly successful on television and in the theatre throughout Latin America.
Gila returned to Spain in 1985 and died in Barcelona in 2001. He is still remembered for his famous phrase “¡Que se ponga!” (Tell him to come to the phone!)