SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – No one is safe from the crosshairs of La Comay.
This five-foot-tall character with a foam head painted with outrageous red lips, a shrill voice and a penchant for salacious details rules Puerto Rico's gossip circuit, with legions tuning into her show every afternoon ready for the latest bombshell. La Comay dishes it out with ominous music playing in the background, talking about everyone from Mexican crooner Luis Miguel to Puerto Rico's own Miss Universe beauty queen Zuleyka Rivera.
With her trademark "Ayayayayayay!" shriek punctuated by the kind of wailing sirens reserved for nuclear meltdowns, La Comay delivers what has consistently been one the most popular shows in Puerto Rico for a decade.
"Ladies and gentlemen, listen to this," La Comay says in one show while going after a well-known local journalist. "Apparently and allegedly, the reporter and crew member apparently and allegedly were drunk."
With a wicked drawl, she asks, "Have I mentioned the name?" A drag queen then appears in a clip repeating one of La Comay's catchphrases, which translates roughly as: "Throw it out there, Comay! Throw it out there!"
The program has been derided for being over-the-top sensationalist and for broadcasting derogatory comments against women and gays, but "Super Xclusivo" remains the main news source for thousands in the U.S. territory and hundreds of Puerto Ricans in Florida and New York. The island comes to a stop every afternoon to watch La Comay not only talk small-town gossip but also expose government and business corruption scandals.
"It's an addiction," said Iris Laboy, a longtime follower in San Juan. "It is the TV show with the most impact in Puerto Rico."
That isn't lost on government officials including the island's governor, its justice secretary and the Senate president, all of whom have granted La Comay live interviews while sometimes shunning other media. Gubernatorial candidate Rafael Bernabe raised eyebrows when he recently rejected an invitation to appear on the program, becoming one of the first campaigning politicians to skip the La Comay's hot seat in recent history.
Alvin Couto, spokesman for Bernabe's People's Working Party, said not appearing on the gossip show was a question of principles.
"It's a very hard decision because we recognize the rating the program has, especially among the working class," Couto said. "But, without a doubt, we know that for another Puerto Rico to become a reality, we have to maintain our principles."
La Comay is played by comedian Antulio "Kobbo" Santarrosa, who repeatedly ignored requests to be interviewed through his spokeswoman. Every day, Santarrosa slips on stockings, high heels, a dress and skin-colored plastic gloves with red nails painted on them. The final touch is the foam head, which features long, frizzy brownish blonde hair, a black mole on its left cheek and a large mouth through which Santarrosa peers.
"Ladies and gentlemen of Puerto Rico!" La Comay yells daily before running through the latest dish. The hour-long show focuses mostly on celebrities, high-profile crimes and the occasional bloopers of public officials and local journalists.
La Comay never reveals her sources, and she relies heavily on the phrase "apparently and allegedly" to back up stories. Beside her red-and-silver throne awaits Cuban comedian Hector Travieso, who serves as the ever-attentive sidekick.
Puerto Ricans praise her confrontational style, taking glee in interviews such as that of the president of a state electric company workers union whose power was cut off because he hadn't paid his bills.
"To be honest, I hadn't addressed the situation," the president said sheepishly to a "Super Xclusivo" reporter, to the guffaws of La Comay.
She's also ribbed celebrities for bad table manners, at one point calling out radio host Epi Colon for licking his fingers in public after a big meal "like a suckling pig making noise."
"Before everyone at the table, this well-known announcer was eating a pig hoof, this he grabbed with his hands," she reveals with a seriousness more befitting the sharing of a national secret, before breaking down in guffaws. "Then he went on sucking his fingers without washing his hands. He sucked his fingers, one by one, one by one."
Fans of La Comay say she has enough power to make or break someone, giving the show relevance on an island rife with corruption. She reflects Puerto Ricans' natural curiosity in their neighbors' affairs and has demonstrated the importance of demanding explanations from people in power regardless of their social position, according to one fan who identified himself as "Jorge" in a public online discussion about La Comay.
Santarrosa "is teaching our masses to be irreverent when it comes to questioning and confronting our social and government leaders," wrote the fan, who didn't respond to requests for an interview.
Thousands are entranced by La Comay's antics, as the Rev. Juan Matias of the First Baptist Church of Carolina can attest.
He recently visited a hospital to pray with an ailing 85-year-old woman, but her TV was already tuned to La Comay when he arrived shortly before 6 p.m.
"I notice she's not paying attention to me. She's focused," he recalled with a laugh. "I had to wait practically the entire hour so she could watch the show."
Matias said he occasionally watches La Comay so he can relate to his congregation, and while he's not a fan, he praised the show for keeping certain cases in the public eye, including that of 8-year-old Lorenzo Gonzalez, who was killed in an upscale neighborhood in March 2010. Authorities have named his mother as a suspect, but no one has been arrested.
"If it wasn't for the pressure that has been generated specifically through this show, that case in this moment would be (dead)," Matias said.
In a move to ensure that no one forgets about Lorenzo's death, La Comay has a picture of the boy next to a candle on a table in every show.
San Juan resident Victor Ayuso, 43, said such touches endear La Comay to him while he also appreciates the boisterous side.
"It gives you the news with a bit of gossip," he said.
Yet La Comay also relishes replaying lurid videos such as one showing the hanging of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In one special segment, she announced the new breast augmentation surgery of a popular local model who allowed Travieso to play on-air with her breasts.
It's a lineup that sickens Manuel Ocasio, a 54-year-old Puerto Rican who lives in Miami.
"What I don't like about the show is that they simply take advantage of other people's misfortunes to make light of them," he said. "There is no need to publicize people's personal problems."
Despite the love-hate relationship, La Comay is renowned for snagging highly sought-after interviews and breaking news that other media scramble to follow.
"She has achieved the credibility that escapes so many in the so-called formal news business," Sandra D. Rodriguez wrote in a recent column for the newspaper El Vocero. "We have to ask ourselves, what does La Comay have that the press corps has failed to do?"