Jaime Bayly's Mega TV studio is a sparse, alien world. A pair of solitary white chairs sits on a slightly elevated stage. Two freshly poured glasses of water, sweating under the spotlights, are placed on a tiny table. The talk-show star's last name is spelled out in giant, glowing letters in the background, their neon colors changing during commercial breaks.
It's Thursday, December 2, 13 episodes into Bayly's triumphant return to the Spanish-language television station he left more than a year ago. María Antonieta Collins, a respected Mexican journalist and tonight's guest, sits just off camera. She shifts her legs underneath a high table and nervously looks around the cavernous Hialeah warehouse. Sporting violet eye shadow, pearls, and a tight blue dress, the perky former anchorwoman knows anything can happen on the show, which Bayly insists on airing live.
Suddenly, upbeat jazz music blares from loudspeakers above. A small audience of 30 or so mostly Cuban Americans claps on cue as the 45-year-old saunters out from behind a black velvet curtain. Dressed in a baggy suit, with shaggy black hair and a trademark grin, Bayly looks like an oversized child. His slightly asymmetric eyes shine out smugly from behind frameless glasses as he begins a quipping Spanish-language monologue in the manner of his idol, David Letterman.
But unlike Letterman, he discusses all the details of his personal life. He starts by describing the cradle-robbing details of his relationship with his 22-year-old fiancé, Silvia Núñez del Arco: "For the past five months, I haven't been able to have sex with her. But you have to show solidarity with your girlfriend while she's pregnant. She can't drink, so now I don't drink either. She can't smoke cigarettes, so I've given them up too. She doesn't feel like having sex, so I don't have sex with her. I have sex with other women."
When the monologue ends, Collins takes her seat onstage. "I am in shock, Jaime," she says. "Just imagine if someday someone shows these videos to your son. He's going to be tremendously hurt and confused."
"By then, I'll be dead," Bayly responds. "Besides, I hope my son isn't so solemn and pompous not to have a sense of humor."
"Behave yourself, Jaime," Collins scolds.
"When I make jokes, I'm not misbehaving. I'm trying to make people laugh," Bayly shoots back. "I'm fulfilling the principle role of television." After a tense 15-minute interview, the stage lights fade for a commercial. Bayly and Collins stand up and kiss on the cheek, but their microphones remain on. "Don't come here just to complain about my behavior," Bayly says angrily over the outro music. "And don't be so damned boring."
Bayly is a man of many parts. He's both Letterman and Charlie Rose; comedian and serious interviewer; straight and gay; shamelessly self-promoting and relentlessly self-deprecating.
After a one-and-a-half-year hiatus, he has returned to South Florida screens with his snarky and unsparing show — simply titled Bayly — that premiered on Mega TV in November. He is the LeBron James of the late-night Latino TV circuit: both fiercely hated and widely admired. In his native Peru, he is a political force. After years of failed forays into politics in that country — including a botched 2009 bid for the presidency — he has emerged as a deciding force in recent elections. Last September, he almost single-handedly destroyed a conservative candidate's campaign for mayor of Lima by leaking an audiotape in which the political aspirant said she didn't give a damn about the office. And a series of scandalous revelations stemming from a dinner conversation between Bayly and current President Alan García have thrown this year's presidential election into disarray. With 13 novels, a syndicated newspaper column, and prime real estate atop every tabloid in the country, Bayly is the fifth most powerful person in Peru, according to the magazine Peru Económico.
When New Times first approached Bayly, he declined an interview but suggested a good scene to start this story: "You can say in the article that we met, that you came to my house, that we spent some very pleasurable time naked in the swimming pool, and we drank a bottle of vodka each. You can color the interview with a little fiction."
But Bayly's life already reads like fiction: He's a rich boy who ran away from home, nearly destroyed himself with drugs, flirted with suicide, and came out of the closet with a bestselling book that made him one of the most recognizable faces in Peru. He has hosted a dozen popular TV programs but has also received death threats and broken off contact with nearly all his family and friends.
"People are always shocked to hear what Jaime has to say," says close friend María Celeste Arrarás, host of Telemundo's nightly news show Al Rojo Vivo. "At the same time, they admire that he's got the guts to vent his secrets and tear open his life every night on TV."