Comedy Troupe Explores, Explodes Latino Stereotypes

From The San Jose Mercury News

January 10, 2003
By Mark de la Vina

Like so many art forms, comedy is all about the continuum.
Without Richard Pryor, there might not have been a Chris Rock. Without Monty Python, the Kids in the Hall might never have left homeroom.

But when it comes to Latino sketch comedy, there are few trailblazers beyond the trio Culture Clash of Los Angeles.
That dearth inspired the creation of the Latino Comedy Project, a sketch group from Austin, which will perform today and Saturday at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco as part of the four-week SF Sketchfest: The San Francisco Sketch Comedy Festival.

Since its inception at Teatro Humanidad in 1998, the Latino Comedy Project has spoofed the hyperdrama of telenovelas, satirized Latino gangbanger stereotypes in movies and videos and addressed the kind of topics normally stopped by the comedic border patrol of the “Saturday Night Live” and “Mad TV” writing staffs.
Though the project was launched to create opportunities for Latino actors in Austin, the group was also eager to give Latino audience members people on stage who look like them.

“My philosophy is that everybody needs a reflection that they can identify with, whether as a group or as individuals,” says the project’s artistic director, Adrian Villegas, in a phone interview from Austin. “We’ve always had stories so people could find some meaning to their own lives.”

One has to wonder if the Sketchfest organizers saw some irony in putting the Project on the same bill with Fred Willard’s Hollywood Players, whose star was host of the brilliantly satirical “History of White People in America” TV mockumentaries in the mid-‘80s.

On stage and in their short films, the project members routinely dive into the pop-culture pond to express views on its perceptions of Latinos. The troupe has parodied Broadway musicals and skewered Mexican stereotypes in “Greasers,” and has depicted “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin luring Latinos into camera range with a tortilla and then shooting them with a tranquilizer dart gun.

“They’re very smart,” says Sketchfest co-creative director Janet Varney. “They find a nice balance between being satirical and pointing out stereotypes within the Latino culture. And they can still be silly and warm about it.”

What perhaps best sums up the group’s style of satire is a photo of members Villegas, Mical Trejo and Joaquin Villareal on the Web site : Sitting in the bed of a pickup truck, they pose as day workers with a sign that reads, “Will stereotype for food.”

Villegas says, “If you can make it entertaining and thought-provoking, then it’s worth doing. If you actually make the audience laugh, they might disagree with it, but they can’t deny that it’s funny.”

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