Everybody, regardless of their age or background, wants to laugh and be entertained. After having faced a stressful day, plenty of us would revel in the thought of having our mood lightened by turning to our favorite comedy shows for a laugh. It is safe to say that with mediums like television, YouTube, and Netflix, comedy has never been more accessible in this country. However, by whom the comedy is being performed is what we as viewers and audience members should be taking into consideration at present.
It can also be safe to say that diverse identities are definitely represented in the world of comedy, particularly in stand-up comedy, for example, but to what extent? In many ways, comedy in the United States is still an industry that is dominated by men. So what does that mean for female comedians, more specifically, Latinas? Well, there are certainly Latina comedians who have risen to fame, overcoming the obstacles that the industry has placed before them, such as Anjelah Johnson and Cristela Alonzo, both of whom have had successful stand-up careers. In their performances, Johnson and Alonzo have been known to discuss their experiences growing up in Mexican American households. In fact, Alonzo even had her own show, Cristela.
Although there are those in the industry who are striving to connect to audiences of diverse backgrounds, there are still well-known comedians who would argue against this practice.
“Without diversity in comedy…we limit ourselves to listening to the same kinds of experiences and points of view, which limits our ability to progress,” states 21-year-old Emily Crispell. Emily suggests that comedy intersecting with identities that relate to gender, ethnicity, culture, class, and so on, help create performances that are more accessible to modern Americans.
One particular Latina comedian whose work reflects Emily’s perspective is Sandra Valls, who has been doing stand-up since the mid-2000s. In her stand-up routines, Valls is known for discussing how her identities as a lesbian and as a Mexican American intersect. “One of my goals is to represent the LGBT community and Latinos and women, and to make a difference, not just be funny,” states Valls in a 2007 interview.
Both Sandra Valls as a professional comedian and Emily Crispell as a viewer can agree that relatability is essential when it comes to finding the humor in another’s jokes and stories, especially since the reason why one may become a fan of a particular comedian usually goes beyond a single joke. For example, Emily comments that she is a big fan of Aubrey Plaza’s role as April Ludgate in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. “A lot of people don’t seem to know that she is Latina because she is fair skinned but she is half Puerto Rican. Recently, she “came out” as Latina in an interview…she talked about not feeling Latina enough… I really connected to Aubrey Plaza’s struggle…” Emily is half Dominican and understands what it is like to be ethnically misidentified.
It may be that in terms of diversity, the American comedy industry is nowhere near perfect, especially when it comes to the influence of Latinos and Latinas. However, it is clear that through the work of comedians like Anjelah Johnson, Cristela Alonzo, Sandra Valls, and Aubrey Plaza, progress is being made. As representatives of the Latino community, they are able to draw attention to the big issues like immigration and discrimination, and even daily concerns relating to food and language differences.