Q&A Interview: Cristela Alonzo on Austin, life as a comedienne and what’s in store for her

Cristela Alonzo (courtesy photo)

If you haven’t seen or heard about Cristela Alonzo and her stand-up comedy, then you should get on that really soon. Alonzo is a native Texan who has loved television and comedy from a very young age. As the first Latina to star on Conan and tape her own half-hour special on Comedy Central, she has accomplished so much in just a few years.

Alonzo has been busy writing for Comedy Central, her own short films, appearing in Legally Brown and Sons of Anarchy, touring and is currently developing her own sitcom. This funny lady—a busy one, I might add— is currently headlining at our very own Cap City Comedy Club tonight at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Alonzo sat down with Austin Vida to talk about life as a Latina comedienne, her latest projects and what she loves about Austin.

In three words, describe yourself to those who don’t know you at all?

Cristela Alonzo: Sarcastic. Honest. Loyal.

What is your favorite thing about Austin?

Cristela: I love Austin. It’s like in my top-five cities in the country. I’m originally from the Valley, down south in San Juan, outside of McAllen. And Austin has always been the coolest town in Texas. I love hanging out here, but there’s so much to do that you can never do it all and you don’t even know where to start, you know? What I really like is going to thrift stores because I can find cooler stuff here than I can in Los Angeles and since I collect vinyl, I find a lot of great records here.

What led you to become a comedienne and a writer?

Cristela: Well, when I was younger my mother was really strict and I couldn’t really go out so I would stay home and watch a lot of TV! I always thought television was really cool, but I never thought it was actually a job. I started off doing several plays in high school. I was a big theatre nerd then. Then, I ended up going to college for theatre and moved to Dallas. In 2002, my mom passed away and I told myself if my mom came from Mexico so that I could have a better life here in the United States, I’m going to try to do what I’ve always wanted to do: stand-up. I started off doing open mic competitions in Dallas and within two years I was living in Los Angeles and writing for Comedy Central.

Where do you usually draw your material from?

Cristela: I like being personal with my comedy. A friend of mine once told me “As much as we are different, we’re all alike.”  Any problems we have, other people probably have them too. When other people realize they’re not the only ones with those problems it makes them relate, and ultimately that’s what makes them laugh. I think that all Latinos I know are funny! I always tell people ‘if you think I’m funny I never want you to meet my family because they’re hilarious!’ My family can get together and laugh and laugh for hours and everyone is funny!

In your opinion what is the best part about being a comedienne?

Cristela: Coming from the Rio Grande Valley, I had a few teachers that really supported what I wanted to do. The norm was to go to school, get a job, have kids and for me that’s not what I wanted to do. The best part of stand-up is I get to show that I’m a Latina and show everyone—the entire community—that we can do it. Every time I get the opportunity to do something great I always think about positive ways to show the Latino community what we can attain. For example, I recently got a call to tape my own half-hour special on Comedy Central next month, and I want to say that I’m the first Latina to accomplish that! I never thought I’d get a chance to do that—I’m from a border town down south—but it’s possible and really cool. I love doing things that people never thought would happen!

You’ve been quite busy the past couple of years with Comedy Central, writing short films, Sons of Anarchy and touring. What new projects should we be on the lookout for?

Cristela: Last fall I received a deal with 20th Century Fox who will be developing a sitcom about my life. I’ve been touring so much that I’ve had to wait until now to work on it. I want the show to be about growing up with my family, kind of like a Latino Roseanne. I want to show the life of a Latino family that isn’t full of stereotypes in order to show that we’re like everybody else. It will be about a blue-collar family that’s trying to get by and even though they work hard and can’t always make ends meet, they are happy. I want to show that close-knit family that is sometimes missing from television. The George Lopez show was such a good show and I think it’s time for another one. We’re pitching it to different networks so if everything goes smoothly, it should be on TV later on this year.

Which project or experience are you most proud of?

Cristela: I’m most proud of doing Conan a couple of months ago just because it’s a late night talk show with someone I really, really adore. I love Conan! Again, I think I was the first Latina on that show and there’s only a handful of Latinos that have been on the show. It was an amazing experience and a lot of fun. It was all me for five minutes and it was nice to have the laughter and be in the moment. Every time I do something like this I think “I’m from San Juan, Texas, I can’t believe I’m doing this!”

What do you have yet to accomplish?

Cristela: Honestly, I don’t really think like that. I’m very grateful for everything I have and everything I get. As long as I can keep paying my bills doing what I really want to do, I’m happy with it. I think that’s the way you should approach it. It’s good to give yourself a goal, but if you give yourself too big of a goal then you get disappointed when you feel you’re not going to get it. I think about it like this, if I’m happy where things are right now, I feel I’ve succeeded.

Who would you really want to work with either again or for the first time?

Cristela: Right off the bat I can tell you that one of my heroes is Roseanne Barr. I love her so much! I really don’t think I can be in the same room with her because I’ll probably freak out! A couple of years ago I met Betty White—and I love the Golden Girls—and I totally freaked out! I was like ‘Ohh it’s Betty White!!’ It was ridiculous!

What piece of advice would you give to Latinas who are trying to make it as comediennes?

Cristela: It’s going to be hard. If you really love it, it’s going to be worth it. Most importantly, don’t let anybody else tell you that you can’t do it because what they’re telling you is that they can’t do it. They’re trying to make you as insecure as they are. They’re the ones with the problem so you go for it!

Jessica Ramirez

Jessica was born and raised in good ol' San Antonio. She recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin—\m/ Hook 'Em!—with a degree in multimedia journalism. She is currently living in Los Angeles working in publicity, promotions and management for Cosmica Records. Jessica is unabashedly a pop culture junkie who is fortunate enough to write about music, comedy, film and TV.

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