Marissa Rodriguez

Funny Lady: Cristela is Living the Dream

I was a bit of an odd bird growing up. There weren’t many young Mexican-American girls growing up in Texas who loved comedy as much as I did. I preferred Cheers, A Different World, and Blossom to 90210, Melrose Place and any number of teen idol shows geared toward my generation. I was also lucky enough to grow up in the era when TV was full of stand-up. Comedy Central had just launched, A&E aired sets from Caroline’s Comedy Club, MTV had the Half Hour Comedy Hour, and let’s not forget Qué Locos on Galavision. I watched them all and wanted to be a comedy star, too.

So when buzz began to circulate about a new sitcom starring a Tejana comedian, I was over the moon. Could it be? Was there really another thirty-something lady who grew up with a sassy quip for every situation and who spent time thinking of sitcom-worthy comebacks to criticisms? This, I had to see. Thanks to YouTube, I have.

On October 10, I’ll finally get the chance to see her on TV (network, not cable!). At 7:30 CST, ABC will finally premiere Cristela, starring San Juan, Texas native Cristela Alonzo. On the show she’s an aspiring law student, living with her sister and brother-in-law (played by Carlos Ponce) while she works toward that degree and balances her two jobs, family responsibilities in the process. Take a look.

While her on-screen persona is scripted, it’s inspired by her real life. “About 90 percent is from my life,” said Cristela. “It’s from a time when I lived with my brother and take care of my nephew, niece and mother.” The only big difference she said is that she wanted to be a comedian, and her character wants to be a lawyer. Either way, the dream is the same – to make it.

It’s a premise similar to classic female-led sitcoms like Laverne & Shirley, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Roseanne and even Grace Under Fire. Whether single or married with children, these comedic heroines strived to build the best lives they could despite setbacks and disappointments, but with their sass and sense of humor being their saving graces.

Like all of those shows Cristela faces pressure to be the face of, and representative of, an entire culture. Mary Tyler Moore was the girl in the city. Roseanne was the working class mama. Cristela is obviously “the Latina.”

It’s a pressure she rejects. “This show is sharing the story of my family, not to try and represent an entire culture, because it’s very hard to represent everyone,” she says. “Many people will watch the show and say ‘my family isn’t like this’. What I want is to tell an honest and authentic story that represents my family. You can’t capitalize [on Mexican-American audiences] because the public feels when something isn’t authentic.”

“It’s not a Latino show,” clarified Carlos Ponce, whose character was based on John Goodman’s character in Roseanne. “It’s a Latino family that happens to be very intriguing and funny. Remember The Cosby Show? I never saw The Cosby Show as an African-American family. I saw them as a great family who happened to be played by African Americans. This is the same thing. This is a feel good family show with real story that a lot of people can identify with.”

I’m rooting for Cristela. The premise is solid and the cast is hilarious. Plus, it’s an actual sitcom you can watch with younger kids and we haven’t had that since the days of Full House. I hope it runs just as long.

Lead image by ABC/Adam Taylor.

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