Guest DJ: John Leguizamo On Salsa, Hip-Hop And Acting

John Leguizamo is currently touring on his one man show Ghetto Klown. i i

John Leguizamo is currently touring on his one man show Ghetto Klown. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
John Leguizamo is currently touring on his one man show Ghetto Klown.

John Leguizamo is currently touring on his one man show Ghetto Klown.

Courtesy of the artist

English / Spanish

Charlie Chaplin once said: "I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician."

Actor John Leguizamo is a self-proclaimed ghetto clown who lives by Chaplin's words. Like every great comedian, Leguizamo has jokes rooted in poignant and often heartbreaking observations about himself and the world that surrounds him. Topics that you might find on a daytime talk show or in a sociology dissertation are comedic gold: the alcoholism and abuse that tore his family apart, self-hatred in the Latin community and racism in Hollywood, among other things. This is what makes Leguizamo great. He forces viewers to look straight into the depths of his sadness, makes us reach into it and find the funny in it.

It's painful, frustrating, hilarious — and most of all it's necessary, because so much of Leguizamo's angst is part of the larger Hispanic experience in this country. One of the scenes that has stuck with me from his 1998 show Freak is when he reminisces about being very young, in the 1970s, when an uncle takes him to see a musical. Young Leguizamo is simply bored out of his mind until he spots a Latin singer onstage: "And all of a sudden, I heard the name Morales onstage. And there was this Latin person there. And she ain't have a gun in her hand or a hypodermic needle. And she wasn't a hooker or a maid. Her last name was Maldonado. She looked Puerto Rican, but she wasn't a hooker. So it was kinda hard to tell if she was Latin."

As I re-watched Freak, which contains strong critiques of how Hispanics have historically been treated in entertainment, I found it hard not to think back to some of the recent issues surrounding media portrayals of Latinos. More than a decade later, it's still an issue. But Leguizamo is not beyond turning a critical eye at Latin media itself. He makes a point of discussing the uncomfortable fact that so many Hispanics in this country find themselves in the terrible position of being rejected by mainstream American society, but also discriminated against in their countries of ancestry. In his current show, Ghetto Klown, his beloved grandfather finds out about his dream to be an entertainer and advises him: "Mijito, nenito, only white Latinos make it to Telemundo, mijito. Stay out of the sun. Walk on the shaded side of the street. Don't even eat dark food." In this week's show Leguizamo shares his views on Latinos in the media today, both in Hollywood and in Spanish language entertainment. As always, he is completely honest and thought-provoking.

One of my favorite characters from his 1993 show Spic-O-Rama is a young Hispanic obsessed with being an Elizabethan actor. He bleaches his hair blond, puts in blue contact lenses and speaks in a ridiculously fake British accent. The killer line comes near the end of the skit, when the young man opens the window and in pours a fantastic concoction of mambo, salsa and cumbia. He closes the window and laments: "It's hard being Elizabethan in Jackson Heights."

In addition to being peeks into the psyche of a young Hispanic man coming up in New York City, Leguizamo's shows are always windows into the effervescent musical scene that was happening when he was younger. Ghetto Klown is no exception. It features salsa, funk and hip-hop, and the legendary Fania label released an accompanying CD entitled Ghetto Klown: Music From My Hood. In this week's show, Leguizamo shares tracks from this album and other styles he grew up with. From Hector Lavoe to Old Dirty Bastard and some James Brown, brace yourselves for a very funky edition of Alt.Latino.

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English / Spanish

Esta Semana En Alt.Latino: Invitado Especial John Leguizamo

Carlos Chaplin supo decir que "Sólo soy, sólo sigo siendo una sola cosa: un payaso. Eso me pone en un plano más alto que cualquier político."

El actor John Leguizamo se describe a si mismo como un "payaso del ghetto", y su arte bien puede describirse con aquellas famosas palabras de Chaplin. Como todo gran comediante, sus chistes nacen de observaciones perspicaces y a veces sumamente dolorosas acerca del mundo que lo rodea. Temas tristes que podríamos encontrar en un programa de TV amarillista o una tesis sociológica son material fertil para la comedia de Leguizamo: el alcoholismo y abuso que destrozó a su familia; la patología del racismo en la comunidad Latina, y la discriminación hacia los hispanos en Hollywood, entre otras cosas. Esto es lo que lo hace un grande de la comedia: Leguizamo obliga a su audiencia a que busque en lo más profundo de sus penas, y nos fuerza a encontrar algo gracioso en todo ese horror.

Es un proceso doloroso, frustrante, divertido—y por encima de todo, es necesario, porque mucho del dolor de Leguizamo pertenece a la experiencia hispana en los Estados Unidos. Una de las escenas mas chocantes de su obra de teatro autobiográfica Freak (1998), es cuando Leguizamo, hablando de como los latinos han sido retratados en los medios norteamericanos, se acuerda de cuando el era pequeño, en la década de 1970, y su tío lo llevó a ver el musical Chorus Line. El joven Leguizamo estaba aburridísimo, hasta que vio a una cantante latina en el escenario. "Y derrepente escuché que nombraban a un personaje de apellido 'Morales' ". recuerda Leguizamo, y continúa sarcásticamente: "Y en el escenario apareció una mujer latina. Y no tenía un revolver en la mano, ni una aguja hipodérmica. Y no estaba haciendo el papel de prostituta, ni de empleada doméstica. Por lo tanto era dificil saber si era en realidad una latina."

Freak fue puesta en escena hace más de una década, pero aún ahora son relevantes sus críticas sobre el trato que reciben los hispanos en los medios de comunicación estadounidenses. Recientes incidentes con canales masivos, como el boicot a ABC por poner al aire comentarios ofensivos a la comunidad boricua, vienen a la mente.

Sin embargo, Leguizamo también es capaz de criticar ferozmente a los medios hispanos, y ahondar en la ironía de que tantos latinos se encuentran en la terrible posición de ser rechazados por la sociedad estadounidense, pero también son discriminados en sus países de herencia. En su actual obra de teatro, Ghetto Klown, Leguizamo recuerda el consejo de su adorado abuelo al enterarse de que Leguizamo queria ser actor: "Mijito, nenito, solo los latinos blancos llegan a Telemundo, mijito. No estes en el sol. Siempre anda por la sombra. Ni siquiera comas carne oscura."

Esta semana en nuestro programa, Leguizamo comparte su punto de vista acerca de los latinos en los medios de comunicación estadounidenses y en el mundo del entretenimiento hispano. Como siempre, es completamente honesto y provocativo.

Uno de mis personajes favoritos de su obra de teatro Spic-O-Rama (1993) es un joven latino obsesionado con ser un actor del teatro isabelino. Se tiñe el cabello de rubio platinado, se pone lentes de contacto celestes, y habla con un acento británico ridículamente falso. Como todo lo que hace Leguizamo, es patético y desopilante a la vez: aún a pesar de todos sus esfuerzos, se vislumbra que el joven es un latino viviendo en los ghettos de Nueva York. Para rematar, cuando el joven abre la ventana de su cuarto para respirar un poco de aire puro, entra a su habitación una ola de mambo, salsa y cumbia. Frustrado, cierra la ventana y se lamenta: "¡Que dificil es ser un actor isabelino en Jackson Heights, [Nueva York]!"

Los shows de Leguizamo siempre incluyen fragmentos de la explosiva escena musical que se daba en Nueva York en los 70s y 80s. Ghetto Klown no es ninguna excepción. La banda sonora de la obra incluye salsa, funk y rap. Incluso la legendaria compañía discográfica Fania Records ha publicado un CD de acompañamiento, titulado Ghetto Klown: Music From My Hood.

Esta semana, Leguizamo comparte canciones del disco, y otros estilos musiales que lo han influenciado. Desde Hector Lavoe a Old Dirty Bastard y también James Brown, prepárense para un episodio muy movido de Alt.Latino.

Actor John Leguizamo Shares His Musical Influences

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Willie Colón and Hector Lavoe

  • Album: John Leguizamo: Ghetto Klown - Music from My Hood
  • Song: Aguanile

Coming at you from: New York/Puerto Rico

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2011

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Willie Colón and Rubén Blades

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  • Song: Pedro Navaja

Coming at you from: New York/Panama

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La Lupe

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  • Song: Puro Teatro

Coming At You from: Cuba

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Fania All Stars

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  • Song: Quítate Tú

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Ol' Dirty Bastard

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  • Song: Shimmy Shimmy Ya

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James Brown

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Kool Moe Dee

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