'Gente Funny' is Spanish standup comedy — without the subtitles Latinx comedians with non-English routines have largely been relegated to restaurants, bars and other spaces where Spanish already dominates. But a new generation is changing that, one show at a time.

At a 'Gente Funny' show, only bilingual audience members are in on the joke

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's a new Spanish-language comedy circuit in Washington, D.C., called Gente Funny. It was started by Venezuelan writer and performer Angelo Colina.

ANGELO COLINA: All of us in the audience, or most of us, speak English. We're just deciding to speak Spanish.

SHAPIRO: As NPR's Isabella Gomez Sarmiento reports, the bilingual show digs into the mistranslations and contradictions of Latinx culture.

COLINA: (Speaking Spanish).

ISABELLA GOMEZ SARMIENTO, BYLINE: During a recent set at Room 808 in Washington, D.C., Angelo Colina works the crowd by asking where they're from. A guy in the back raises his hand. He's from Bolivia, and his friend is Cuban.

COLINA: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm white as f***.

(LAUGHTER)

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: That's the Cuban friend telling Colina he's basically white.

COLINA: No, you're not.

(LAUGHTER)

COLINA: Now, (speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: "He's not," Colina tells him. "But Cubans love thinking that they are," he says. The crowd erupts into laughter.

(LAUGHTER)

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: This exchange is just a small slice of how Colina's set pokes and prods at the construction of Latinx and Hispanic identity in the U.S. That identity includes a wide range of countries, languages and experiences. But Colina says Latinx comedians in the U.S. can still be made to feel like their identities have to check a certain box.

COLINA: You see comedians that have been here for, like, ages or that were even born here, like - and they're Latinos. And they still have to do the abuelita. They still have to do the tia. They still have to do that 'cause that's their way to be like, hey; this is my label.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the U.S. according to the Census Bureau. But Colina says in movies, TV and even in standup, Spanish is often just used as a decorative prop, sprinkled in without adding any plot or value.

COLINA: Because it's a cafe con leche, or it's a chancla. And we're just so much more than that. And our voices are different, too, and we speak different, and we have a different sense of humor.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Colina started doing standup when he moved to the U.S. in 2018. In New York City, he connected with Andres Sereno. The two were searching for comedy clubs where they could regularly perform in Spanish.

COLINA: So it was so hard to find spots and everything else. And we thought, like, all right, so there's no comedy in Spanish in New York City. That's insane.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: So they co-founded their own Spanish-language circuit called Espanol Please. In 2021, they became the third group to ever perform in Spanish at the New York Comedy Festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDRES SERENO: (Speaking Spanish).

COLINA: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Their shows, aimed at connecting first-, second-, third-generation Latinos and whoever's in between, dig into being bicultural, bilingual, both and neither.

COLINA: I'm not only an immigrant, and I'm not only Venezuelan, and I'm not only a guy with an accent.

JOANNA HAUSMANN: I think for a long time, there was this perception that in order to be a Latino comedian, you needed to be a Latino comedian that fit the paradigm of what a Latino was for people that weren't (laughter).

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: That's Joanna Hausmann, a Venezuelan American comedian and TV writer who's been making bilingual content for over 10 years. When she started performing in New York City in the early 2010s, she says there were shows here and there but not really a pronounced scene.

HAUSMANN: I really think there was this sense, for a while, that bilingual comedy just was not mainstream, and it wasn't for everyone, and there wasn't enough of an audience.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: But YouTube and social media changed everything, says Hausmann. Latinx-focused bilingual content was no longer seen as niche. Soon, her sketches and rants about immigration, identity and culture were drawing hundreds of thousands of subscribers. That's how she met Angelo Colina. The two connected over Instagram and filmed a sketch together about two strangers realizing they're both Venezuelan over the phone.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "FINDING OUT A STRANGER IS VENEZUELAN")

COLINA: (As character) Is this Miss Hausmann?

HAUSMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Now Colina's finding that mainstream audience in person in comedy clubs across the country. He's touring his headline show, "Little Alone," a mistranslation of the Spanish word solito. And with monthly performances of Gente Funny in D.C., local comedians like Jose Sanchez are performing in Spanish for the first time.

JOSE SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: "If I make a mistake," Sanchez tells the crowd, "just tell me." But the audience keeps laughing as he finds his footing.

COLINA: There are no words for that.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Colina beams with pride.

COLINA: I could not be happier with what we're doing, honestly.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: So now for immigrants or first- or second-generation comedians, Spanish can be more of a flex than a punchline. Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLO SONG, "SUMMERTIME")

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