Late last week, Cristela Alonzo announced on social media that she and Dan Bucatinsky, who will forever be James Novak from Scandal to me, have a new show in the works at CBS called She Gets It From Me. Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Seacrest will be producing along with them. The comedy is a semi-autobiographical take on Bucatinsky’s memoir Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?: Confessions of a Gay Dad.
I am excited about this show for a few reasons. Laughter—I need it in my life right now. I think many of us do. Cristela’s Netlifx specials Lower Classy and Middle Classy gave me joy this summer and made me add her memoir, Music to My Years, to my interminable memoir reading list. I’ve written before how I can’t believe I missed Cristela (the sitcom) when it was on, but I plan to catch up this winter break since I saw that you can stream it on Hulu. Another reason I am excited about this new show is because Cristela took a significant break from comedy and became an activist. That’s actually how I learned about her. I am intrigued by how taking a break from comedy and getting involved in political activism has influenced her as a writer and performer.
In reading a bit for this story, I found Cristela Alonzo’s appearance on Vulture’s Good One Podcast and that got me even more excited. Hearing her explain the evolution of her famous joke about lying on her resume gave this teacher so many writing gems that I might assign it to my students! One of those gems is often cited in LaineyGossip about how the more specific we are in our writing, the more universal and relatable it can be to our reader/audience. Sometimes people try to do it the other way around, and that writing, in its attempt to be relatable, ends up being so generic that it can be hard for a reader to find a real connection to it.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most from this podcast episode is how much she emphasizes that writing is work, that it is a process, and that it is never done. I love how specific she is about her own joke writing process, taking her notebook everywhere (I used to do that!), and holding on to an idea and working it until it is ready to be written and shared. I really recommend listening to her explain how feedback from another comic who was serving as a judge on Last Comic Standing helped her reflect on her material. I love how Greg Giraldo gave her feedback–not by critiquing but by making an observation and asking a question…which got her to write an amazing joke 10 years later about her brother’s accent being so stereotypically Mexican that “Edward James Olmos would want to teach him calculus” and still guides her as a writer when she asks herself “What’s the truth?”
When I watched her specials this summer, I heard her tell stories that reminded me of me and people in my life while growing up in Mexico and then in Texas. I laughed as she joked about having enough money to go to therapy or to get a nice smile, which is a part of her comedy toolbox when she tells her audience uncomfortable truths. These jokes remind me of my discomfort or reluctance to use resources I now have at my disposal. How does one undo years of hearing that we better stay healthy because we can’t afford to go to the doctor? How do I un-hear my mother telling me years ago, when I was still a graduate student with no full-time job prospects, that she is struggling to make payments on a small life insurance policy so that she, as the Mexican saying goes, has somewhere to fall dead? Is this why filling out loan consolidation applications or wondering if I can qualify for loan forgiveness makes me feel shame and anxiety? Before I got a full-time job, when people asked me what I would do if I ever won the lottery I never played, I could only come up with one answer: “I’d pay my student loan debt.” And the weight of this debt was so heavy on me that I could not imagine or dream anything else beyond eliminating it from my life.
I love when Cristela talks about her mother. I am lucky enough to still have mine. In this podcast and in a story for the Los Angeles Times, she said that her mother always wanted to be a singer, but she didn’t have the luxury to try. I think about that, sometimes, about the things my mom would’ve tried if she had had the same luxuries I’ve had thanks to her sacrifices. My mom used to write drafts of her messages to me in birthday cards. She wrote me beautiful letters in the six years we spent apart while she tried “for a better life” by leaving for the U.S. without me. My brief replies to those letters are how I learned how to write. I think my mom is a great writer. I still hope that, one day, she will choose to write her story, or that she will at least indulge in the idea I have of writing a part of our story together.
I love Cristela. She makes me think about my family and writing in ways that always surprise me. So I am excited to watch She Gets It From Me when it makes it to CBS. Let me know if you are, too.