Cristela Alonzo has an unusual reason for hanging out at Walmart.
The stand up comic — and star of ABC’s new hit sitcom CRISTELA — says she visits the retail giant in every town she performs in to do some unscientific market research.
“If they have [a lot of] Mexican food, I know Latinos live there,” she says.
If the location doesn’t stock up on tortillas and burritos, the Texas native will often offer a question and answer session about Latino culture immediately following her stand up comedy act.
“The first question [I get] is usually something like, ‘Why do so many Latinos ride in a car together?’” she told me at a recent network press event.
“I explain that a lot of them are poor and that is their one chance of getting somewhere and if they don’t get in the car, they don’t go. It is that thing where they asked a joking question but got a real answer. And they are like, ‘Oh, yeah. That makes sense.’”
“My goal is to put a face on a culture that they are not used to dealing with every day.”
That is also the goal behind Cristela’s semi-autobiographical sitcom.
Here’s more of what she had to tell me about the show, which premiered to 6.6 million viewers on Friday night.
You have a joke in the pilot where someone mistakes you for a janitor. Isn’t that offensive? Why did you do that?
Because it happens to me all the time. It doesn’t matter how I dress. I go in to different offices and stores, looking like anyone would. And I always get mistaken for someone who works there. Or who cleans. I put it in there because it is real. And it makes people maybe feel awkward. And I put it in there because I want people to know that is something I deal with every day of my life.
Why do you think it has taken so long for prime time to embrace so many female and Latino leads?
I think, honestly, [America] just hasn’t found the one that it wanted to do it with. The Latina thing aside, it is so hard to get a TV show of your own on the air. And to put it in a more specific category of being a Latina, it is almost an impossibility. So for me I like to think that they just found somebody that meshed with what the programming is currently and the story fits with what the network portrays. I know they have been trying to find a project and this year it just worked. It really shows an accurate depiction of what the country looks like. I would love to get to the point where it is no longer a big deal that a Latino is leading a show.
What is the pressure like for you to have this show succeed?
There should be no pressure as long as you are telling an honest story. As long as I can back it up with facts… For me, if it doesn’t go, I know at the end of the day that I did everything I could to show who I am. I can’t control what the audience will feel, but as long as I have told my truth, I feel like I have won.
On the show, Cristela is always bumping heads with her brother-in-law, Felix (Carlos Ponce) who believes a woman’s job is to cook and clean. What is the real Felix like?
Exactly like he is in the pilot — except he is from Tampico in Mexico and he has gotten into this mode where he has been living in the US for about 25 years and he is re-learning how to behave here in comparison to the old village in Mexico.
Was George Lopez a big influence for you?
We grew up watching THE GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW. And it is so funny because my family didn’t know how Nielsen ratings worked. They thought that just by putting the TV on THE GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW — even if we weren’t home — we were somehow helping him. So every Friday night if we were going to go out, they would be like, “Turn on the TV. It’s George Lopez!” We were very supportive and actually when we got picked up, George sent me a very nice message and to me, to have him even know who I am, was so wonderful.
BTW – you look great! Have you lost weight?
I have lost like 40 pounds! I did it for health [reasons]. You see shows that have thin people and they never go to the gym on the show. They never eat. I eat! I just want to show real life. This is what America looks like.
CRISTELA airs Friday nights at 8:30 PM on ABC
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