This is the fourth part of a series of posts from Stefan Norgaard, Stanford University Urban Studies major completing his Internship Capstone sequence interning for NPR’s Forum program at KQED, the San Francisco station.
Imagine seeing a celebrity out of his element. Last Friday, KQED hosted actor and comedian John Leguizamo, and I experienced just that. Leguizamo was on tour for his new one-man show, “Ghetto Klown,” which was visiting San Francisco at the Orpheum Theater. Leguizamo, originally from Queens, New York, has certainly had a full life. He has acted in everything from the Die Hard movies to the Ice Age Series, and his Latino-variety show career in television is quite extensive as well.
When I brought Mr. Leguizamo into the studio, it was all jokes, right from the beginning. When I asked Mr. Leguizamo if he wanted to sign the wall of the Green Room, a KQED tradition, he joked that he knew a director once who would simply take notes on the walls of his home. His nervousness seemed surprising for a man who presents on stage in front of thousands of people daily. But the subject of the radio show soon revealed that the “Forum” show topic was no comedy show. Rather, Friday host Dave Iverson wanted to ask Leguizamo serious questions about his childhood and about the struggles of being a Latino actor in Hollywood:
Leguizamo has surely come far. He has had numerous family problems (at one point or another, both of his parents have tried to sue him, for example) and has nonetheless stayed resilient and hilarious. A key to Leguizamo’s success is his humor, and his ability to joke in serious situations. Host Dave Iverson put everything on the table, from Leguizamo’s fractured relationship with his father to his many girlfriends and wives. Leguizamo, in a moment of gravity, noted that perhaps “my family was one of the prices I had to pay for [my fame].” Iverson asked personal questions to Leguizamo, but all questions were geared at understanding the following question: how did a Latino immigrant boy growing up in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens make it?
As the show continued, I worked on emails and comments rolling in from around the country. One comment, from a young boy growing up in East San Jose, noted that Leguizamo was his inspiration and his only hope was to be like him. Other comments echoed that sentiment. How many people, I began to wonder, feel like our American society has forgotten them? Leguizamo’s rise to fame was not easy, and he himself has paid high prices for the fame. How many more Leguizamos, all equally funny, are there out there?
Leguizamo is far more than just a comedian, an actor, and a man with deep personal stories. He is an inspiration. Those phone calls, comments, emails, tweets from fans around the nation underscore that Leguizamo is a symbol for Latino actors, comedians, writers, and performers. The stories of Leguizamo are hilarious, in large part because they tap into a part of the American experience that is so familiar to all of us. The immigrant experience is painful, saddening, hilarious, and uplifting, all in different ways. Leguiamo can be a symbol to all that the barriers facing Latinos in Hollywood can indeed be overcome.
Relevant Clips of Leguizamo’s work can be found below:
Leguizamo on his father:
Leguizamo featured on Sesame Street: