Latinos in comedy is not a new thing.
Anyone who breathes air and even cave dwellers are aware of this fact. We have all witnessed the humorous contributions offered over the years by the likes of the late Freddie Prinze, Sr., George Lopez, Cheech Marin and Paul Rodriguez, Sr. For the record these are not the only names one can think of with regard to Latinos in the comedy world.
In fact over the course of the past 15 years, many have witnessed the works Anjelah Johnson, Erik Rivera and Vladimir Caamano have presented to audiences across the country, the latter having scored the opportunity of comedy platinum when he inked a deal with NBC to produce a sitcom based on his life and comedy routine.
It looks as if the rough seas are starting to part for Latinos when it comes to the often treacherous waters that is the business of comedy. These days content consumers do not have to do heavy navigating in order find concrete evidence proving factual success does exist for Latino comedians. Proof of this can be seen not only on a computer screen but in fact right down the block. An even greater example of this form of triumph living and breathing before our eyes has come in the form of a comedy collective based out of New York City dubbed Room 28.
But what is Room 28?
“Basically it’s in dedication to a Dominican folklore as far as a crazy house in the twenty eighth meridian, Jerry “Elmo DiFoca” Diaz explained during a conference call prior to the final rehearsal for a recent holiday show. “They call it ‘la casa de los locos,’ ‘la casa veintiocho.’ There’s a phrase that, hey, a little veintiocho that means you’re a little crazy. So, yeah, we took that being that some of us come from the Dominican culture and you know we come from New York so there’s nuthouses so it’s our mental [institution]. We wanted something so that people would be like what is that? What is Room 28? That became our catchphrase.”
Conversation pieces aside, Room 28 has more layers to it than the average viewer can imagine. The group has about eight different moving comedic bodies. It is comprised of the aforementioned Diaz (Hood Politics) along with Ariana Rodriguez (a correspondent/contributor for Latina), Andrew Casanova (of Subway commercial fame) Anthony Palmini (a freelancer for the MTV properties Guy Code and Girl Code), Michael “Juan Bago” Diaz (Flama’s Puerto Ricans vs. Dominicans), Karina Ortiz (Orange is the New Black), Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muniz (The Work Jerks) and Jaime Fernandez (Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony).
Although each member of this comedy troupe has experienced the ebb and flow of success outside of this burgeoning entity, they have managed to come together and make it a fruitful venture. On the outside, the work of Room 28 may look seamless, but what makes it so is that each player has a key role in how the overall product is put together. On top of being performers, members of the cast show how diversified their portfolios actually are, some serving as producers like Strauss-Muniz and Michael Diaz, while others like Jerry Diaz and Palmini direct episodes. Each player is involved in the writing process which is fine-tuned by Fernandez, who serves as head writer.
The creative and quality control involved with Room 28 has yielded some of the finest sketch comedy live audiences have seen all year. In addition to that, it has provided some stellar content for YouTube subscribers. Some of the ultra-hilarious shorts include “Fetty Wap (Pregnant Queen Parody),” “The LAMAS” and “Friend Zone App.” And the laughs, likes, shares and views all over social media have lent themselves to a tremendous buzz that no one can ignore.
Earlier this year Room 28 landed a partnership deal with Lorne Michaels’s production company Broadway Video. The endeavor is part of a new digital studio set to launch this coming January which will be headed by Saturday Night Live alums Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen. The move is a bold one, given the strong criticism Michaels and his production company have faced over SNL’s lack of diversity.
“I think, obviously, when we first met up with them, when they found us, they were telling us about their vision, and the number one thing that really appealed to us is comedy first,” echoed Michael Diaz with regard to the partnership:
So they’re having a new platform. It is Latino. But it’s comedy first. And that was very important for Jerry, Jamie and Anthony, who have been the writers of the sketches. We didn’t want to get involved on a platform that is just really going to ride that whole Latino thing. They are doing the same blueprint that they have done with the SNL’s for their shows like Portlandia and 30 Rock. So for us it was very important to keep our brand and our consistency of the quality [of how we] write and we perform. We are excited. I mean obviously it’s a new initiative. At the end of the day what was really important when we left that first meeting was that they really are about the quality of the comedy and the blueprint.
Taking everything into account with regard to all things Room 28, it has been a banner year. Yet with all of the hard-earned success involved with this product, no one can deny that the best has yet to come. The cast members gave further hints of their promising future by joining in the holiday spirit of giving in their own twisted and outrageous way. This past Saturday the comedy unit decided to treat their loyal fan base to “Holiday Sketchtacular” show at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater located in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. And of course it was a no-holds-barred laugh fest where nothing was held sacred during one of the holiest times of the year. However, there is one gift that Room 28 wants to keep on giving for years to come that can be infectious in a good way.
“The consensus is we want to be a comedic institution. We want say something on a platform for people like us, Latinos, to have writers, performers, directors, cinematographers, whatever. Just coming here, getting training, you know, just us becoming some sort of comedic institution that people can come to and flourish from there”, declared Elmo Difoca.
Only time, plus further hard work and determination, will tell if Room 28 becomes New York’s answer to Canada’s SCTV (Second City Television), with a flavor that is beyond sabroso.
Daniel Rivera is a host and entertainment reporter from New York City. Many know Daniel as media jack of all trades who has an all-out hustle, immeasurable knowledge of pop culture and geeky charm. Follow him @DanielRiveraTV.