“When it comes to creating, I didn’t look as look at it as representation,” comedian Chris Estrada recently told Latino Rebels.
Estrada is writing, producing, and starring in a new sitcom on Hulu called This Fool. It’s loosely based on his life growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles.
“In these types of neighborhoods, whether it’s East L.A., Boyle Heights, or South Central, you’re either a gangster or a wimp,” he said. “That’s a bad way to look at things because it creates a simple binary.”
His character Julio may fall on the wimp side —he brags about getting beaten up— but really he’s just a regular guy with more than his fair share of “existential dread.” And Estrada was quick to point out that “those neighborhoods are made up of mostly just regular people who are working day-to-day jobs.”
So while Estrada rejects the burden of representation, This Fool still has many of the elements that tend to define how Chicanos are represented on screen: gangs, poverty, and Los Angeles. But Estrada’s show is different because it comes from an insider’s perspective. He’s just telling his own story as authentically as he can.
He was working in a warehouse doing stand-up at night when he got a call about making his own series. That was in 2018, and now, four years later, we have the first season of This Fool.
Make it past the pilot and you’ll find a warm, funny, silly show that isn’t afraid to explore the complexities of poverty or potty humor. There are certainly some over-the-top gags —one hiking sequence comes to mind— but the show finds its footing by illuminating truths from Estrada’s personal experience.
On portraying cliches, he said: “If somebody were to say, ‘Oh, but why is the cousin a gang member?’ I go, ‘Well, because my cousin was a gang member.”
Estrada is telling his story, and he’s doing it smartly—whether he’s thinking in terms of representation or not.
“Oftentimes you see gang members on TV doing what gang members do, which is rob or beat up someone. But I thought, it would be interesting, not just comedically but from a narrative standpoint, to see these guys be serious about changing their lives,” he explained.
And that’s what you get on This Fool, which finds its workplace comedy element in the fictional “fifth-largest gang rehab center in Los Angeles.”
On the family side, the show also pokes at the way we build our famously extended families, form our political alliances —there’s a hilarious Ronald Reagan dream sequence— and perform Catholicism for each other, whether anyone really cares about it or not.
Then there’s the reality of the family’s neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, which Estrada describes as “Latinos and Blacks living side-by-side together. I wanted to (portray that) not necessarily for righteous reasons, but to be honest to my experience. I want to be honest about who I grew up with, who was around me, who my neighbors were, how sometimes we got along and sometimes maybe we didn’t get along.”
So Estrada ends up touching upon all the political elements of representation just by being who he is and doing what he loves: finding the humor and heart in his personal story. For the show, he hopes people watch it and find it to be a “funny, smart, and weird comedy that looks cinematic.”
On the future of Latinx representation, Estrada hopes “that there’s so many Latino shows out there that we never have to talk about it again.”
Same, dude. Same.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade