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Monday, September 29, 2008

written by
Alfredo Flores
On Tap October 2008
Before getting his own ABC sitcom in 2002, many thought George Lopez’s comedy was geared toward Mexican-Americans like himself. But entertainer’s brand of comedy, which deals with the trials and tribulations of being raised by his tough-as-nails Mexican grandparents in Los Angeles, proves that dysfunctional families have universal appeal, regardless of ethnicity. Evidence of that can be found in millions of comedy albums sold, a five-year run on ABC and cable specials that have become classics. “Kids today wouldn’t last one day of our childhoods,” said Lopez on his HBO special “America’s Mexican” from last year. “(Mimicking child’s whining voice) I’m bored! (Lopez smacks back of microphone as if it were the kid, starts wobbling, falls down). There (in mock grandmother’s voice). Spend the whole day recovering.” Lopez said that not until the 1980s and 1990s did society truly understand abuse or neglect, and he often spent a lot of his time alone as a kid with no adult supervision. “When I started to get into my past in my stand up, I think I was a little embarrassed of it,” Lopez said during an interview with On Tap. “I didn’t think there was a deep well of comedy there. But when I started to do that it started to connect [with the audience]. That’s when I started to really get attention, and everybody started to get it, not just Mexicans. I’ve been told by people, Hey, my Russian grandmother is that way, or My Israeli, Middle-Eastern, Armenian so and so. It’s everybody now. I just use Latino because it’s what I am.” His family is a constant source of ridicule in his routines and they no longer talk to Lopez, which is fine with him. He’s got a loving relationship with his wife and kid in the L.A. suburb of Sherman Oaks, and has had several films released this year, including “Swing Vote,” “Henry Poole Is Here,” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” He also hosts several charity events as a spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation after receiving a kidney transplant from his wife in 2006, and he’s closing his year-and-a-half-long “America’s Mexican Tour” with three soon-to-be sold-out shows at the Warner Theater, which he finds fitting for an election year. Lopez’ s material for the D.C. shows will be political, very pointed toward ignorance, edgy and definitely not for kids — “Well, depending on what you let your kids see,” he joked. There’ll be bits about John and Cindy McCain, Barack Obama, immigration issues and E. coli tainted food. There might even be his bit about how kids no longer talk on the phone, instead texting acronyms like LMAO, LOL and BFF—with Lopez wanting to add one more item to text jargon, FTP, or “F*** that puto.” When asked who’s currently on his FTP list, conservative CNN political pundit Lou Dobbs immediately came up. “If you watched only his show, you’d think the only issue in this country is illegal immigration,” Lopez said. “I don’t know what Latinos ever did to him, but he hasn’t gotten over it.” Lopez is also not too fond of Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I’m kind of shocked we would elect someone like that with no political experience whatsoever to be governor of a state like California,” Lopez said. “That’s not politics, that’s like movies, like ‘Bullworth.’ For a person who had his voice dubbed for a movie every single line 25 years ago but doesn’t sound that much different than he did back then, for him to be [asking immigrants to speak] English only and to be so adamant about it is ridiculous when he, clearly, is not understandable.” It’s been a long journey for Lopez, and sometimes he’s in disbelief of how far he’s come in his nearly 30 years of stand up comedy, getting his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just like the only two other Latinos before him to star in their own network television comedy series: Desi Arnaz and Freddie Prinze. “When I was growing up I never got encouraged and didn’t think I had any chance at a life that was worth living,” he said. “If someone were to ask me in the mid 1980s what I wanted to do, I never thought I’d be an actor or have a sitcom. I used to say I wouldn’t have a sitcom, because I didn’t think it was available to us. Even in my goals, I would knock myself down, I was thinking that’s not going to happen, and that’s probably not going to happen. It’s crazy the way it all worked out.”

Monday, September 08, 2008

Unplugged and Charged Up:

Julieta Venegas

Washington Post Express, September 8, 2008

Written by Express contributor Alfredo Flores
Top photo courtesy Julieta
Venegas; live photo by Mauricio Ramirez/MTV Latinoamérica

NOT MANY MUSICIANS can rock a bedazzled accordion like Julieta Venegas. Despite her petite frame, the popular and talented Mexican singer-songwriter has a large stage presence and brings a joyful, universally appealing energy to her shows, which are packed with people who know all the words to her songs. (There were an estimated 5,000 fans at Venegas' recent Central Park show.) The funny part is that Venegas is something of an accidental emo-turned-Latin-pop star. In the late 1990s she sported dark mascara, black fingernails and sang gloomy punk ballads, but starting with the 2003 album "Sí," her style evolved into catchy, upbeat, keyboard-laced pop tracks mixed with accordion and other traditional norteño sounds of her hometown Tijuana. "It was a real slow process, to be honest with you," said Venegas in Spanish in a telephone interview from her Mexico City home. "It wasn't a conscious decision. I was looking for a way to express what I felt through song, and as I got older it became clearer how best to compose these songs that dealt with certain emotions and sentiments: sadness, melancholy, feelings that are harsher. I found a way to better explain it all." Venegas also uses her videos to unload certain emotions, but they're also always playful and imaginative. In "Me Voy" she rides a hot air balloon and dumps objects she no longer needs — including a half-naked boyfriend — and as the load gets lighter, Venegas looks happier, the accordion gets faster and the balloon goes higher. In the electronica-filled "Eres Para Mi" — about a romantic interest — Venegas walks backward through the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, smiling and interacting with a nun, a cop, an ice cream vendor and random city folk, before they all break into synchronized dance after a rap solo from Chilean MC Anita Tijoux. And "Lento"— a bubbly pop song about taking things slow, featuring acoustic guitar, toy keyboard and synthetic drums — is set in Japan and shows pink, white and red flowers blooming from street cracks, dilapidated parks and window stoops after every step Venegas takes. "I've always like to play with fantasy," she said about her videos. "I like to have a visual for every song that I can work with. I really enjoy playing a bit with images to create a reality that's parallel with my interpretation of the song." Venegas' latest work album is "MTV Unplugged" — now in its ninth consecutive week at No. 1 in Mexico. Venegas was hands-on with the project, picking her collaborators and fine tuning her previous songs for the large band acoustic setting, as well as recording four new tracks, most notably the ska-filled single "El Presente" — also the name of her current tour. "It was an ambitious project to take on," she said. "I've learned a lot through the whole process, playing with all different types of musicians I wasn't necessarily used to, how to do arrangements, being more involved in the production side of things, but I'm very happy how the 'Unplugged' album turned out. It turned out super wonderful." Venegas will bring along a 15-member mini-orchestra in her first ever performance in Washington when she plays the Kennedy Center on Sept. 9, and promises to deliver a near replica of the song list and delivery she did in the "Unplugged" special. That performance was filled with the band's trumpets, violins, cellos, banjos, ukuleles and woodwinds, and Venegas sings like a bird — very soft and melodic — and she switches between accordion, keyboard and acoustic guitar. Venegas' eclecticism is a result of her border-town upbringing. The 37-year-old was born in Long Beach, Calif., and raised in music-rich Tijuana. But she also felt fortunate to be able to cross into the U.S. to check out music and see shows — rock / norteño maestros Los Lobos being one her of favorite American bands. In her teens Venegas loved Tijuana's punk-rock scene, but has always had a fondness with norteño music. Norteño is a musical marriage born out of German immigration to north Mexico during the Prohibition Era in the U.S. The Germans brought their button accordions with them and helped created a classic country-Mexican sound that Venegas has made her own with nods toward pop rhythms. "I've always been fascinated with the accordion, and the people who played it — Los Lobos included," she said. "I think it's very similar to the piano, but I've felt the piano keeps you closed in, away from the audience, especially in this scenario, on stage. The accordion allows you to be closer in with the audience, and I like that." » Kennedy Center, South Plaza, Millennium Stage, 2700 F Street NW; Tue., Sept. 9, 6 p.m., free; 202-467-4600. (Foggy Bottom-GWU).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Gut Buster: Comedian Ralphie May
Comedian to Laugh it Up at Lisner
written by Alfredo Flores

September 2008 On Tap magazine

Back in 1989, Ralphie May, then a college student in Arkansas, got the opportunity of a lifetime by winning a contest to open for his childhood idol Sam Kinison at a local comedy club. When May bombed and began cursing at the audience before being booed off stage, that dream turned into a nightmare and a crash course in what it takes to be a stand up comedian. To top it off, Kinison then jokingly told the audience that May would never be in show business again. Ouch.For most, hearing such a thing would be devastating, especially at the age of 17. But May has tough skin, as does his audience. May holds no punches, has complete disregard for political correctness, and is brutally honest — which caught the attention of Kinison.“Sam said there’s no edge, there’s no boundaries in comedy,” said May in an interview with On Tap. “The only rule is being funny. If it’s funny, it’s good.” Kinison took May under his wing, advising him to move to Houston and become part of the so-called “Houston Comedy Mafia.” Without much of a comedy scene in his native Arkansas, May joined the mafia, and never looked back. Fast forward almost 20 years, and May is now a long-time stand-up veteran whose wide-eyed, clean shaven, rotund, multi-chinned, baby-faced appearance makes him look far younger than his 36 years. He’s one of the country’s most popular comedians —consistently selling out venues that seat between 1,500 and 3,000 people — and was recently voted one of Variety Magazine’s Top 10 Comics to Watch. May, who has a couple Comedy Central specials under his belt, was the first to get a standing ovation on the Big Black Comedy Show, and shot to fame as the runner up in 2003’s “Last Comic Standing” reality TV show. May continues to shock his audiences, poking fun of everything and anyone: those who wear weaves and mullets, obese people, people who talk back to the movie screen, even the, um, height-challenged. “I’m an equal opportunity offender,” said May, who was heckled by some 27 little people in Baltimore a few years ago — a group he joked equaled like 13 real sized people. “It’s a comedy club, it’s a theater. There’s a reason the lights are down low… so everybody can laugh. When the lights are out, you’re not rich, poor, black or white. You’re just the audience.” May returns to D.C. later on this month for one-night only at Lisner Auditorium. The upcoming presidential election has May excited about a candidate for the very first time.“This is the first time I felt I could vote for somebody,” said May about Barack Obama. “But I gotta be honest with you, I didn’t know he was black into mid-January. I thought he was Puerto Rican. And Obama even sounds kinda Spanish to me. Como se llama Obama?” It’s not only politics that has May excited. At one point he weighed over 800 pounds — the result of a car accident at age 16 that sent him into a coma for 10 days. With gastric bypass surgery, he has shed half his weight. He’s a father for the first time, daddy to a baby girl named April June May (His friends joke it’s a stripper name, but May defends the choice by saying, “strippers have names of cars they can’t afford, like Mercedes and Lexus”); and he’s married to comedienne Lahna Turner, who opens for May when they tour together. But May’s decision for the risky gastric bypass wasn’t so he would be accepted by society, or get more acting roles, but rather something far more important.“I wanted to live,” he said. “I had a beautiful girlfriend, who’s now my wife. I’ve got a beautiful baby girl. I’ve got a lot to live for. I can’t be messing around.” Another source of his comedy is his family life, and he’s quick to defend his act.“Some people are just so reactionary,” he said. “They called me anti-Semitic because I make cracks about Jews. My wife’s a Jew, we made a Jew. I think I’m doing the work of Christ here. When’s America going to realize, why can’t you take a joke?” WHO: Comedian Ralphie MayWHEN: Friday, Sept. 12WHERE: Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., NW, D.C.)TIX: $29INFO: 202-994-6800;