Picture this: The president of the United States visits Puerto Rico after a Category 5 hurricane and throws paper towels at a crowd of people. The people race to grab the hot cleaning commodities, and upon catching a roll, one man runs around the island, dancing to Keri Kimmel’s cheery “Best Day” and wiping the destruction and illness Hurricane Maria left behind with tissue paper and a wide smile.
The first part of that scenario actually happened, but the latter part is a skit from “Alternatino with Arturo Castro,” a weekly sketch comedy show that premiered on Comedy Central on June 18.
There was nothing funny about Hurricane Maria, a storm that experts estimate killed more than 4,000 people. Yet in that sketch and throughout each of the season’s 10 episodes, Castro twists around the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding Latino culture, revealing the absurdity and humor intrinsic to some of the most difficult subjects and conversations today.
“If you can laugh at your demons, they don’t really become scary anymore,” Castro told NBC News. “They’re not my own personal demons," he said. "What I feel is the persecution of people that sort of look like me.”
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Latino identity fuels Castro’s comedy. Originally from Guatemala, the comedian moved to New York City 14 years ago to pursue a career in acting. Castro didn’t see a lot of people who looked like him on television while growing up or trying to break into the business and took any acting opportunity he could. One of his first major gigs was as a taste bud on a tongue in a commercial.
“It’s so funny because they had this weird sort of description. … This taste bud is sultry and foreign and sensitive and I’m like, ‘My only line is "Wazoo,"’” Castro recalled. “I never took a job that wasn’t acting because I figured money’s addictive. ... I tended to do a lot of short films and a lot of commercials to make ends meet.”
Castro eventually landed high-profile roles as Jaime Castro on the Comedy Central series “Broad City” and David Rodriguez on the Netflix series “Narcos,” but he said his earlier days taking on a variety of different parts is what truly prepared him to have his own show where he portrays myriad characters.
“Now, we have a TV show, which is insane,” Castro said. “Every time I wake up and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s a billboard.' I was a very broke actor hustling in theater for a long time in New York. I’m still broke, but now I have billboards.”
One of the first skits he wrote for “Alternatino,” which began as a web series in 2015, was about cursing in front of his Latina mother. In its current iteration, Castro represents the spectrum of lives Latinos lead, portraying everything from an ICE agent to a father attempting to have the birds and the bees talk with his son to a nephew leaning on his tías (aunts) after a rough breakup.
“I would like to believe most people aren’t ill-intentioned. They’re just misinformed,” Castro said. “I think if you’re not exposed to more than one sort of type of Latino or any Latinos at all, that might be your impression of it … the fear of somebody that doesn’t look like you.”
This is why he sees “Alternatino” as a “bonding tool,” one that shows that Latino identity is “not something you have to overcome. It’s just something that you are.”
“When you see somebody that doesn’t look like you going through things you can relate to, maybe the next time you see them they won’t be that foreign,” he said.
Though Castro embodies more than 45 characters in the series, he has a favorite. Jecca, a jealous and intoxicated bridesmaid who ruins her friend’s wedding, appears in episode three.
“More than anything, I hope people realize it’s a party and everyone’s invited,” Castro said.
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