“You are different from me and that is funny to us!” shouts Diego Luca, host of the fictional late-night show Buenas Noches on the Comedy Central web series Alternatino.
In this particular sketch, creator and star Arturo Castro is sharply satirizing Jimmy Kimmel’s use of Mexican-American security guard Guillermo Rodriguez as a running joke on Jimmy Kimmel Live. But here, the young Guatemalan-born actor—who you'll recognize as Ilana's roommate Jaime on Broad City— has flipped the script by making the host of the show Latino and the ridiculed sidekick a white dude from IT named Kevin. “Putting you down makes me look better!” Luca tells the studio audience as Kevin the White IT Guy is humiliated in a segment called “Kevin Learns How To Do Things.” It’s funny because it’s true, and because it's rare to see the Latinx perspective on white American culture in late night, or almost anywhere on American television for that matter.
On October 6, Alternatino returned for its second season on Comedy Central’s website. Compared to the series’ first season, which primarily catered to a Latinx millennial audience by eviscerating cultural stereotypes, the second season takes a bite at broader social issues through a distinctly Latinx lens. “I didn’t try to make it political, but I have strong opinions that say something,” Castro told me over the phone.
Besides calling out racial tropes in comedy, "Buenas Noches" also comments on the industry’s glaring sexism through the audience’s impassioned refusal to allow a woman guest host while Luca goes on vacation. Another episode, “Borderline Racist,” explores how racial and gender microaggressions manifest and heighten in relationships and within ourselves through a diverse group of “woke” men sharing war stories of their racist significant others. “Dónde Está la Biblioteca?” is a brilliant absurdist take on the pervasive use of the phrase (which translates to “Where is the library?” in English) in Spanish classes across the U.S.
Castro may not have set out to make a statement with his series, but alongside Donald Glover’s Atlanta and Issa Rae’s Insecure, the creator is a part of a growing movement in comedy that recognizes that mocking or insulting “the other” is not humorous. It’s just plain shitty.
But in Alternatino, Castro offers a nuanced Latinx perspective not often seen in mainstream media. “We have the point of view America needs right now,” Castro said. “What is today’s Latino? Just go ask a Latino person what a Latino person thinks. It’s not complicated. We are just like everyone else. We want to be seen as normal, nerdy people too.”
Most mainstream comedy centered around Latinxs punches down, making us the butt of the joke. The most widely known example is Sofía Vergara’s character, Gloria, on Modern Family. Gloria’s Colombian accent and imperfect command of the English language are frequent punchlines on the hit ABC sitcom.
To the contrary, Castro’s digital series expertly exploits Latinx stereotypes, exaggerating and then subverting them, forcing the viewer to confront their preconceived notions. Initially watching Buenas Noches, I assumed the sketch was parodying Latinx late-night television shows, but quickly realized the flamboyant characters weren’t being used to poke fun at Latinx culture or any other culture—in actuality, they were being used to comment on the broader issue of how people perceive those different from them. “I think we need to face our own prejudice,” Castro told me. “Change is uncomfortable, but we need to embrace the discomfort in order to talk about it. Once you move past the discomfort, you see how similar we all are. Alternatino is an homage to where we come from and a love letter to where we are going.”
“Comedy is a disarming tool that helps breed constructive dialogue instead of beating you over the head with it,” he said.
Castro is right. And in today’s political landscape—in which a presidential candidate announced his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, then became his party’s nominee—we need comedy more than ever to tear down the racist, sexist, and xenophobic divides currently plaguing our country. These divides are perpetuated by the shallow and harmful representation of rich and complicated cultures in media. Latinxs are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, making up 17% of the population. We hail from all over the Americas, each country with its own distinct dialect, sociopolitical history, and culture. There are 53 million Latinxs in the U.S. Yet, when you turn on your television (or power up your computer screen), we’re almost exclusively depicted as sassy sexpots, housekeepers, construction workers, criminals, and so on. Something is wrong when 53 million people are reduced to one-dimensional versions of ourselves. We deserve nuanced and diverse representation. And not just as “model minorities,” either—we should also have the opportunity to be average, mediocre, annoying, unlikable, or straight-up failures. There’s so much range and variety in white characters; why can’t we have the same?
The good news is that the tide is slowly shifting. Saturday Night Live finally hired its first Latina cast member in the show’s history, Melissa Villaseñor. NBC’s Superstore stars America Ferrera in a role that wasn’t written with a specific ethnicity or race in mind. And Castro’s Alternatino, too, is making a difference. The web series not only promises to alter your perception of Latinxs, but it’ll make you laugh your ass off while it does.
Ana Defillo is a Caracas-born, Miami-raised, NYC-based writer, improviser, and comedy performer.