Ben DeJesus is not doing too bad for himself at 35-years-old. He was a writer for three seasons for “MTV Cribs,” wrote and produced for VH1’s “All Access” and created his own production company called Diamante Pictures, among other commercials and television content.
However, he says his favorite accomplishment so far is one he just completed three days ago – the production of “Tales from a Ghetto Klown” – a 52 minute documentary about actor/comedian John Leguizamo’s journey as he mounts his latest one-man show. The documentary will be airing this Friday as part of the PBS Arts Summer Festival.
“This is someone who I grew up with as one of my idols,” says DeJesus, whose goal is to tell great stories and also to entertain. “Just working with him hand in hand has really been an honor for me.”
DeJesus grew up in Trenton, NJ and studied theater at Rutgers University. He says he would buy half-price tickets to see Leguizamo perform, and he has books from 15 years ago written by the comedian. He was his role model.
“Just being in theater and being Latino,” says DeJesus about what Leguizamo taught him. “…that we can do it and we can go after our dreams. He’s someone who made it so far and didn’t turn his back on the community, and highlighted who we were in a way nobody else did.”
Finally getting to meet him, and work with him, has far from let him down.
“Besides being a funny guy and hard-working, he’s genuinely interested in the people around him,” says DeJesus. “So many actors say they started doing a one-man show because of him. I think it’s hard for him to take in. I’ve seen him get taken aback.”
He says he was first introduced to his childhood hero in person about two years ago, when he was approached to produce some video spoofs with Leguizamo on NGLMedia.com.
“We had a great connection,” says DeJesus. “I found out he was rehearsing for his show…After the first day, I was convinced that he had a good story to tell, and I just kept going back the next day and the next day…”
He says they had been thinking about doing a documentary, and he had happened to be there at the right time. For two years, DeJesus would be there filming all the highlights and rehearsals, and the post-production costs of more than $25,000 was paid for by fans on Kickstarter.
“We did a documentary on the process of what it took to get to Broadway,” says Leguizamo. “This is the formula for getting a show up and running. We reveal the secret.”
DeJesus accompanied Leguizamo everywhere from Chicago to Broadway on opening and closing night, and then all the way to Colombia.
“We didn’t know Colombia was going to happen…It was the hardest he worked in decades. He put in all the time and effort, and it paid off…It was a cultural reawakening – what we capture in the film.”
“Tales from a Ghetto Clown” starts chronologically with Leguizamo’s background as a young man in Queens, NY.
“We rode the subway together while he’s telling his anecdotes of his growing up,” says DeJesus. “We work our way telling stories of the rehearsals…Despite his track record there were no guarantees…After Broadway, it goes into preparations for Colombia.”
One memorable moment he remembers is when they were in Chicago on opening night of “Ghetto Klown.”
“There was the biggest blizzard in the last 20 years, and every other theater was closed except ours,” says DeJesus, still in disbelief. “He felt like he needed to work, so even if two people showed up, he would put on the show. Some people came on skis in full snow gear, and then when the show ended, he had to dig himself out.”
However, he says his favorite part of the experience was watching a master at work on his craft.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience to see John having to overcome his own insecurities and having to plow through his fears of failure and just go through it,” says DeJesus. “I learned from John. You start picking up habits and techniques of people who are really successful. I learned to not give up and go for my vision, despite any obstacles in the way.”