Patti Vasquez decided to become a comedian when she first saw Margaret Cho. She says she saw many similarities between Cho’s Korean mother, who is a big part of her routine, and her own Mexican mother.
“It never occurred to me that I had a story to tell until I heard someone tell one much like mine,” she says.
So she took the plunge and dropped out of graduate school to pursue comedy.
Vasquez describes her current comedy as a journey of what’s going on in her head. “I talk about the foibles and follies of the people around me,” she says.
Dropping out of grad school to tell others her story through comedy proved to be the right choice since she has now appeared on various television shows and has headlined in comedy clubs and colleges all over the United States, Canada and Europe.
Women like Vasquez are breaking barriers. Being both a woman and a Latina in an already competitive and male-dominated profession presents a unique set of obstacles. Everyone knows who George Lopez is, but there is no Latina stand-up comedian who has reached that level of fame. Sure you can point to Sofia Vergara and how she has carved her place in “Modern Family” as the funny Latina, but so far no Latina stand-up comedians have made it big on the screen.
Marga Gomez, a comedian who started out in the gay comedy scene in San Francisco over 20 years ago, says women are discouraged from being comics because comedy is very powerful. Latinas must also first overcome cultural obstacles and then navigate a field that is often very homogenous.
“Women are marginalized. Latinos are marginalized,” she says. “If as a Latina comic you want to talk about your experience, it’s hard to make it relevant to the larger audience.”
Monique Marvez, who has appeared on the “Latin Divas of Comedy” and the “The Bad Girls of Comedy,” believes Latinas are often taught that family comes first and must sublimate their desires. “It took me well into my 30s because I had to undo my Latina inculcation,” she says.
Another “Latin Diva of Comedy,” Sandra Contreras, whose material focuses on social commentary and women’s experiences, says, “It’s a constant struggle to be recognized by non-Latino audiences. There is still a resistance to allow Latinas to take a lead.”
She believes, however, that some Latinas also pigeon-hole themselves by basing their material on stereotypes, which she refuses to do. “I won’t make fun of my people,” she says.
Vasquez believes there has been a resistance to female comedians in general and people often tell her “I usually don’t like female comedians, but I think you’re funny.”
There is no denying that women are funny, no matter how many times male comedians argue otherwise and no matter how many articles try to refute this. And becoming a successful Latina comedian is incredibly challenging but not impossible. These women prove it.
“Don’t let the common belief that Latina women can’t make it in comedy stop you,” Gomez says.
Understanding how difficult it is to make it in the business, Gomez makes an effort to include new Latina comics at Comedy Bodega, a weekly show she hosts in San Francisco’s only Latino Drag Club.
Marvez uses a particular image to illustrate her advice to other Latinas pursuing comedy– “There are two steps,” she says, “Open the kimono — let people see who you are. Then drop it to the ground. You have to find your own voice. The more personal you can make something, the more universal it becomes.”
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Madrid, Spain, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for The Huffington Post and other publications. You can find her onTwitter, Facebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com