Put in your time, be prepared for life on the road, and be funny. Those rules are quintessential when it comes to the art of stand-up comedy and Cristela Alonzo has mastered that list and then some. Hanging up the mic for now (although she promises it's never for good), this talented lady has landed herself a TV gig and, it's a big one at that. Her show "Cristela" debuts on ABC this Friday (October 10th) at 8:30 p.m. and we had the chance to chat with her to find out how the show came to be and what we are in store for the first season.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): I heard that this show idea was turned down so you filmed your own pilot and ABC picked it up. Pretty crazy!
Cristela Alonzo: Yes! We pitched the idea last season and all of the networks were interested in it but we ended up going with ABC because they gave us the biggest commitment. They bought the show with a penalty attached because they were so sure that we were going to shoot a pilot, we were all really sure that we were going to get it shot. When it came time to pick up the pilot, our show wasn't picked. There were a lot of heavy hitters out there like Kevin Hart, Anthony Anderson, and even Henry Winkler so they just didn't have room for me because they had a lot of big name projects. For the next couple of weeks, I just thought it was nice that I had that shot and I went back on the road. Two weeks later, I was in San Antonio and I got a call from my executive producer Becky Clements and she had convinced the network and the studio to give us the money to shoot a pilot presentation. She wanted to shoot our script so everyone could get a sense of what the show would be about if we ever had the chance to make it. No one had ever done that before! We were the first show to do it! So we put it together in about three weeks and we knew it was a long shot but everything aligned perfectly and when we turned it into the network and to the studio, everyone loved it. Our show was the one everyone was calling "the little show that could." It really is the Cinderella show of the season. It's like a zombie pilot because it came back from the dead. [Laughs.]
That is truly awesome. It really is a Cinderella story.
Yeah and I'm really lucky to have paired up with Kevin Hench and Becky Clements. I couldn't have picked better people to pair up with who wanted to do it as a labor of love. I mean, we made this pilot on a shoestring budget and we did it because we really wanted to show people what we could do.
That's really, really cool. Did you have a hand in assembling the cast as well? I saw that Gabriel Iglesias is in it, did you have him in mind all along?
I was involved with the casting process as well and everyone auditioned. The woman who plays my sister, Maria Canals-Barrera, I had in mind because she has the same kind of feel that my sister has in real life. I knew she was the woman who had to play my sister, no one could tell me different. She's like my sister, she is a sister. Gabriel and I have been friends for about 13 years and he did the pilot as a favor. He came and shot and had such a good time, he said he wanted to be part of the show. He's not a series regular but we have him as a recurring guest star. We're ordered for 13 episodes now and he's going to be in about eight of them.
That's fantastic! I know the premise of the show but can you break it down in your own words for me?
Sure! The plot of the show is a true story of my life when I had to move in with my sister to help take care of her kids and my mom. So, it happened. It takes place in Dallas and I wanted to tell the story from really the smack middle of America, because that's where I came from. For me, I want to show people that I represent where a lot of Latinos are right now and where a lot of people are right now. We're multigenerational, multicultural people. I'm American, but I'm Mexican and I have ties to my Mexican culture. I just wanted to show that even though we look different, every family is so much alike. We all have the same problems and the same joys. I wanted to do what the Cosby Show did and show that even though we look different, we are all the same deep down.
You brought up it being about where Latinos are now but I have a feeling that every culture will relate.
Oh for sure! I think people call it a "Latino show" because we're brown in the show. [Laughs.] The only reason that people notice that is because you don't see that many brown people on the air. [Laughs.] To get any show on the air is such a challenge and luckily I came in at the right time and they liked the story I had to show them. I also wanted to show a single girl who's main priority isn't to find "Mr. Right." I wanted to show that it was OK to be concerned about your career and to wait until you were ready to have it. I feel like a lot of shows that showcase single women have then being unfulfilled because they don't have a man. A lot of women have the career and the ambition but they're also very close with their families.
Ha! Amen sister! Well the show looks so funny and I'm totally pumped to see it. I know stand-up is where you got your start so just to be clear, you won't be turning your back on the stand-up stage, correct?
Oh yeah! I never want to be that person who gets a show and forgets about stand-up! It's really important to me. I wanted to take the first part of the year off so I could put my full attention into the show. But, starting in January, I'll be doing stand-up dates on the weekends while I'm shooting the show during the week. Even now I still pick up sets. I'm at The Comedy & Magic Club every weekend that I'm available. I don't want to quit because I love stand-up. Stand-up is what got me this opportunity. Not doing stand-up would be like turning my back on the thing that got me here.
Be sure to tune in for the premiere of "Cristela" this Friday (October 10th) at 8:30pm on ABC. For more info, check out her website www.CristelaAlonzo.com, Instagram, Facebook, the show's website www.abc.go.com/shows/cristela, and follow her on Twitter @Cristela9.