After two decades of stand-up comedy, Christela Alonzo said she has finally joined the ranks of the middle class.
The 43-year-old Texas native, who currently lives in Los Angeles, shared the hardships she and her family faced growing up in poverty in her first Netflix special, Lower Class, in 2016. Middle Class, her new comedy from Netflix, will be released on streaming platforms worldwide on June 28.
“It all started during the writing of ‘Lower Classy’, when I was barely making my way to a level of life that I’m not used to,” Alonzo said during a recent phone interview. “Being able to take care of yourself is a completely different level than just making ends meet, and that’s a lesson I had to learn. That’s the difference between the lower and middle class.”
Alonzo made history as the first Latina to create, produce and star in her own ABC sitcom, Cristela, which aired in prime time during the 2014-2015 season. Two years later, she became the first Latina to voice a lead character in a Disney/Pixar film when she played Cruz Ramirez in the animated film Cars 3. She has overcome several barriers in her career and said she hopes to inspire others to do the same in their lives.
“It’s incredible, and at the same time it’s hard to believe that you are the first in something,” she said. “I was not the first in this career, but it is strange to think about how many firsts we still have to do across the board. Look, we didn’t have a woman president. There are so many things that you think have already happened. The point about being first is that you hope the first will show people that it shouldn’t be the last. This means that we are here now; Now we have a seat at the table.”
She’s come a long way since she started stand-up 20 years ago while working out of the office at the Addison Improv in Dallas. At an early age, she learned to deal with difficult situations using humor. She turned to comedy after the death of her mother in 2002. She was her primary caregiver for several years, and when she died, Alonzo said she was stuck in Dallas with no job. She tweaked her resume a bit to get a job at Improv, but soon found herself joking on stage.
“The more I watched the comics, the more I realized that many of them were actually about their own experiences, were very personal and talked about complex things,” she recalls. “I got it, wait, I can’t afford to talk to [a therapist] about the struggle of losing my mother, so I started writing jokes about my mom. So I started doing stand-up. Since then, it has just evolved, and I always told myself that I would stop doing it when it stopped being fun; It just hasn’t stopped being fun.”
In the new special, filmed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills back in January, Alonzo talks about the new ‘luxuries’ she can finally afford, including health insurance, dental visits and therapy for active work. above oneself. mental health.
“I really thought I was just poor and that’s why I was sad,” she said. Initially hesitant, she went to a therapist and a psychiatrist and quickly saw the benefits of taking care of her mental health, discovering that it was not embarrassing to be open about it.
“The psychiatrist told me, ‘If you have a physical condition like high blood pressure and you take medication for it, why don’t you do it for your mental health? Your mental health is also health,” she said. “When he said that, that simplification made me realize how I had avoided it for so long because my family had avoided it. I took the medicine and my life has completely changed and now I can understand and appreciate happiness in a different way. I wanted everyone to know about this because there are so many people who can’t afford it, but there are these programs that can help people. If you can afford it, I want to tell people that you can get help and try it because it works.”
When she’s not writing new material for her stand-up or other projects, Alonzo is an advocate for universal health care and immigration rights; she comes from a family of mixed status and works with a number of non-profit organizations. The new comedy features performances by labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas.
“The reason I wanted them both to be there is because they are a reflection of who I am as a person,” she said. “As I was putting together this issue, I started thinking about how different I am from who I was in the first issue. I dedicated a lot more time to the community and I wanted to show people where I am in my life right now and show that protection is very important to me. It’s not just something I learned a few years ago, it’s part of who I am.”
Another benefit of finally reaching middle-class status, Alonzo says, is that she can now afford to buy some of the toys she didn’t have as a child. She has been obsessed with Lego sets for years and is currently building Back to the Future DeLoreans while on the road. She also just ordered Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night and Transformers Optimus Prime Lego sets, which will be waiting in her Los Angeles apartment when she gets home.
“I buy at least two sets every month,” she said. “I describe my apartment as a mid-century Pee-wee Theatre. You walk through the door and you don’t know if a woman in her 40s or a 14 year old boy lives there. But I love Lego. I think they are great and I think they are funny. And again, I didn’t grow them, so I guess I’m just catching up.”