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Interrogation: Ricky Carmona on ¡Salsation!

The latest production from smash sketch group ¡Salsation! has been extended twice over, and is running every Thursday this month (including tonight!) at the Gorilla Tango Theatre. We got a chance to chat with Ricky Carmona, one of the original co-founders of the group, to find out a little more about the current show, The Devil Wears Chanklas, and about life as a Latino comedian.
The Devil Wears Chanklas has been now twice extended, and will continue through the month of July. Can you briefly describe what the show is like for those that still haven't been to see it?

If you haven't come out to see the show you gotta get on that, people! It's a solid, funny, smart show. The cast is tight and you get to see some awesome performers onstage. Most importantly, the show is funny and it's something we're all proud of as a whole. There are sketches that speak specifically to and about Latinos and there are sketches where it crosses over to everyone. There are sketches about gentrification and there are sketches about vampires, Superman, boxing. It's everythang. That was one of our goals as a group from the get go. Definitely from my perspective coming into the show and the group, my thinking was, "we're called Salsation. We're all Latino. Just look at us. If you don't get the Latino angle on our appearances alone then I don't know what to tell you." I didn't want to have sketches where everyone hits you over the head that "this is Latino comedy". I want everyone in the audience laughing just as hard at every sketch, whether it's a sketch about Humboldt Park, or your grandparents, or going out on a date.

From your perspective as a Latino comedian in Chicago, do you find that the art is segregated or is that a false claim?

Definitely the art is segregated. How many times do you see Southside comics performing on the Northside and vice versa? If it's not an audition that's bringing everybody together on a weekday morning at Zanies or a Montreal audition at the Lincoln Lodge on a Friday night then people are going to stick to their sides of town. There's a lot of factors that come into play that may explain it all and rationalize it but it boils down to the fact that the different sides of town don't cross over as much as they should and the end result is we don't get to see as many funny comedians as we should. It's a booking issue too. The people who book rooms need to travel out of their safe zone and see what's happening in different rooms in the city. I get disappointed in a room on the Northside when they book the same 3-4 acts from the Southside once a year, not because I don't like to see those comedians, but because I know that if there is this amazing group of talent that's coming from that side of town then there has to be more. And there are. There are so many funny comics who don't perform on "our side" of town that it boggles my mind.

Have you ever had an unpleasant experience within the art because of your ethnicity?

I've had some bad moments. Off the top of my head I can remember a booker once told me "Don't do any ghetto shit." That was before he even saw me onstage! He hadn't even seen my act yet but he was already thinking I was gonna go up there and be ignorant. I doubt he was telling all the comics who came through the club that warning. It'd be hilarious to see him telling every comic that though. "Hey Kumail, no ghetto shit buddy. Not tonight." I do have to thank that booker though because I ended up telling that story onstage and it got me great laughs for a nice little run.

I don't know if this is an unpleasant experience but it's always interesting to me when a comic will be onstage and they might say something racial and people in the crowd will look at me like "what's his reaction?" Who gives a shit what my reaction is? If you don't like it or don't find it funny, react to it on your own.

From the ¡Salsation! Theatre Company's 2003 revue "Veracruz!" Performed by Sonia Astacio, Diana Campos, Josie Dykas and Sylvia Alvarado. Written by Sonia Astacio, Diane Herrera, Diana Campos and Ed Garza. Directed by Ed Garza. Peformed at Teatro Luna in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.

Can you describe similarities or differences from ten years ago, when Salsation was first formed, to present-day, regarding Latino comedians and Latino-inspired comedy?

We did celebrate our tenth anniversary . . . In my ideal world I'd love to see the whole group together with all the members past and present and see what can happen. There have been some amazing, talented people who have been with the group over the years that I would love to see come together and do something special. There's no other group in Chicago that does sketch comedy with an all Latino cast. There wasn't one when I was with the group ten years ago, and there hasn't been one since I've come back. The fact that Salsation has been around as long as it has is a testament unto itself. That's a credit to Salsation as a whole and the audiences that have come out and supported the shows over the years.

What I have seen change over time in regards to Latino-inspired comedy locally is the presence in the stand-up scene and how big it's grown. Not just comedian- and audience-wise but production-wise as well. And I want to give a big ass shout out and credit to Mikey O. for what he does in this city in regards to comedy, stand-up comedy, Latino comedy. If people haven't been to a Mikey O. show they don't know what they're missing. It boggles my mind when I see local papers talk about the best places to see comedy in this city and they'll name rooms that I go to and they won't mention Mikey O. shows at all. You go to a Mikey O. show and it's gonna be a party. Wednesday night, middle of the week, Mikey's got crowds in there 300 strong having a good time. He gives us a chance to go up there and shine. Mikey doesn't care if you're Latino, white, black, he cares about you being funny and that the audience has a good time. [Local weekly paper] The Reader did a story on Mikey recently and they saw what he does and they were like, "we didn't know this was happening." Really?!!? Where have you been, because he's been here promoting and making it happen for quite some time now. The people have been sleeping and look what they're missing. Comics like Joey V., who Mikey O. was the first to put up, both he and myself have been on HBO-Latino; Alex Ortiz has been on BET and NBC; the national headliners Mikey brings in... I'm telling you, it's a solid show that is put up by him errrrrytime. He's done a lot for us and I'm forever grateful.

Overall we are more of a presence now than ever before. Salsation has gone from doing shows in the front of bars to audiences of 6-12 people to having runs at Second City e.t.c. and Gorilla Tango Theatre, going on tours and entering festivals. You can see Latinos doing stand-up comedy at Joe's On Weed St. And audiences are coming out and supporting it. I believe the audiences were always there but there wasn't as large of a scene as there is now. Now we have some great, talented people on stage and producers behind the scenes who are giving something that audiences are enjoying. And it's still going to get bigger. Every time a show happens that means someone in the audience could watch it and go, "Hey, I'd like to try that," and that could be a potential future performer. None of this right now is as big as it can be, especially in a city like Chicago where comedy is one of the things we are known for.

After Salsation's current show ends, director Patrick Garone says that they will begin prepping the touring show, to debut in September at college campuses around the country. Talks of a smaller studio show in December is in the works, and then the group will prepare their entry into the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival in January. By the time the festival is completed, the group will have begun work on their new show, to debut next spring.

--Kristy Mangel

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