Cristela Alonzo lived in Dallas when she began her career as a standup comedian in 2003. Now, fittingly, her sitcom alter ego lives here, too.
Cristela, which premieres at 7:30 p.m. Friday on ABC (Channel 8), isn’t completely autobiographical, but it’s close.
“The character in this show is very much who I am in person,” Alonzo says. “Everybody in this show is based on someone I know.” Both Cristelas also are lifelong Cowboys fans.
Here’s the most notable difference: Cristela the character aspires to make a better life for herself as a lawyer. Alonzo’s real-life goal was to do it by making people laugh.
So far, so good. Alonzo recently found her way onto Variety’s “10 Comics to Watch in 2014” list. The show, for which she’s also the co-creator and co-executive producer, is certain to broaden her fan base.
Given that Alonzo grew up in poverty in the South Texas border town of San Juan — her family was squatting in an abandoned diner for the first eight years of her life — it has been quite a journey already.
“Every step,” she says, “I keep thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe I’m here.’”
How did you begin your career in comedy?
I started doing standup in Dallas. I was the office manager at the Improv Comedy Club in Dallas. I was a big comedy nerd. I wanted to see standup all the time, every day.
The thing with standup, I liked that you could create your own material and perform it. I made a rule that I wouldn’t do any jokes about being Latino, and I wouldn’t do any jokes about being a woman, because that’s what they expected. And it worked.
Within a year and a half, I moved out to Los Angeles and I started writing on a show for Comedy Central and doing a couple of Comedy Central shows. When this show presented itself, I thought, “Wait a minute. I get to create the material and star in it? That’s just like standup.”
Your character is a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan who jokes in the pilot that she’s saving herself for Tony Romo (if he ever got divorced). Do you bleed blue and silver as much in real life?
I have been a Cowboys fan my entire life. I am aware that it’s been 18 years since we won a Super Bowl. Every year they break my heart, but every year I think this is going to be the year.
Are you a fan of the old-school, multicamera, studio-audience sitcom format that this show is using?
We grew up in poverty. Watching TV was my escape from that childhood. When I was a kid, Nick at Nite was the thing. I used to watch Car 54, Where Are You?; The Patty Duke Show; Dobie Gillis. I never felt Mister Ed. Every time Mister Ed would come on, it was like, “It’s time to change the channel.”
I also loved Roseanne, The Cosby Show, Cheers, Night Court and Murphy Brown.
Is it hard or easy to make a network sitcom about a Latino family without playing the stereotypes?
I think it’s really simple. As long as you’re honest and right with something, with authenticity, you’ll never go into the stereotypical area.
David Martindale is an Arlington freelance writer.
7:30 p.m. Friday, ABC (Channel 8). 30 mins.