Conversations at the Top: John Leguizamo Talks

Quoted excerpts from Ruben Navarrette's interview with Comedian, Actor, and Author John Leguizamo for our "Conversations at the Top" series

Comedian, Actor, Author, Producer, Playwright, and Director John Leguizamo speaks to his experience in Hollywood, on Broadway, and beyond.

John Talks: Pushing Boundaries in Comedy

“When I did Mambo Mouth, I wanted to push American comedy and have darker themes and edges and go from comedy to drama in zero to sixty seconds. With each show I wanted to do something hopefully that no one had ever done. I wanted to push the boundaries [of art and storytelling] and the limits of what’s acceptable.

John Leguizamo
John Leguizamo, Cofounder and Partner, NGL Collective Photo by Cass Davis

“I knew [Freak] was going to be groundbreaking and pioneering because I knew nobody had done that before in terms of being a Latinx person. In terms of comedy in America and one-man shows, nobody was doing autobiographical stories about themselves and showing the horrors of childhood. It was always so candy-coated. One-man shows were usually about Abraham Lincoln or Samuel Clemens. I didn’t do it because I thought I was so fascinating. My pain was something that was everybody else’s gain. I really felt that.”

John Talks: Vulnerability and Responsibility

“As a dad, you’re responsible for this life, and you’re responsible for how you shape this life. And I take this responsibility with huge respect. I want to protect this little life, this vulnerable life that I’ve been charged with. How do I send this vulnerable spirit into a world that can sometimes be incredibly harsh?

“That was the whole thing of Latin History for Morons. All this Latin history—that we helped make America, that America wouldn’t exist without us—is so that other Latinx people aren’t vulnerable, and so that they can speak out and be proud and loud and say, ‘I’m Latinx, and I made America. You can’t take that away from me.’

“For us to go out there and be vulnerable in America without the protection of our contributions is not fair and not right. I wanted to correct that.”

John Talks: Latin History (and Latin History for Morons)

“We participated in the Civil War and the American Revolution in huge numbers and [made] huge contributions—financially and with blood and lives. And in World War I and World War II, and all the wars that this country has had. I wanted everybody to know that and everybody to understand that.

“I just did some reshoots on Latin History for Morons for Netflix. Netflix generously and bravely supported me because during the tour I got the courage to say even more historical facts and add more stats. So, they’re going to recut it into the new Latin History for Morons. I want to mention about the World War II heroes that we had, the World War I heroes. I’m going to name names, and I’m going to name heroes who won Civil War Medals of Honor directly from Abraham Lincoln who were Latinx.”

John Leguizamo
Photo by Cass Davis

John Talks: Behind the Numbers

“How can [Hispanics] be the largest ethnic group in America and be so absent, so invisible? It’s crazy. We’re 50 percent of the population of Los Angeles, but less than 4 percent of the faces in front of and behind the camera. That’s cultural apartheid anywhere else in the world. When we’re equal to whites in population in New York City, but less than 1 percent of the stories or staff at the New York Times, New York Post, New York Magazine . . . that’s cultural apartheid. When we’re 40 percent of the population in Texas and less than 7 percent of appointed government officials, that’s cultural apartheid. When we’re 50 percent of the population in the worst public schools in America, but less than 3 percent of the students in the gold standard schools, that’s cultural apartheid.

“Yet at the same time that we’re being held back, oppressed, excluded, denied. We added $2.3 trillion to the US economy. If we were our own country, we would be the eighth largest economy in the world. . . . I mean, our contributions, we’re unstoppable.

“We need Latin executives. We need Latin editors at the New York Post, at the New York Times, and Latin decision-makers in Hollywood. We need Latin executives who understand our stories, who see the value of what we’re trying to say and tell.”

John Talks: The Impact of NGL Collective

NGL Collective is a company that I helped to create and grow with the intention of having an impact on the Latinx media and entertainment landscape and providing opportunities for our community to change its narrative. My hope is that NGL will go down as being remembered as groundbreakers and pioneers in creating a path for the multitude of Latinx talent hungry to be seen.”

Read the full “Conversations at the Top” feature ⟶

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