There’s been a lot of talk about diversity at ABC’s TCA panels today, yet the network’s shows have all shared one constant: Virtually all their stars are thin. But after the panel on her new multi-camera comedy Cristela, stand-up comedian Cristela Alonzo, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, said she’s happy to represent the majority: People of average weight.
Alonzo was wearing a black Fitbit bracelet and said she plans to wear it on the show, in which she portrays an aspiring lawyer who moves back in with her family to pursue that goal. “You see all these shows that have thin people and you never see them eat, you never see them go to the gym,” she said. “Well, I eat. This is what America looks like. This is it.”
That said, even Alonzo is leaner than she once was, losing 40 pounds for health rather than appearance reasons, she said. Alonzo grew up poor in a Texas border town, the daughter of a single mom whose family was reduced to squatting in an abandoned diner for housing. Now, she’s trying to appeal to average Americans in all respects, even in her comedy, where she says she’s never done jokes about being Latino or female.
On the panel, she said the way to avoid stereotypes is to “try to speak honestly— don’t exaggerate what you are trying to say. Everyone is this show is based on someone I know.” That also means no topic is off limits, provided it’s approached with honesty. Alonzo was joined on the panel by other cast members, co-creator Kevin Hench and EPs Becky Clements and Marty Adelstein.
For example: In the pilot (shot on a shoestring budget on the borrowed set of another ABC comedy, Last Man Standing), a character expects Cristela to empty the office trash. “That happens to me all the time,” Alonzo said.
Alonzo performs frequently on college campuses and assesses her potential audience by visiting the local Wal-Mart. “If they have Mexican food and Mexican products, I know there will be a lot of Latinos in the audience.” If not, she adapts her routine, but focuses on honest answers to even loaded questions.
Once, she was asked why so often Latinos are seen riding in large numbers in a single car. The smug questioner was disarmed when she explained that the riders might be poor and, “if they don’t get the ride, they don’t go.”
Speaking of tight budgets: Now that Cristela is on the schedule, episodes will no longer be shot on that Last Man Standing set. Producers joked that they would have to explain the change of residence as an extreme home makeover. “We’ll have to write a joke,” said Hench.