I grew up in the Mission in San Francisco, a working class, largely (but by no means exclusively) Latino neighborhood. At the time, at least… these days it’s an Authenticity Theme Park for assholes who eat black beans and tofu in their burritos and drive Jettas. But I digress…
When I was about nine or so, my mom quit her job working in an antiques store and went back to graduate school. She ended up getting a master’s degree in Latin American Studies. One of her classmates was a member of Culture Clash, a comedy group that was then starting to gain some notoriety around SF and LA. Another member of the group worked at the Galleria de la Raza, down the street from my house. I was pretty dubious of attending anything my mother reccomended, but I went to see Culture Clash with her, maybe on the San Francisco State campus, I can’t remember. What I saw blew me away, and I’ve been going to see CC as often as I can (not too often, they live in LA now, and theater ain’t cheap) ever since.
What’s great about Culture Clash is the way they combine a set of pretty disparate elements into a whole that feels really organic… it’s sketch comedy, there’s some clown influence, some traditional Artistic Theater, some politics, some La Raza Pride (a subset of politics, of course). And they’re FUNNY.
In the years since I first saw them, they’ve broadened their scope, with a series of documentary theater pieces about various places… one of them was actually about the gentrification of the Mission. They’ve also tackled Aristophanes and even a TV show on FOX (this was back in the “Married… with Children” days)
When Carlos Mencia got famous last year for telling stupid offensive jokes about “beaners,” then patting himself on the back for breaking down barriers or whatever, I thought of CC. These guys really do break cultural taboos without fear, really do satirize both the racial politics of America and Latino lifestyles, and they really are FUNNY. Really, really funny. Above all else.
Culture Clash have a new show about Zorro, called “Zorro in Hell,” about to premier at Berkeley Rep. Richard Montoya, one of the group’s members, will be on the show this weekend. I’ll try not to gush.