Latinos are funny. Or at least American audiences seem to think so. From the sequences of major motion pictures, to the stand-up routines of alternative comics, Latino characters are popping up in almost every facet of American comedy.
The trend is not a new one -- Latinos have been comedic relief in American entertainment for decades. In the fifties, Desi Arnaz played up his Latino identity in "I Love Lucy", portraying the loveable Cuban band conductor, Ricky Ricardo. In the sixties, actor Bill Dana of Hungarian-Jewish descent portrayed the dim-witted Jose Jimenez on "The Ed Sullivan Show". And in the seventies, Cheech, from the comedic-duo Cheech and Chong, often used his Mexican-American identity in developing his punch line. However, as the Latino population in the United States has increased, so too it seems has the tendency to use us for comedic fodder in mainstream American comedy.
Like Desi Arnaz and Cheech, many modern Latino comedians poke fun at their own culture. Comics like George Lopez, Pablo Francisco and Bill Santiago often tailor their content to a Latino viewership. On the other hand, certain Hispanic comedians seem to appeal to a broader, non-Latino audience. Actress Sofia Vergara, for example, plays Gloria, a sassy Colombian mother on ABC's "Modern Family", and Fred Armisen, who is half-Venezuelan, has played a number of Latino characters on shows like "Saturday Night Live" and "Parks and Recreation".
But the phenomenon is greater than just Latinos making fun of other Latinos -- everyone is doing it these days. Shows like Saturday Night Live and MadTV have demonstrated an affinity for satirizing the melodrama of Spanish soap operas and talk shows. Non-Latino comedian Jack Black finds inspiration from lucha libre fights, comic Nick Kroll from Latino radio shows hosts, and stand-up comedienne Maria Bamford, from her Mexican neighbor, Carlos.
While the line between offensive and amusing is of course a fine one, goofy Latino characters have become a staple of sitcoms and comedy routines. More than ever, non-Latinos are living next to us, marrying us, eating our food, learning our language, and encountering "Sabado Gigante" while flipping through cable. As we play a larger role in the American experience, perhaps we too should expect larger roles in American comedy.