Originally published on Turnstylenews.com, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.
By: Cindy Casares
This week TBS announced its decision not to renew Lopez Tonight, the George Lopez late night comedy vehicle that premiered in 2009. Now that the last episode has come and gone and America is back to being a Latino-less late night nation, it's with great sadness that this Latina has decided we're better off. And I'm not alone. The thing is, George Lopez's comedy relied heavily, if not completely, on ethnic stereotypes. And that is something that, to the young late night audience, is so last millennium.
I wasn't always a Lopez hater. When I first heard his stand-up album Right Now, Right Now way back in 2001, I'll admit I was amused by his working-class, Mexican-American references. When he quoted his hard-nosed grandmother smacking him upside the head and then asking in her Mexican-American cadence, "Why you crying?" I cracked up because I knew women like his grandmother, too. Now that I think about it, women like that exist in every ethnic group. That might be why I found it funny. It wasn't Latino comedy at all. It was universal.
But when Lopez crossed over to mainstream television, he had to make his jokes more inclusive. Rather than write about more universal subject matter, he lazily substituted the word Latino for Mexican, which any Mexican or Latino knows is not the same thing. And he kept ramming those "Latino = Poor + Lazy + Alcoholic" jokes down America's throats. Worst of all, the jokes themselves were just not well crafted. Even racist jokes should be done with finesse.
Lopez's comedy worked great in sit-com format, which isn't too surprising because traditional family sit-coms, with their laugh tracks, have since become as antiquated as the silent film. The self-titled George Lopez enjoyed a respectable five-year run on ABC and was immediately picked up by Nick-At-Night in re-runs. That was in 2007. Fast forward two years, when Lopez Tonight premiered, and a lot had changed on the American cultural landscape. Gays were marrying legally and undocumented workers were marching in the streets for their human rights. Oh and, p.s., we had elected a black president. This was not the time to be labeling a historically marginalized group as lazy and alcoholic-even if you were part of that group. Lopez did everything he could to keep the negative image of Latinos going, and it backfired.
On the night of his premiere, George spent his first monologue talking about the "revolution beginning" and pointing out how his audience consisted of "a rainbow of people coming together for the common bond of bringing change to late night TV." Then followed up with a slew of awkward, even incomprehensible racist jokes.
"The longer you stay married, everyone will be black in bed."
"The longer you're married, the darker the room becomes." (He had to rephrase the joke because no one laughed.)
Then there was the segment where he asked audience members to guess whether the Filipina lady had ever given a "happy ending" or whether the black guy had ever been to jail. This was a "revolution" from the late night white boys club?
The sad part is there is no Latino on the horizon to take George's place. I have faith, though, that he or she is out there, honing their comedy skills on YouTube or maybe just making their classmates squirt milk out their nose. Either way, with the death of Lopez Tonight, they have a chance to step into a new era of American comedy, one that doesn't use ethnicity as a substitute for talent.