How one Venezuelan comic is turning the U.S. comedy scene on its head
U.S. Latino comedians have largely become successful by performing in English, but one Venezuelan comic is flipping the narrative by selling out shows and drawing a massive online following with his entirely Spanish-language sets.
The big picture: The surging popularity of 29-year-old Angelo Colina comes as demand for Spanish-language content grows.
- The U.S. is home to the second-largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, behind Mexico.
Zoom in: Most successful Latino comedians — think George Lopez and Cristela Alonzo — have long performed in English.
- Colina, who moved to the U.S. at age 24 to help support his family in Salt Lake City, tells Axios he didn't always perform in Spanish.
- "It was mostly knowing that everything that I wrote in Spanish and then translated to English was better than writing in English from the start," says Colina, who now lives in New York.
- He pulls much of his material from his life experiences, exposing the intricacies of Latino identity. He jokes in one video that he doesn't need therapy because his barber is Dominican.
- In a bilingual, viral sketch, Colina portrays an insurance representative talking to a customer played by comedian and TV writer Joanna Hausmann. Each person suspects the other is Venezuelan, but instead of asking, the caller awkwardly drops slang to confirm she's speaking to a fellow Venezuelan.
Like Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, who has never released an English-only track to appease commercial audiences, Colina doesn't feel the need to constrain himself to English-speaking audiences.
- "Doing comedy in English … you really have to explain why you have an accent. You kinda go into these identity politics," he says.
- In 2021, Colina teamed up with Venezuelan comedian Andrés Sereno to launch a tour called "Español Please."
- "Español Please" has sold out numerous shows and features other Latino comedians.
- Colina in an Instagram post attributed his invitation to the White House last year to the fact that he performs in Spanish.
Flashback: After moving to Utah, Colina worked at a convenience store and a T-Mobile while writing jokes and sketches on the side.
- He gave his first-ever stand-up performance in English at an open mic in 2019 at Wiseguys Comedy Club at The Gateway in Salt Lake City.
- Colina says he tried multiple times to get an open mic spot at the respected venue. But it wasn't until one of his online sketches went viral on Twitter that he was accepted to perform.
- "I love Utah, and I love Salt Lake City now, but at the time, it was hard," he says, adding he was often the only Latino comedian with an accent at a venue.
- Colina is slated to return to Wiseguys for back-to-back shows March 8 and 9.
What they're saying: "The advent of putting comedy on the internet sort of made a lot of comedians realize that there were these subsets and these groups of people that were interested in Spanish comedy for so long," Hausmann tells Axios.
- "He's very specific and true to who he is as a Venezuelan, who arrived in Utah and then moved to New York," she says.
What's next: Colina is on a national tour, intentionally visiting cities that don't have a robust Latino population, including Indianapolis, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Louisville, Kentucky.