It sounds incongruous: an organization providing housing and support services for homeless people sponsors a night of stand-up comedy.
Isn’t that a bit tone deaf?
Not at all. For one thing, it’s a fundraiser. When you ask for money — even for a cause that’s no laughing matter — it helps to offer something in return.
For another, the 4 comedians headlining Homes With Hope‘s June 20 “Stand Up At Home” benefit all believe in the organization, and its mission.
Cristela Alonzo sure does. She’s the first Latina to create, produce, write and star in her own US primetime comedy (ABC’s “Cristela”). She’s also the first Latina lead in a Disney Pixar film (“Cars 3”).
Plus this: For the first 8 years of Alonzo’s life, her family squatted in an abandoned South Texas diner. Her mother worked double shifts as a waitress, but they were homeless and destitute.
Alonzo is eager to participate in next month’s livestream. She is particularly inspired by Homes With Hope’s sponsorship of Project Return, the program that teaches life skills to homeless young women ages 18 to 24 in a warm, safe environment.
The comedian relates strongly to them. Her Mexican mother — who died when Alonzo was 22 — never learned English. She never met her father.
Alonzo was working as a server when she answered a help wanted ad for office help. It turned out to be a comedy club. She lied about her qualifications, and got the job.
“Everyone I knew did physical labor,” she said the other day from her home in California. “I never knew stand-up comedy was a job. Using your mind seemed outlandish, impossible.”
Comics at the club liked her. Some encouraged her to try comedy herself. Keith Robinson predicted that one day she’d be a comedian. She thought they were being nice.
A year later, Alonzo gave it a shot. “It stuck,” she said simply.
Her style is “very personal. If I mention healthcare, I talk about how we made do without it.” She paused. “In a funny way, of course.”
She’s had support from icons like Wanda Sykes. But — as a Latina comedian at a time when there were virtually no others — she forged her own path. “I built my house while designing the blueprint,” is her description.
Yet comedy is only one part of Alonzo’s life. She is an activist on behalf of Latinos, immigrants, the disenfranchised and underrepresented. She sits on the advisory boards of organizations like People for the American Way; La Union del Pueblo Entero, founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and Define American, a nonprofit media and culture group.
“Talking about my struggles normalizes them,” she said. “I thrive in the trenches. When I do stand-up, I can talk about what I have learned doing activism.”
For the once homeless comedian, comedy is “a dream come true. I love it.”
And next month she’ll love helping an important Westport organization raise much-needed funds, so they can keep helping homeless people too.
(Joining Cristela Alonzo on the”Stand Up at Home For Homes With Hope” livestream on June 20 are Roy Wood Jr., the host of Comedy Central’s storytelling series “This is Not Happening”; Hari Kondabolu, whose comedy album “Mainstream American Comic” debuted at #1 on iTunes, and Mark Normand, whom Jerry Seinfeld called “the best young up-and-coming comic” in 2019. There are special appearances by Staples High School graduate/”Dear Evan Hansen,” “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land” composer/lyricist Justin Paul; Westport resident/former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. For tickets and more information, click here.)