After the 2016 election, comedian Ernie Bustamante noticed a lack of Latinx voices on cable news and late night TV. So, the politically-active performer started his own live show.
Once a month, television writer Ernie Bustamante hosts “The Latino Vote,” a comedy variety show where the comics break down politics and pop culture from a “brown-ish point of view.” He gathers the Latinx comedians at the Upright Citizen Brigade’s Sunset Boulevard complex, and tasks them with declaring who or what receives the eponymous honor.
On a recent Wednesday night, the panel led the conversation with the 2019 Oscars and a quote from Alfonso Cuarón, whose best director Oscar win for “Roma” marked his second victory in the category. Their main takeaway: representation of Hispanic Americans is still poor.
“By the way, there were only two U.S.-born Latinos nominated,” Bustamante said.
The comics concurred — representation of Latinx Americans for Academy Awards remains lousy — and declared that the Oscars did not get the Latino vote.
Who won the Latino vote? Detric “Fat” McGowan. He’s the guy who went viral after buying hundreds of dollars worth of Girl Scout cookies from a South Carolina troop and was later arrested in connection with an alleged drug-related conspiracy.
“I see nothing but hustlers loving each other and supporting each other,” said panelist Miss Angelina, a comedian and rapper known for her one-woman show “Sorta Rican.” “And isn’t that what America’s all about?”
The Latino Vote began as a Twitter account as a way for Bustamante to keep politics separate from his regular social media posts. During the course of the 2016 elections, however, Bustamante grew frustrated with the dearth of Latinx commenters on cable news and late-night television. That’s when he turned The Latino Vote into a live show.
“Oftentimes, when you’re on a stand-up show, you’re the only Latino comic. It’s hard to find other Latinx comics in the community and connect with them. With this show, we’re all together and get to meet new people.”
Since its inception in October 2016, The Latino Vote has traveled through several local theaters — its current home is UCB — and brought in a diverse mix of Latinx performers whose heritages range from Mexican to Dominican to Ecuadorian.
At this edition of The Latino Vote, all of the comedians were return guests.
“Oftentimes, when you’re on a stand-up show, you’re the only Latino comic,” says Danielle Perez, who performed at a recent February event. “It’s hard to find other Latinx comics in the community and connect with them. With this show, we’re all together and get to meet new people.”
For Bustamante, it’s also a way of bringing together his work in comedy with his passion for politics.
Bustamante, whose heritage includes Mexican and Puerto Rican ancestry, grew up in Mammoth, a small town in a rural southern Arizona. His steel-worker father had been a union president before running for state representative twice. He won on the second shot. Bustamante worked on both campaigns and subsequently became enamored with electioneering.
“You see firsthand why certain communities are voting for a certain candidate,” Bustamante says. “You’re messaging to certain people. How do you get white people to vote for you when you’re Latino and in Arizona? It’s incredibly complex.”
After finishing college at Stanford with a double major in political science and Chicano studies, Bustamante worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and intended to go to law school. However, things changed during the course of the election season. The young campaigner headed to Los Angeles to work on fundraising, much of which happened in Hollywood circles where he met writers and producers. In 2004, he settled in Los Angeles to pursue his newfound writing ambitions.
But politics still made its way into Bustamante’s work. His first sale was a TV movie for ABC Family about a girl running for mayor.
“Never got made,” he says, “but they paid me to write it and I joined the guild.”
“You see firsthand why certain communities are voting for a certain candidate. You’re messaging to certain people. How do you get white people to vote for you when you’re Latino and in Arizona? It’s incredibly complex.”
Since then, he has worked as a staff writer for the short-lived series “Rob,” as well as projects for Disney Channel and Disney XD. He has sold pilots to ABC, Fox, ABC Digital and a TV movie to Nickelodeon. Currently, he’s developing a show based on “Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx,” the memoir of actor Sonia Manzano who played Maria on “Sesame Street.”
“It’s a hustle,” Bustamante says. “Executives may not necessarily see or they may not be able to grasp the idea because they don’t see it in their day-to-day life.”
Bustamante remembers pitching a series based on Mike Padilla’s novel “The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina” and hearing that it was too similar to the television series “Devious Maids.”
“The only thing that’s similar is that it’s four Latinas … That experience led me to be more proactive,” he says.
With that in mind he recently created a web series called “Border Patrol,” a comedy about Border Patrol agents that will be screening at the HollyWeb Festival taking place March 26-30.
“I was addicted to MSNBC and the late night shows — I love watching them — but where are the Latino comedians? On MSNBC, they’re talking about the border wall and they’re talking about immigration, but then there are no Latino pundits, you don’t see that.”
It’s not the easiest story to pitch, particularly in light of recent news of families being separated at the border. However, about half of Border Patrol employees are Latino. Because he grew up in southern Arizona, Bustamante has a bit of perspective to lend.
“It’s the only good job,” he says. “Is it ideal? No, but what job is ideal? It’s a great federal job.”
In a way, The Latino Vote is coming from a similar place.
“I was addicted to MSNBC and the late night shows — I love watching them — but where are the Latino comedians?” he says. “On MSNBC, they’re talking about the border wall and they’re talking about immigration, but then there are no Latino pundits, you don’t see that.”
Bustamante conceived of the show as “a brown Bill Maher” with guests who may not always have the same read of a situation.
“That’s the only way anyone is going to see that Latinos have a very diverse viewpoint on everything,” he says.
Not everyone who turns up on stage at The Latino Vote is a political junkie, and that’s part of the point.
“But that doesn’t mean that their opinion is less valid,” Bustamante says.