Brave New Theater
Send in the Ghetto Klown: John Leguizamo on his way to Austin with new one-manshow
He's played a drag queen, a prehistoric sloth, an Impressionist painter, a killer clown and a Shakespearean villain. With a 20+ year old film career that spans the full spectrum of movie genres, actor John Leguizamo has seen all that Hollywood has to offer and lived to tell the tale.
And in his new one man stage show, Ghetto Klown, the proudly Nuyorican funnyman is opening up and telling us all about it. Ghetto Klown documents the journey of a scrappy Colombian-American kid with a fast mouth finding his voice on the stage and then on film, learning from a lifetime of mistakes and lucky breaks.
Along the way, young Leguizamo meets a lot of folks who helped pull him up, and this show is his tribute to the process and people that got him to where he is today. The show includes candid portrayals of many of these readily identifiable co-stars like Robert De Niro, Patrick Swayze and Al Pacino. The impressions alone are worth the admission.
CultureMap: Hi, John! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
John Leguizamo: Hey, no problem. I'm sitting here with a hands-free headset wrapped around my head. I just hope I don't get cancer.
CM: Me too. So, you’re coming to Austin! Is it your first time visiting here?
JL: Nope, I did Sexaholix in Austin back in 2001. It’s my favorite city in Texas. It’s one of the great cities in America.
CM: How do you describe the new show to those who have never heard of it?
JL: This show is incredibly raunchy, incredibly raw, incredibly honest. It’s a trail of my career: My hits, my failures, my mistakes, my fights, the battles, the people who helped me and boosted me. You know, Al Pacino helped me out a lot in Carlito’s Way. Patrick Swayze and I duked it out in girl’s garb on the set of To Wong Foo… Baz Luhrman helped me get into character in Romeo and Juliet. It’s all in the new show. And the joy of it is that I can do impressions of all these people and make you feel like you’re there with me.
CM: Can you explain the title for us suburban kids?
JL: Yeah, a "ghetto klown" is anyone that grew up in the projects, dirt poor, didn’t have anything else, that could make you laugh, make you forget about all your problems. Sometimes I was one of those people, who had the ability to get through the day, to help those around me get through life.
CM: Do you still see yourself as one of those people today, or have you grown out of that in Hollywood?
JL: (Laughs) I try to keep it alive. They try to crush it, but I won’t let nobody crush it. I’m fanning the flames to keep it going.
CM: You talk a lot about your extended family in your earlier one man shows. Do you see Hollywood as your new family or does your family of origin still appear in this show?
JL: (Laugh) Yeah, they’re like my new adopted evil family. I mean, Hollywood does become sort of your family in a dysfunctional way. I still talk about my family because they’re still a big part of my life just in a different evolution. But the Hollywood friends and enemies, all the people you thought were your buddies, they’re not as dependable as your family. And it sucks but, hey, at least I got a story out of it, right?
CM: So is Ghetto Klown a morality tale then? A lesson learned?
JL: Yeah, I want to be a lesson of what not to do. I hope that’s what I can offer everybody when they see the show.
CM: Is it nice being back on stage? Do you miss it after all the film work you’ve done?
JL: Acting on stage is the Olympics of acting. You can’t be on stage if you don’t have made skills. So to me, it’s always an honor to get to do it. Because there’s no cutting, no editing, no one making you look better than you are. And you better be as good as you say. And that’s what I love about the stage: the honesty of it. My favorite actors are always the ones who appear on stage, y’know, Pacino and De Niro have always been on stage, and all these great actors that I love.
CM: How has film acting influenced your stage work?
JL: Well, I think you’ll see that I’m challenging myself to do crazier things on stage. The stories are straight out of Hollywood, but I’m taking the storytelling to a new level. I’ve never seen nobody do some of what we’re doing in their stand-up or one man shows. I helped create this hybrid of play/stand-up/vignette/sketches/dance music, and I’m glad to help take it to the next level with added theatrics and stage combat.
CM: That fact that you’re performing impressions of actors we’re familiar with is unlike your impressions of your family members that we don’t know, so that does add a new challenge.
JL: Yeah, it’s a totally different level. I think it’s fascinating how people are inspired by their celebrities. I want the show to be inspirational like that. I want to use my struggle to expose the formula about how I got where I am and how it’s all totally transparent. There’s totally a formula to succeeding.
CM: So what is the secret to success, if you don't mind me asking?
JL: It starts with finding your dream, first of all. Even if you gotta beg or steal to get it, you gotta get that dream first. And then you gotta go for it with everything you got. And there are people who are gonna help you across the path, like cloaked angels along your path. And there’s going to be people who will trick you and try to hurt you every step of the way, and you gotta see that too. But that whole journey is all predicated on the fact that you have to enjoy the process.
CM: Is your intended audience primarily the younger folks who are struggling then or those who have made it to the other side?
JL: At first, it was the youth. But I find a lot of older people are motivated by it as well. Sting came to the show on Broadway and told me was really moved by it. Robert Townsend told me he’s seen it five times, Eddie Izzard’s seen it three times. I think what’s important is that I celebrate an artist’s life and what it takes. Going for it no matter how many times it takes.
CM: Your tour includes stops in Central and South America. Does the show change at all when you perform it in Spanish?
JL: Yeah, a lot changes. The universal premise stays the same, but a lot of American and New York references have to go because it’s just not culturally relevant over there. We’ve planned it all out, and I’ve had help translating it. That was a lot of work. And it’s fun coming up with the slang in each of the countries we visit: in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Puerto Rico. What are they going to enjoy hearing?
CM: This is going to take up a solid chunk of your year then, isn't it?
JL: ...Of my life! (laughs) Well, they’re not long stays at any of the cities, maybe two or three shows in each city. It’s all part of the conquest.
CM: You’re taking a break from film for a while then in order to travel. Are you looking forward to the hiatus?
JL: Yeah, it’s good for me to switch things up. But I do have a film coming out nationwide on Jan 27. It’s called One for the Money, and it's with Katherine Heigl. Oh, and speaking of Austin, I submitted a film for SXSW. It’s a film called Fugly, and we’re just waiting to hear back from them. It’s an anti-romantic comedy, and I think people are going to love it.
CM: We can’t wait to have you here, John. Thanks so much for talking with us.
JL: No problem. See you soon, Austin!
Tickets are still available online at the Paramount Theatre website.
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