Living the American Dream: Comedy Central's Next Big Thing
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Arturo Castro’s multifaceted identity shines through in each zany sketch.
By Tal Pinchevsky
You probably recognize Arturo Castro, even if he can be hard to pin down. You might know him as Jaime, the amiable gay best friend and drug dealer on the oddball buddy comedy Broad City, or as David Rodriguez, the cocaine cartel scion from the action drama Narcos. Being so prominently associated with polar opposite roles on two drastically different series makes Castro something of an enigma — a character actor capable of assuming any supporting role.
In one sense, that’s all changing for the Guatemalan-born Castro, whose sketch comedy series, Alternatino, premieres June 18 on Comedy Central. He’s now firmly center stage, but he still shows range, taking on a full cast’s worth of diverse characters within each show, wigs and makeup wildly transforming the 33-year-old emerging star.
The result, he says, “is a love letter to my upbringing,” a blend of his first 19 years in Guatemala and the past 14 in New York. “I describe it like a party where everyone is invited,” he says. “You don’t have to be Latin, you don’t have to be from anywhere in order to enjoy it. You just have to enjoy laughing.”
It’s a natural platform for a performer who demonstrated his versatility long before he arrived in New York as an eager 19-year-old drama student. The family business is psychiatry, from his late father to his sister to his aunt. “I was always curious about the human psyche,” Castro says. “Acting or writing was just a way for me to relate to that.”
It wasn’t a direct path. Castro started out in law school in Guatemala but ditched it when he was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. By then, he was already something of a celebrity in his homeland.
As the host of Conexion, a weekly program on Guatemala’s public Channel Seven TV station, Castro presented viewers the latest in music and pop culture and occasionally conducted interviews with some of Latin America’s most iconic artists. Castro was 18 when he made his first appearance on the program, after years of performing in community theater, which he began at 12 years old.
When Castro and co-host Bryan Bojorquez, who today performs as an opera tenor, did their nervous first takes, the director asked for more energy, Bojorquez recalls. “When we felt more confident we started to make jokes, but Arturo was more physical, like Robin Williams,” Bojorquez says. “At the beginning, the producers were skeptical about the combination, but later they found it was working great and they gave us the green light.”
The music countdown show aired Saturdays at 8 am, so Castro’s friends didn’t watch: “They were hung over,” he says. But it proved to be a great training ground. “I tried elements of really offbeat humor,” he says. “I just had a blast going to a Shakira concert or doing little sketches.”
He would take pictures of fans who recognized him and send them to his mom.
Just a few years after MTV’s Total Request Live had made Carson Daly a household name among American youth, Conexion gave Castro his first brush with fame. Yet his favorite moment on the show went largely unnoticed by his audience and even his production crew. During a press conference with Mexican songstress Alejandra Guzmán, Castro shuffled up to the microphone and offered enough charm to earn a flirtatious wink from the Latin sex symbol. It was Castro’s first confirmation that he had the goods.
“He went crazy. We were just a couple of kids in front of a famous, gorgeous older woman,” says Bojorquez. “Arturo was asking all the production [crew] if they saw the moment she winked. Some of them were like, ‘No, I didn’t see it.’ And he was like, ‘Come on!’”
Two years later, with a thick Latin accent infused with a tinge of Canadian brogue (his stepfather is from Owen Sound, Ontario), a bright-eyed Castro was barely intelligible as he navigated New York’s acting community. Opportunities in television were simply not coming. His curtain calls were typically confined to sparsely populated productions and inspired street performance troupes.
Then came his Broad City audition in 2014, and everything changed. “The pilot leaked online a week before it premiered and I remember I was on the subway and this woman was like, ‘I’m sorry, are you on some sort of show?’” Castro says. He would take pictures of fans who recognized him and send them to his mom. “Once the first season premiered, I started seeing a shift,” he says.
Before long, he was simultaneously filming his dueling roles in Broad City and Narcos as well as appearing in the 2016 Ang Lee film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. With Alternatino and a role in the upcoming live-action production of the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp, Castro is going to have to get used to those subway encounters with fans.
Still, the success rate for new programs at any cable network is prohibitively low. For every Broad City, there is a slew of programs canceled before they have an opportunity to cultivate a sizable audience. And Alternatino is following in the large and hilarious footsteps of sketch programs like Chappelle’s Show, Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer — guaranteeing Castro comparisons that will be hard to live up to.
Brendan Fitzgibbons, a writer and performer on Alternatino who has collaborated with Castro since 2010, says the star is up to the challenge. “He doesn’t really have a comedy background — he has a drama background,” Fitzgibbons says. “I’m super impressed with how quickly he can adapt and acclimate to a comedy room.”
But as an immigrant working to establish his on-screen persona in a divided America, there’s a lot more than being a celebrity on Arturo Castro’s mind.
“The fact that I get a chance to speak to my experience in a time when there is so much misconception about who we are, it’s a great honor,” he says. “It’s an honor that I take very seriously … I hope I do right by the community. I tell a story with a lot of heart, and I hope that comes through.”
Read more: A stuntman turned director makes the first Latino superhero movie.
- Tal Pinchevsky, OZY AuthorContact Tal Pinchevsky