Cristobal Franco - Latino Funnyman!

Multi-talented actor/comedian/talk show host breaks thru to public TV

By Dale Reynolds
Published on LatinoLA: February 5, 2002

Cristobal Franco - Latino Funnyman!


Enter Crist?bal ?Cris? Franco, the host/co-creator of ?Caf? California,? who amusingly says of himself in his program bio: ?Cris Franco was born in Mexico City and now resides in the capital of Mexico, Los Angeles.?

It?s a very funny twist on Latino identity skewering stereotypes of immigrants.

Franco, who actually was born in the barrios of "la capital", emigrated to Southern California with his family when he was two ? first in Watts (?we lived across the street from a Mexican Soul Food restaurant called Nacho Mama?], then later in Granada Hills, the Anglo/Latino fondue pot of the north San Fernando Valley.

?Caf? California? is an English-language bicultural talk show, similar to Bill Maher?s ?Politically Incorrect? but intended for Latino/Chicanos. ?It?s ever-changing, with each week?s guests taken from all facets of Hispanic life, ?From housewives to homeboys, congressmen to compadres,? as I put it. We explore topics that Latinos only talk about whenever they?re behind close-doors.?

?Caf? California? succeeded in spite of being banished to an early-morning Sunday slot by the powers-that-be at Canal 22, KWHY. And despite garnering a local Emmy nomination and a Nosotros and Imagen Award for 2001.

But it was, for three years, one of only three English-language programs on Canal 22. After media giant Telemundo purchased the station, all three shows were immediately cancelled, including ?Caf??, which lost its lease on life the day after winning the Imagen Award. ?We were still hungover from the champagne while cleaning out our desks.?

So, it was some relief when PBS? L.A. outlet, KCET, decided to beef up their low Latino presence by re-broadcasting thirteen episodes of the show, followed by a second thirteen episodes when the first batch proved popular. It is expected that they will order newly produced shows come April.

Because the show has generated such positive buzz, both San Diego and San Francisco PBS outlets are negotiating to acquire broadcast rights. It is also promised that a new national show based on the same format, ?Caf? Americano,? will debut this summer.

Franco, a medium-height, attractive, forty-something, came to his current success as a talk-show host of ?Caf? California? from the rough-and-tumble world of stand-up comedy and sitcom writing/acting.

From an early age he was enamored of veteran talk-show host Johnny Carson. ?I didn?t really understand what he did, except that he got to talk to famous people and wear a different suit every night.?

He began performing musical theatre at CSU/Northridge and earned his Actors Equity card during the successful post-Mark Taper Forum run of ?Zoot Suit.? He sang in a nightclub revue at Walt Disney World for one disastrous summer, then was hired by comic Cheech Marin for two years to work on a network development deal for ?the first of many Latino sitcoms that have never happened,? acted in a slew of Spanish-language commercials (?When I went out for dinner with a date, I was an instant recognized hit with the valets and the busboys!?), acted in bit parts on television comedy shows, had a small part in ?Mi Familia,? and co-starred for seven years in PBS? ?Square One TV? in New York, doing sketch comedy and ?musical numbers on mathematics.?

It was at that time he created a number of sketch-characters, a type of comedy he further honed while studying at the Groundlings/L.A, and appearing with the hit comedy group, ?Latins Anonymous.?

?What I?ve learned from this experience of [?Caf? California?] is that we Latinos are an under-explored element of American society ? and we already permeate all areas of American culture. We are to some degree a mystery to ourselves in America because we are still learning about each other?s nationalistic and linguistic differences and, at the same time, perceived by whites to be homogeneous, letting advertisers assume that they can easily market to us. Then they get disheartened when it turns out they can?t pigeon-hole us.?

Past topics on his occasionally-controversial show have included Spanglish, a patois spoken by Chicanos; Gay Latinos, ?otherwise known as Hispanosexuals?; how Latino cultura impacts success in the Anglo business world; the Cuban vs. Mexican controversy wresting with which nation will dominate Hispanic identity; and the effects of bi-lingual education on America.

The main audience seems to be Yuppie Mexicans (or ?Yupsicans,? as he labels them) and Generation ?, [?Beaners in Beemers.?] This is true, in part, because of the use of hand-held cameras which tends to give it an edgy MTV look.

And Franco?s daring opening MAD-TV-type character sketch, introducing the debate of each show, has proven to be quite popular. ?I had great fun creating Affirmative Action Jackson, Austin Torres, Gomez Pyle, and [in drag] Tia Chizmosa (Aunt Gossip).? Apparently the public loves this bit of weekly silliness, as it will continue in the new show this spring. And beyond, one may guess.

Caf? California airs Saturdays at 4:30pm, on KCET, Channel 28, Los Angeles.

About Dale Reynolds:
Dale Reynolds is a Southern California native who works as a journalist and tours in his one-man Thomas Jefferson show.

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