Latinx comedian John Leguizamo and theatrical director Tony Taccone participated in a Q&A session in the Wallis Annenberg Hall Forum on Wednesday. The event, presented in conjunction with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and Center Theatre Group featured a discussion between Leguizamo, Taccone and Dr. Jian Wang, the Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. They discussed the creative process of crafting an accurate yet entertaining representation of Latinx history in ‘Latin History for Morons.’
Leguizamo is known for his personal and punchy plays about his Latinx identity. His one-man show, ‘Latin History For Morons’ ran on Broadway in 2018 and was later filmed for Netflix. The production is now open at the Ahmanson Theatre. The event was a part of an ongoing partnership between the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and Center Theatre Group to draw connections between arts and culture and global citizenship.
Leguizamo’s son was bullied and racially profiled in school so he turned to theatre to supply his son with examples of Latin heroes to look up to and use as a source of strength.
“I wanted my son to beat the bully with facts and information,” Leguizamo said.
While doing his research on Latin history to give his son a sense of meaning behind his culture, Leguizamo realized how much of it he never learned himself.
“I was the one who felt like a second class citizen when I started finding out all this incredible information… I was like, how is that not in our history textbooks?” he said.
Leguizamo approached the Berkeley Repertory Theater with only the concept for a production about Latin history. Taccone, the Artistic Director of the theater, then embarked on a long and meticulous collaborative process with him to develop the play as it exists today.
“I probably read 200 drafts of the play, and that was probably half of what he wrote,” Taccone said.
When asked about how the play translates to the classroom, Leguizamo emphasized his utilization of a literal classroom setting in the production. Leguizamo wanted to have it feel like a classroom without being like the old, boring professors you always hated in high school. He looked back on his favorite professors, usually those who were the most expressive and ridiculous, and emulated their teaching style. It took him a while to find the delicate balance of names and facts with comedy and entertainment.
And it paid off. He explained that a lot of educators came to his shows and drew from his comedy to utilize in their own classrooms.
But not every aspect of Latinx history can be captured with comedy. “Finding out that Latin people were Jim Crowed [sic], and that 600 of us were lynched between 1830 and 1930...it’s just so horrifying to find this information, but it’s out there and it’s important information… and that’s just the work that Tony and I do with ‘Latin History of Morons,' to open eyes and change minds, and open hearts," Leguizamo said.
Although Leguizamo touched upon some serious aspects of racial identity, he ended on an uplifting note. Leguizamo understands that he can’t please everyone, and never intends to.
“I’m an artist, not the entertainer. By nature an artist is political...I don’t think you can be an artist and want to please. You just have to do your work.”
Correction: This article originally stated that Dr. Jian (Jay) Wang was the Director of the USC Center on Public Policy but he is actually the Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. References to Dr. Jian Wang have been changed to Dr. Jian (Jay) Wang upon request and this piece has been edited with additional context.