Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, comedian Cristela Alonzo has used her experiences to connect with audiences far beyond the South Texas borders. And after a break from Hollywood to focus on voting rights and activism, she returns to Netflix with her latest stand-up special “Middle Classy” following her 2017 special, “Lower Classy.”
“Middle Classy” opens with cameos from civil rights leader Dolores Huerta and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, both of whom Alonzo became friends while getting involved in politics during her recent break from comedy.
“I wanted to kind of show where I am right now in life, and I wanted to show that this is part of my life. You know, it’s like I needed the break to go and focus on community and issues that really were important to me,” she said. “And now I’m at the point where I can find a balance between both. And that was actually the idea behind the opening: showing the balance of my life between standup and actually this other side of me that I love just as much, which is just trying to trying to make my voice heard. So I thought it was a perfect mix.”
Alonzo jokes about finally being able to afford health insurance – and then having to figure out how to use it. Reflecting on her childhood experience with healthcare, she remembers it was “always a hassle,” with overcrowded clinics and long waits.
“So when I got insurance, I didn’t know how to use it, I didn’t know what to do. And now it was kind of a learning curve where I realized that people assume that because you’re an adult, you know how it works,” she said. “But it’s really all about circumstance and your past. So for me now, it was like learning another language, and I’m still learning it.”
Alonzo says the response to her special has been almost surprising – “in this day and age, you just don’t get used to hearing so many positive, supportive comments” – and that the love she’s gotten from the Rio Grande Valley has meant the most to her.
“People understand that I’m trying to tell my story, and I’m not trying to depict it in a way that’s inaccurate or what have you. I’m just speaking my truth,” she said. “To me, it’s always been so important to talk about the Rio Grande Valley because it’s just one of those things that if you’re not from Texas and you say that you’re from South Texas, people always think it’s San Antonio. We’re not even close to it. So it’s been really great to to get that to get the nod of approval from so many people in my hometown area.”
Alonzo, who previously created and starred in the series “Cristela,” which ran for one season on ABC in 2014, says she currently has a couple of ideas she wants to develop.
“I think that now I’m at the point where people have been asking me, ‘What’s next? What’s the next show?’ And I know that I’m very lucky to have people in the industry that want to know what’s next,” she said. “And now I can say that I’m ready to go back and develop a new show, you know, but it takes a long time to get there because I want to make sure that everything that I do will will honor the idea.”
Alonzo says that end of the day, the best platform for her is the one that wants to help foster her idea the most, though she does have a special place in her heart for broadcast TV because of its accessibility.
“That’s what I grew up watching. You know, you don’t have to pay a monthly fee for a streamer or what have you,” she said. “That was one of the reasons that I wanted to do ‘Cristela’ on a broadcast network, because to me, I wanted to give access to people that maybe use an antenna – we forget that a lot of people don’t have the means to see things in a certain way.”
Now, amid a difficult news cycle and after getting though a lockdown, Alonzo is finding contentment in continuing to do what she loves and connecting with her audience.
“I always say that it’s important to appreciate the moments of joy that you’re able to have in an everyday life, because joy doesn’t come very often in a way that you appreciate,” she said. “You know, it’s it’s a balance. You can’t let everything get to you – even though it can, easily – you have to balance it with the other side of the spectrum; you have to kind of find that happiness.”