Comedian Steve Treviño’s new stand-up special, ‘Til Death, focuses almost wholly on relatable, but also slightly acidic, takes on fatherhood and the everyday frustrations of his marriage. It’s not until nearly 35 minutes into his routine that there’s even a remote reference to his Mexican-American heritage. That’s entirely by design.
“I don’t do ethnic humor,” says Treviño, who was raised in Gregory-Portland, started his stand-up career in Dallas, and recently settled in New Braunfels after a decade in Los Angeles. “Hollywood tends to portray Mexican-Americans as drug dealers, valet parkers, and gardeners. So it’s very important to me to represent the Mexican-Americans, and specifically Texans, in a way that that has never been seen before—as who we are, regular people with regular, everyday problems.”
While his stand-up sets are also politics-free, Treviño—who tours year-round and has made specials for Showtime and Netflix—believes Hollywood’s stereotypical depictions of Mexican-Americans are driving forces in the immigration debate.
“I completely understand why, when Trump says what he says, America believes him,” Treviño says. “They see us play drug dealers, gangsters, and murderers in movies and on television. We make up 28 percent of the movie-going ticket buyers, yet we make up less than 3 percent of the speaking roles on the screen. So it doesn’t surprise me on a national level that Americans go, ‘Yeah, that’s what they are.’ Well, yeah, that’s what they’re seeing from Hollywood. They don’t see me and my wife.”
On this week’s National Podcast of Texas, Treviño dissects the cultural differences between Mexican-Americans in Texas and Los Angeles, breaks down the realities of a grassroots, do-it-yourself comedy career, and details his recent work writing jokes for Clint Eastwood.
Some highlights (condensed and edited for clarity):
On Mexican-American representation
I always tell people all the time, growing up in Texas, we were just Texans, right? You go to any hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, anywhere in Texas, there’s white people there, and there’s Mexican people there. There’s anybody that you can imagine, and they’re just Texans. It wasn’t until I moved to California that things were very separated. If you went to a taqueria in Los Angeles, there are no white people. So growing up as a Mexican-American, George Lopez was a huge influence on me. But when I got into the business, it got very difficult because everything was, ‘Oh, Steve. Great, we’ll put you up on Latino Night.’ But, wait a minute, why can’t I just be a comedian? So it became very important to me to represent the Mexican-American, and specifically the Texan, in a way that that has never been seen before. I had somebody in the audience one time. They go, ‘Hey man, I came here to hear stories about you being Mexican.’ And I told him my wife is Mexican-American, and I am Mexican-American. Therefore these are stories about being Mexican-American. It has been a complete struggle. It has been almost impossible to overcome. I will not quit. I will not stop.
On getting his own sitcom
I can’t tell you how many times my fans ask when my TV show is coming out. I’ve had opportunities to go pitch my TV show. And every time I pitch my TV show, I get, ‘I don’t get it. Not Mexican enough. Where’s the Mexican jokes? Do your parents have an accent?’ And every time I tell them, “no, no, no, no,” they turned me away. But they keep making pilots every year of the same Mexican type of humor. And every year it’s a reminder that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and over and not succeeding. So we’re yet to have another TV show on the air, other than the George Lopez show, that has succeeded, because they keep doing the same thing. And I know for a fact that if I continued to show them that there is this Mexican-American out there like me and my wife that needs to be portrayed on TV, that it will be very successful. So for the meantime, I’ll continue to put out specials. I’ll continue to do it the grassroots way until they figure it out.
On Mexican-Americans in Texas vs. Mexican-Americans in California
In California, it’s very, ‘We’re Mexican. We are Chicanos. We’re very different than you.’ And in Texas it’s ‘We’re Texans. We’re Tejanos.’ I grew up in a little town called Gregory Portland, and it was very much a white and Mexican mix. When I went to California, it was very segregated. It was very, ‘We’re Mexican. We live here. The blacks live over there. The whites live over there.’ And for me that was a culture shock. And being a comedian is the best because your friends are comedians and there’s your Jewish comic friends, your Italian comic friends, your black comic friends. So for me it was very inclusive and we were all just comics. But socially, outside of that, it was very segregated. And that was very weird to me because growing up we were all just Texans.
On what his son sees on television
It’s very sad to me to think that my son does not have anybody on television that can make him say, ‘I can do that,’ whether that’s an acting job, a Latino astronaut, a judge, a doctor, a lawyer, or a police officer. My son doesn’t even see those images being portrayed to him as a Mexican-American. So, for example, I did Des Moines, Iowa, right? All white people. After my show, I had a guy come up to me and tell me he didn’t know I was Mexican. Going in, he thinks I’m Italian or something. Then he says. ‘I’ve never met a Mexican like you.’ I asked what he meant, and he said, ‘The Mexicans here are usually illegals, who speak Spanish, who work in the kitchens.’ So not only does this kid in Des Moines only see the first generation, the Mexican from Mexico, he’s also not seeing me on TV. So these people, truly—in Des Moines, Iowa—have no concept that me and my wife even exist, much less my son. So, if anything, I think that Hollywood has a huge responsibility to educate our country in diversity.
On working on Clint Eastwood’s The Mule
Working on The Mule, I had the opportunity to meet Michael Peña. But you look at Michael, and you’re like, ‘Is this the only guy that gets to work? One. He’s the only talented Latino dude?’ I wrote a bunch of jokes for Clint in the film, and because of that, they made Michael’s character’s name Agent Steve Treviño. And the whole time I’m like, ‘Why can’t I play Agent Steve Treviño?’ It was very difficult for me. I get asked to do this, and they sent me the script. And again, in the movie, [Latinos] are cartel. The only decent [Latino] character is Michael as the FBI agent, and he has the least lines, right? Almost every single one of my jokes that I wrote made the movie. But I was a ghost writer, and somebody might say, ‘Man, The Mule was hilarious.’ And, again, the Latino that wrote on it is going to get zero credit.
Steve Treviño’s new comedy special, ‘Til Death, is available through Comedy Dynamics on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Xbox, the Comedy Dynamics Network, and other cable and satellite providers.