The new ABC series "Cristela," the first TV comedy to have a Latina woman as its creator and star, has been roundly praised by critics for tackling issues facing working women and Hispanics with smart humor and uncommon sophistication. The Atlantic magazine calls the show, about a single woman fighting stereotypes in the workplace and those of her old-school mother, "the model for what modern sitcoms should be."
Which means, of course, that first-season ratings for "Cristela" were woeful, and on Thursday it was canceled. The show's engaging star, 36-year-old Mexican-American Cristela Alonzo, is back out on the stand-up comedy circuit, including a series of shows this weekend at the Fort Lauderdale Improv. In an interview held before ABC dropped the axe, Alonzo talks about "Cristela" and her late mother, who inspired the conservative character on the show.
After the season-ending episode of "Cristela," you wrote a thoughtful and personal farewell to fans of the show. What was your goal with that blog post?
"I never thought it would get anyone's attention outside my circle of supporters. I just wanted to write a letter to tell everyone that watched the show what it meant to me to have them let me to be part of their lives and how much the show means to me.
This show is based on my life and my experiences. I'm not the kind of person you see on TV and by that, I don't mean Latino. I mean a person that comes from a background full of struggles. This past year has been like a dream for someone like me that comes from a neighborhood where no one really tells them they can accomplish anything. I just wanted to say 'thank you' in the most sincere way I knew how."
One audience for "Cristela" is young people dealing with the social and cultural expectations of the previous generation. That's not just a Latino thing.
"Absolutely. Times change when we are presented with new information. Therefore, ideas and beliefs sometimes have to change with them. I've learned that the most important thing for me is to ask, 'Why?' a lot. When people tell me that I should be married and have kids by now, I ask, 'Why?' Then usually, they don't know what to say. And that is a perfect example of how each generation should be able to question their situations and decide if it's the best for them because what was good for your parents and grandparents might not be the best for you."
Your mother begged you not to go off to college to study theater, and she stopped talking to you for a while. You are now a TV star who will be performing at one of the top comedy clubs in the country on Mother's Day. What is your most enduring memory of her?
"We were very poor growing up. My mom used to cook food for us on a space heater she would face up. That was her stove. That image always sticks with me because I learned an important lesson with that. The lesson being that no matter how bad your circumstances are, you can find a way to overcome them."
If she were to give you a one-sentence review of "Cristela," what would she say?
"Why are you putting our business out like that for everyone to see? Oh, and you're wearing too much makeup."
You grew up in Texas. How did that inform your comedy?
"Ah, that's hard to say. I can tell you that where I'm from, the Rio Grande Valley, the people are very family-oriented. They're hard-working, sweet and genuine. Hopefully some of my comedy reflects that because I would love to be considered a product of my hometown."
I read that you learned English by watching TV, including "The Golden Girls." Who was your favorite character on that show?
"Sophia Petrillo, because she reminds me of my mom. Sophia would sit around the kitchen table while the other women ate cheesecake and used to always talk about her village. Every one of her stories painted a picture that seemed like a million miles away from what she was currently living. Just like my mom. My mom would tell me these stories about her childhood and sometimes I swear they sounded like episodes from 'Little House on the Prairie.' "
Being so multidimensional, you have been called "Latina Fey." Who is your No. 1 role model in the business?
"Roseanne Barr. I loved her show growing up. It told stories like the kind I want to tell on my show. She shot a couple of episodes of my show this year and I can't tell you how much I loved talking to her and comparing notes. We were DMing on Twitter the other day and I kept thinking, 'Cristela, what kind of life do you lead that you would even get to know someone you grew up watching?' It's amazing."
Cristela Alonzo performs 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Fort Lauderdale Improv, 5700 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets: $20. Info: 954-981-5653, FTL.Improv.com.