Arturo Castro moved to the U.S. from Guatemala just before he turned 20 but — before you make any assumptions — he doesn't like spicy food and he isn't good at salsa dancing. "I just have a weak stomach and weak ankles," he explains. He's never tried Ayahuasca. He's never met a shaman. ("I feel really left out — most white women in Beverly Hills have met way more shamans than I have," he says.)
Castro says he's "sort of an alternative version of a Latino," which brings us to the title of his Comedy Central series Alternatino — a play on the Spanish word for "alternate."
The sketch comedy show pokes fun at the assumptions supposedly woke white people have about Latinx people — "They love rolling the Rs in Arrrturrro," he says. "I'm like, I have never said my name like that once in my life" — and it also touches on serious subjects, such as migrant children being separated from their families at the U.S. border.
Castro has appeared on the comedy Broad City and the Netflix drama Narcos and — though he says he's proud of every role he's played — he's tired of the limited roles available to him and other Latinx actors.
"We're mostly sidekick positions ... or our ethnicity or immigration status is a big part of the narrative," he says. Castro just wanted to play a boring, slightly neurotic guy who happened to be Latino — in other words, he wanted to play himself.
Castro hopes there will be many future seasons of Alternatino, and he also has a romantic comedy and a psychological thriller in the works. "I believe talent is like a muscle and I want to see how far I can stretch it," he says.
On who he hopes will watch the show
I hope it's everybody. ... I really want people to know: You don't have to be Latin in order to enjoy the show. It's not a fist-shaking sort of show — I find certain things absurd, but I find them absurd from a human level not like a Latino level, you know? ...
I hope everybody knows that they're invited to the party. If you happen to be Latin you might find an extra wink in there, or two, that you might relate to.
On white people trying to "relate" to him at parties
People mean really well, but they're like, "So you're from Guatemala, that's so crazy. You know my father went to Colombia in the '90s. I mean isn't that crazy?" ... People are just trying to find ways to relate to you. I hear about people's woke trips to Costa Rica a lot. Or Tulum.
On the idea that someone who comes from another country can't be boring
When you come from a developing nation people really want to push the poverty angle on you. ... Like: "Tell me what it's like growing up in the streets of Guatemala." I'm like, "Well, I don't know, like, I used to ride over them on my bicycle. There were some potholes." ...
I don't think when you're foreign you're allowed to be boring. You know what I'm saying? Like, your story has to be somehow unique. ... The show is not boring in and of itself, but the character is just sort of like a simple guy that didn't consider himself to be any different than anybody else until he moved here.
On the sketch in which he plays a white ICE agent who is advertising that detained children will no longer be kept in cages — they will be "free range"
My whole point of it is like: If you support this policy [of detaining children separately from their parents at the border] then what you're saying is that children are animals, right? They should be treated like animals. So I was like, well, let's look at it further: These children are free range, no antibiotics — even if they're sick — grass-fed diet. ... And I'm dressed as a blond, blue-eyed ICE agent ... (I had like the white make-up and wardrobe and my head writer was like: "I don't know why, but I just want to give you a raise, man. ... I just feel like I'd trust you more.") ...
This sketch was one that was particularly close to my heart because I was never a very political person until this child family separation started. ... About 10% of the whole show is political, but it would be irresponsible to have a platform and not talk about certain things that affect people that look like me. ...
I could never have anticipated that we'd be living through this political time when I started this [show] in 2015. ... But it's happening, and we're here, and so it would be ill-advised for me to ignore it.
On finding material for the show in his own life
It makes certain people wary ... [on] dates they'll be like: "Am I going to be a sketch one day?" ... I find myself constantly looking for things that I find peculiar in human behavior. I come from a family of psychiatrists and so my family and I always discuss around the dinner table subtext, you know, subconscious, and I find human interaction fascinating. So when you have the privilege of having a show, you get to sort of play with these interactions. ... I mean, this conversation will definitely be a sketch, for sure.
On making fun of the entertainment industry for the limited roles for Latinx actors
I had to acknowledge it. ... I've never done something I'm ashamed of, like played a character I'm ashamed of — even when I played like Dishwasher Juan in my first role — the character's name was Dishwasher Juan on The Good Wife. ...
With [playing a drug dealer on] Narcos, I justify to myself: it's a historical tale. It was sort of a warning shot across the bow to anybody that wants to get into the drug business: Nobody winds up well. There's no story about a happy ever after for a drug dealer.
But yeah, I wanted to acknowledge it: To just let my audience know that I'm aware of it, and that I'm willing to laugh about it, and I'm willing to play with those tropes.
On wanting to be a part of a Latin renaissance
I think the Latin community doesn't realize the power that they wield — that we wield. ... The older guard was like: "Just keep your head down, do the work, don't cause any waves." But I think the newer generation is starting to wake up to the fact that we have way more similarities than we do things that separate us. And so if we can become at least a small version of a united front we can affect actual change — not just in this country, but in the world.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Comedy Central's new sketch series "Alternatino With Arturo Castro" is bold in its approach, calling out stereotypes about the Latino community. The star and creator of the series, Arturo Castro, even makes a point of it in the pronunciation of his name.
ARTURO CASTRO: They love rolling the Rs in Arrturo (ph).
CASTRO: I'm like, I have never said my name like that once in my life.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You may know Arturo Castro from his role in "Broad City." He also played a drug lord in Netflix's "Narcos." In this sketch series, he plays a handful of characters from a crazy drunk bachelorette to a depressed robot and even a fictionalized version of himself, as a single guy in New York who just happens to be from Guatemala. The title "Alternatino" is a play on the Spanish word for alternate, and that's how Castro says he sees himself - an alternate version of a Latino.
CASTRO: Everybody just assumes I should be really good at salsa dancing and spicy food. And I just have a weak stomach and weak ankles, (laughter) so it doesn't work.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to confess I can't salsa dance at all.
CASTRO: You can't either.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, no.
CASTRO: Oh, so you see my plight. That's the only reason why I wrote a show - so I could get choreographers to make me look like I know how to dance. Yeah, the show is a love letter sort of to my upbringing, so I just wanted to put some of those things together and give them a spin from somebody that's - that moved here 14 years ago. And I'm hoping it will connect.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, because you moved from Guatemala when you were 19.
CASTRO: Yep, 19 about to turn 20. Yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And in this, you set up a lot of tropes about Latinos. I want to listen to a little bit of a sketch called "The Date."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ALTERNATINO WITH ARTURO CASTRO")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What was it like growing up in Guatemala. I mean, that must've been crazy, yeah?
CASTRO: (As character) I don't know about crazy. Well, I lived in the suburbs. We had a little yard with a dog.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Did you have a big family? Were there, like, a lot of you just squished in under one roof?
CASTRO: (As character) Oh, my God, yes. I have three sisters, you know? And we all had to share four bedrooms. And my parents had the master bedroom, so it was a little snug. Yeah.
CASTRO: It was snug. We couldn't have guests over, man.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's getting at something true - right? - which is that a lot of people consider Latinos in one particular way, you know? - that there's one story.
CASTRO: Yeah. And they always - I guess when you come from a developing nation, people really want to push the poverty angle on you of, like, you know, tell me what it was like growing up in the streets of Guatemala. I'm like, well, I don't know. Like, I used to ride over them on my bicycle. There were some potholes. It wasn't all easy, you know? But it feels like we always have a twist. There's always a twist to a Latino character when I see one, you know?
CASTRO: We're mostly sidekick positions, you know?
CASTRO: And it's over, like - our ethnicity or immigration status is, like, a big part of the narrative of our characters, you know? And I just wanted to see this guy that, like - that wasn't, like, copy or trying because of overcoming being Latin. He was just - happens to be Latin, and there's, like, a lot that comes with it, I guess, you know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that you have managed to do in this series is also send up the entertainment industry itself, which, I think, is really interesting because it's sort of like biting the hand that feeds you. And your career has been built on, you know, playing a drug lord, for example, playing into some of these tropes...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...That you're sending up in your sketch.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you want to include it?
CASTRO: Because I had to acknowledge it. And to be honest, I've never done something I'm ashamed of, like played a character I'm ashamed of, even when I played, like, Dishwasher Juan in - that was my first role. The character's name was Dishwasher Juan on "The Good Wife." But I feel like with "Narcos" - I justified to myself, it's a historical tale. It was sort of a warning shot across the bow to anybody that wants to get into the drug business. Nobody winds up well, you know? There's no story about a happy ever after for a drug dealer. But, yeah, I wanted to acknowledge it to just let my audience know that I'm aware of it and that I'm willing to laugh about it. And I'm willing to - yeah, I'm willing to play with those tropes again, you know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This series, though, doesn't shy away from this political moment.
CASTRO: Sure. About 10% of the whole show is political. But it would be irresponsible to have a platform and not talk about certain things that affect people that look like me, you know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that what you felt? - because being a Latino with a platform, you felt like you had to speak to...
CASTRO: Address some of these subjects, yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the moment.
CASTRO: Yeah, I think - listen. I could never have anticipated that we'd be living through this political time when I started this in 2015, but it's happening. And we're here. And so it would be ill advised for me to ignore it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You said in an interview that you hoped to inspire this Latin renaissance of thought and unity.
CASTRO: Right. I was completely drunk when I said that. I'm so sorry.
CASTRO: I'm so poetic with my - then I get - no, no. Yeah, I mean it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You were on ayahuasca.
CASTRO: I was on ayahuasca. I mean it. I think the Latin community doesn't realize the power that they wield, that we wield. You know, 24% of all movie tickets are bought by us. And we're 14 to 18% of the population. And that's - we hold such political capital. But I believe that the older guard was like, just keep your head down. Do the work. Don't make - don't cause any waves. But I think the newer generation is starting to wake up to the fact that we have way more similarities than we do things that separate us. And so if we can become at least a small version of a united front, we can make actual change not just in this country but in the world. And I would love to have a hand in that for sure.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Arturo Castro, also known as Arrturo Castro...
CASTRO: Arrturo Castro, (speaking Spanish). I don't know why. Every time I have a microphone in front of me, I want to do that. Like, (speaking Spanish).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to stop myself from doing it all the time.
CASTRO: I know. It's so crazy.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Arturo Castor is the creator and star of the new sketch series on Comedy Central "Alternatino With Arturo Castro."
Thank you very much.
CASTRO: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIELOBRUJO")
MIRAME: (Singing) Tres, dos, uno. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.