Jesus Trejo Explores His Personal ‘Roots of Comedy’

Trejo talks with up-and-coming comics about their cultural journeys
Jesus Trejo Explores His Personal ‘Roots of Comedy’

What better way to understand diversity in America than through comedy? 

That’s the premise behind Roots of Comedy, a six-part docuseries that premiered on PBS last week. Veteran comedian Jesus Trejo travels the U.S. to hang with up-and-coming comics from every corner of the country, looking at our nation through the lens of stand-up. I recently caught up with Trejo to learn about his personal comedy journey and how it led to his new show. Here’s what he had to say…

“I remember being a kid and memorizing what you would call jokey jokes. My mom used to watch Sábado Gigante with Don Francisco, one of the longest-running shows in the world. Imagine a Tonight Show type of template, but it would run for three hours. One of the segments were these joke tellers, they were called monologues. They would tell jokey jokes, and I used to memorize them. My parents would laugh, maybe just to get me to shut up.” 

“My first exposure to comedy was Mexican comedians and Spanish-speaking comedians.” 

“Chespirito used to do a sketch show with different characters. It was about this kid who lived in a wooden barrel in an apartment complex, and everyone gave him a hard time. His only objective in life was to get a ham sandwich, so very innocent, very silly. I know Charlie Chaplin at one point regarded him as the funniest comedian alive.” 

“I would go to the Long Beach Public Library and check stuff out. If the video had too much cussing, I would just watch it there. They have those little TVs with the VCR, you pay the 25 cents to go downstairs and they give you some headphones. That’s how I had to study comedy, watching them over and over. Comedian, the documentary that Jerry Seinfeld did with Orny Adams, was a big part of that, too.” 

“I try to forget my first time doing stand-up, but yeah, I definitely do remember it. It was at a local bar in Long Beach. I was 20 at the time. I was like, ‘Hey, can I get some stage time?’ and the host said, ‘If you can get past the bouncer next week, I’ll put you up for a few minutes.’ So next week I’m standing right beside the host. It’s like, ‘Hey, you said!’ And he goes, ‘Jesus, kid, you’re gonna get us shut down. All right, go up there, do your time and get the hell out of here.’” 

“I went up there, and I bombed my ass off pretty good. I was given five minutes, but I was off stage insanely way before that. A mic stand tipped over. I dropped the wireless mic and the batteries flew out. My hands were shaking. My buddy was recording the whole thing, and the camera was still rolling. I’m outside the bar, hands still shaking, and he goes, ‘How do you feel?’ I’m like, ‘Turn it off! Turn it off! You saw how it went!’”

“It took me one full year to get back on stage. Partly because I bombed so hard, and the other part because you can’t really get into spaces when you’re under 21.” 

“The comedians (on Roots of Comedy) are at different points in their careers. They’re well on their way. They’re blowing up. They’re very funny. Most of them have been doing it for a while and are super talented.” 

Roots of Comedy is six comedians, six episodes, and we go everywhere from Portland to Chinle, Arizona on a Navajo reservation to L.A. to Texas. We go between Austin and Laredo, we go to Minneapolis.” 

“One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about comedy is by the time a comedian gets off stage, you know about their lives — their upbringing, their current situation, something about their family.” 

“I always feel like the jokes that stick with you are the jokes that are tied back to community. That’s a very special thing.” 

“I’m a fan of getting this raw point-of-view. You could really see that everyone put their heart into it.”

“That’s when people find their voice — a point-of-view that’s so unique that this person is the only person who could express it.”

“I left this project with an insane sense of gratitude to know that I have dedicated my adult life to this thing called comedy. My North Star has always been comedy. I’ve been very grateful to make a living and take care of my loved ones through my storytelling skills.” 


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