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Comedy Group 'Out to Ruffle Feathers' With Political Barbs : Trio Trying to Be More Aggressive Than Predecessors


Chicano Secret Service, the latest Latino comic theater group to emerge in Los Angeles, is an equal opportunity critic.

Its members are just as likely to take jabs at some of their own, such as Frida "Kahlua," Linda (Falsa Mexicana) Ronstadt and the neighborhood comadres as they are to target former President Bush and the white male-dominated news media.

Tomas Carrasco, Elias Serna and Lalo Lopez Alcaraz, who all grew up in Southern California barrios, started performing together in 1988 at political protests and high school events while they attended college in the San Francisco Bay Area. They came back to Los Angeles last year, forging ahead on a path carved out by the already successful Latino groups Culture Clash and Latins Anonymous.

The trio insist, however, that they are different from the two troupes that preceded them because they are much more confrontational about their political messages.

"We're out to make trouble, to ruffle feathers," said Carrasco, who is originally from Oxnard. During question-and-answer sessions after performances, the group is often asked why it is so angry.

"We're the kids who are not apologizing for who we are anymore," said Carrasco, adding that he prefers to describe their in-your-face humor as "assertive" or "aggressive."

"We're trying to create material that empowers us," he said. Carrasco, who at 30 is the oldest of the group, explained that their satirical work evolved naturally from their political activism during their student days at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State.

No social stereotypes or politicians are off limits.

"There are 4 million Mexicans in L.A. and what do we have?" asked Carrasco during a recent interview. "(Los Angeles County Supervisor) Gloria Molina--that's our claim to fame."

Chicano Secret Service represents the new guard of Chicano political consciousness, said Marietta Bernstorff, who signed up the group in October for an evening at Venice's Social and Public Art Resource Center, where they played to a packed audience.

"There's a whole new generation of Latinos that is becoming active and militant," Bernstorff said, and Chicano Secret Service speaks to them. "They make fun of things that are painful" to Latinos.

In one skit, three comadres make tortillas while one of them elaborates about the big wedding planned for her daughter. Sly gestures from her two fellow comadres indicate the daughter is pregnant. Another comadre hides the well-known fact that her son is in prison. "It's all about denial," says Lopez, who also draws political cartoons for LA Weekly.

Audiences typically find the group hysterically funny or totally disgusting. Detractors complain that the group's style isn't stand-up comedy or theater. Carrasco insists it's theater, although "it's not no Shakespeare."

The three incorporate a lot of Spanish into their acts but they claim it doesn't pose a problem for non-Spanish speakers. "The monolingual people ask their neighbors what's going on," said Serna, who is from Santa Monica. "It creates interaction."

None of them studied theater in college, but they professionalized their act through training workshops with Luis Valdez' Teatro Campesino. Carrasco insists that unlike Culture Clash and Latins Anonymous, Chicano Secret Service is not interested in breaking into television. But they feel they've outgrown the high school/community college circuit and hope to make a living from their work in Los Angeles' alternative theater spaces, such as an upcoming gig at The Met.

They scan the papers every day for new material, and are constantly updating their act to reflect the latest political scandal. "We don't have to make material up," said Carrasco. "It's there for us."

Chicano Secret Service will perform at 10 p.m. every Friday and Saturday through March at The Met, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood, (213) 957-1741. Admission is $10.

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