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COMEDY : Lopez Debunks Latino Stereotypes

March 17, 1994|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

On stage, George Lopez couches his message in good-natured wordplay and spices it with a bit of physical clowning, but in interviews he prefers to get right to the point.

"My style is attacking ignorance," Lopez said by phone from a hotel in Walnut Creek, near San Francisco. The kind of ignorance that particularly gets his attention concerns popular images of Latinos and Latino culture.

Lopez, now playing the Brea Improv, says he doesn't have to look far for inspiration. For instance, there's the fact that the TV show "Beverly Hills, 90210" finally added a Latino character this season--and promptly got someone pregnant. Then there's advertising. "The Keebler elves are now in the tortilla chip business, and they're wearing sombreros," Lopez noted, sounding exasperated. "We don't sleep under cactuses any more."

The dearth of Latinos in TV and movies is particularly troubling to Lopez, as is the kind of roles Latinos do get. The 31-year-old comic hopes to break into acting himself, but he isn't about to take the kind of jobs that typically come along.

"I'm not going to kill anybody; I'm not going to sell drugs, I'm not going to wear a headband," Lopez said. And, he added, he has little patience for Latino actors who do take that kind of work.

"Any actor in 1994 that continues to take roles that reinforce negative stereotypes should get out of the business," he said. "The blacks had their Stepin Fetchits in the '50s, and we have that now. . . .

"It's a sad state of affairs when the Menendez brothers are the two most popular Latinos in the history of television."

And as for the recent shows showcasing Latino comedians, Lopez says they only serve to ghettoize the comics and keep them from reaching a mainstream audience. "They call it 'Comedy Compadres,' " Lopez said, referring to one show. "They may as well call it, 'Caution, Do Not Watch.' "

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Lopez now lives in Universal City with his wife of six months. When his schedule allows, he enjoys talking to schoolchildren about opportunities and self-esteem.

"The reason I do it, and I enjoy doing it, is because nobody did it for me," Lopez said.

The work is especially important now because the Latino community lacks "visible leadership" and role models, Lopez says.

Lopez's political awakening came at age 26, he says, the product of an accumulation of incidents rather than a single event. Even now, with frequent television appearances (including a recent Showtime special) and a flourishing club career (his stand at the Brea Improv is a whopping three weeks), Lopez must face the daily humiliations of racism.

"If I walk by a car, and I get too close to it, they close the door locks," Lopez said. In restaurants, he has been mistaken for a valet; when he flies first class, he says he is invariably asked for his ticket when he sits down.

"Martin Luther King had a dream," Lopez said. "My dream is to be able to go out in a red jacket without someone handing me the keys to their Chevy Blazer."

Who: George Lopez.

When: Tuesdays through Sundays, to April 3. Show times are Tuesday through Thursday at 8:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m., Sunday at 8 p.m.

Where: Brea Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.

Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit from the Orange (57) Freeway and go west. Turn left onto State College Boulevard and right onto Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.

Wherewithal: $7 to $10.

Where to call: (714) 529-7878.

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