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Lopez looks to past for laughs

The TV comedian regales a sold-out crowd with tales of growing up Latino in L.A.

October 13, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

It was closing in on 8 p.m. Friday, and as anyone who's been in the path of ABC's unrelenting "TGIF" promotional campaign was aware, it was time for "The George Lopez Show" to kick off the network's evening block of programming.

Yet the comedian probably didn't mind a bit that thousands of his most ardent fans chose to skip that night's episode and instead fill the Universal Amphitheatre for the first of his three rollicking, sold-out shows.

The turnout served as testament to Lopez's growing clout as an entertainer since his sitcom premiered a year ago on Wednesday nights. After being staked to the show through the notable assistance of executive producer Sandra Bullock, Lopez turned it into a hit and has been all over the tube since.

Although his audience has been a little sluggish in making the transition to Fridays, a recent repeat episode from last season ranked ninth in Los Angeles-area ratings (30th nationally). Lopez hosted the Latin Grammys last month and followed that as one of the co-hosts of the Emmy telecast.

But Lopez has never strayed far from his roots in comedy clubs, which is where Bullock happened upon him during a gig in Texas. In polishing his performing skills over the better part of two decades on the road, the comedian has connected with audiences by tapping into his tumultuous upbringing just down the hill from Universal. Friday night, he was true to form, playing off cultural touchstones in the Latino community with a sometimes brutal honesty capable of resonating in wider demographics.

"You see a lot of Chicanas with white dudes now, 'cause they want to be homeowners too," he said at one point. "They can't wait for us."

Prowling the large stage with a manic energy rarely evident or even possible on his TV show, Lopez expertly spun wickedly entertaining anecdotes of backyard weddings, road trips to Mexico and colorfully combative relatives that drew howls of recognition from the audience.

The comedy was more pointedly ethnic than Lopez's TV material, sprinkled with Spanish-language asides. Yet the tone remained true to his distinctive brand of humor, which is seasoned with tinges of regret and even pain. "I'd never buy a dog with papers," he insisted, "because I have relatives who don't have papers."

Lopez closed the evening with a story about trying to sneak into a back entrance of Universal Amphitheater many years ago to see a Comic Relief show. "Coming in the front door tonight and selling out the weekend," he said, "that's a lot better."

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