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Multilingual laughs

Philly’s Spanish-speaking improv troupe, ¿Qué?, speaks everyone’s language

3 minute read
A freeing kind of comedy: Oliver de Luz, Wilfredo Diaz, and Leticia Viloria. (Photo courtesy of ¿Qué?)
A freeing kind of comedy: Oliver de Luz, Wilfredo Diaz, and Leticia Viloria. (Photo courtesy of ¿Qué?)

“Doing improv in Spanish has this insane feeling of freedom attached to it,” says comedian and producer Christina Anthony of ¿Qué?, Philly’s Spanish-speaking improv and sketch comedy group. “We wanted to produce a show that was more representative of a different culture from the mainstream comedy norm.”

Anthony (also a BSR contributor) and her ¿Qué? teammates book a unique group of entertainers every month for their variety show, ¿Cómo Se Dice…?. In June 2018, this group debuted a showcase featuring diverse acts ranging from sketch comedy to standup to performance art. A great deal of the show’s humor is rooted in multicultural experiences and the missteps of social language. English-speaking audiences still break out in laughter at an entirely Spanish scene, simply due to the body language, skill, and emotion of the performers.

…and one white guy

“We are an improv team of all Spanish speakers except for one white guy who doesn’t speak any Spanish at all,” says Wilfredo Diaz, show founder and performer. “This team is very special and we really wanted somewhere to consistently perform. People hear the title ¿Cómo Se Dice…? and they assume the whole entire show is in Spanish, but it’s not! The show really is comedy anyone can understand.”

The troupe also includes Leticia Viloria, Oliver de Luz, Alejandro Morales, and Bobby Hayes.

Jolie Darrow, producer and comedian, describes the importance of booking a variety show outside of the traditional standup showcase. “We had been doing ¿Qué? for about 5 months and it had been going so well. We worked for several weeks banging our head against the wall trying to come up with a perfect format that would highlight our group, but also be a place to showcase interesting and diverse acts that we felt would complement the format.”

Unappealing to Americans?

Washington, DC-based comedian Erick Acuña brought his one-man show Acuña Acuna to Philadelphia for the December 2018 edition of ¿Cómo Se Dice…?. Born and raised in Peru, Acuña describes obstacles he encounters in the American comedy world.

“When I first moved to the US, it was hard for me to book shows. The comedy scene in DC is predominantly white, so I wouldn't see that many people of color,” he says. “People thought that because I'm from another country, my humor or comedy would be different or unappealing to Americans.”

Comedy everyone can understand: members of ¿Qué?. (Photo courtesy of Chip Beaupre.)
Comedy everyone can understand: members of ¿Qué?. (Photo courtesy of Chip Beaupre.)

The debut of his solo show sold out to a 90 percent white American audience, which fueled some backstage anxiety for Acuña beforehand. “I didn't know how they were going to react to a show that talks about a Peruvian guy’s experiences living in the US.” But the risk paid off. “The reaction was amazing. I got to talk to audience members who told me they laughed but also learned so much about cultural differences.”

Mixing it up

“This show is important in so many ways” says Darrow of ¿Cómo Se Dice…? “We make it our mission to showcase artists of color and encourage different types of performances. We do our best to mix it up a bit.”

Diaz credits the group’s success with the wide range of audiences that have supported past performances. “My favorite moments have always been hosting with Jolie Darrow and Christina Anthony and performing improv with ¿Qué?,” Diaz says. “I truly feel blessed to have a platform to perform in my first language and for people to love it even if they don’t speak Spanish.”

You can catch ¿Cómo Se Dice…? every second Friday of the month at 7pm at Good Good Comedy Theatre. The next show is coming up on April 12, 2019, at 7pm.

What, When, Where

¿Cómo Se Dice…?, featuring ¿Qué?, appears every second Friday of the month at 7pm at Good Good Comedy Theatre, 215 N. 11th Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are available here.

Good Good Comedy Theatre uses a portable ramp for wheelchair access to performances.

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