Jenny Lorenzo is a first generation Cuban-American content creator, actor, and comedian. Lorenzo was a video producer for We Are MiTu and one of the co-founders of Buzzfeed’s Pero Like, and is now creating content that can speak to aspects of the Latino experience through the creation of different characters, including her well-known role as the endearing Abuela. In this interview Jenny discusses her struggles in the industry, and creating characters that call on her nostalgia.
Interview edited for brevity and clarity.
You’ve been creating content for a long time, from being one of the founders of Buzzfeed’s Pero Like to a video producer at We Are MiTu, how has your transition been after going solo in 2017?
It’s been the best transition, and I was really scared at first because obviously I had been trying to do the content creation thing on my own before going to BuzzFeed and MiTu before I moved to LA. And it was difficult, granted it was a completely different audience all within the geek universe, you know movie reviews video games comics between me and some friends but it wasn’t a major company. So, I was scared to go back to that where I’m my own boss again and this time I was truly my own boss because that channel that I’m talking about which was Aggressive Comix that was still run between me and two friends vs. this is all me. But it was the best decision I ever made for myself. At a certain point, I always advise people to definitely take advantage and work at these companies; learn a lot, make new friends, network, get your work out there to millions of eyes.
As a Latina actor, comedian, and entrepreneur what has been one of the greatest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest challenge doesn’t so much have to do with being a woman, it has to do with being a Latina. Because it’s still very difficult… it was difficult for us to even start. It was grueling, we had to work three times as hard compared to our white producer counterparts. But as the original Pero Like members, we felt like the underdog, there was always this looming fear that we were going to be canceled. Actually, that’s happening in digital media, and it’s happening in mainstream media. I was just told by a major network that my sketch show that I’m trying to pitch currently is too Latino, and you know who told me that? A Latino. And it’s crap because a lot of my audience isn’t even Hispanic, it’s people from other walks of life who share the immigrant experience and beyond the immigrant experience just relationships. Everyone has a grandma, or someone who’s like a grandma. So at the end of the day it’s still relatable, you don’t have to get every inside joke but you need to allow those inside jokes to happen because it is content that’s meant to represent your people, so you have to do your people justice first, and then other people will come in.
I think that’s the problem with a lot of Latinx shows that fail over the years, it’s because there’s people at the top that are like “no, you need to make it more global, make it more relatable so everyone can get it,” but then it becomes a Latinx show meant for white people. And you can tell because it’s so watered down that Latinx people don’t get it and don’t like it and say “this isn’t my experience.” So, you’re not doing anybody any favors here because you’re not doing your own culture a favor by representing them super accurately, and you’re also not doing people on the outside any favors because then they’re getting the wrong information about your culture and then we’re going to keep going in circles. It’s frustrating, that is the real challenge. I don’t let my gender get in the way of a damn thing, thank God my abuela passed on her genetics or Bea Arthur voice ’cause I’m short. So, the real struggle is just being Latina in general, just being Cuban, trying to tell the stories properly and not having people try to wash it down.
I think that’s just also part of the audience’s responsibility, we need to show up for each other as well so that Hollywood stops thinking that Mexican people are not going to watch a Cuban show, and Cubans are not going to watch a Dominican show, that’s absurd. Yeah, we have our differences, but we also are very similar. We as a community need to stop gatekeeping each other as to who’s enough of what, so we have to educate each other.
What advice would you give other Latina entrepreneurs who want to go into comedy?
Well, comedy in general for women is a fun area to be in because you’re going to feel like you’re never going to be as funny as your male counterparts. I still feel like that today, on social media and digital media. Because at the end of the day, it always seems funnier for a man to throw a towel on his head and pretend to be a mom than when I play my own identity, my own gender. I’ve always looked up to, and grew up looking up to, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett and women that were just like “screw you.” If Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Tina Fey were all able to do this so can I, whether it’s on a large scale or small scale, it’s definitely doable. I get that question a lot, and I always tell women to not let your gender identity determine whether or not you’re going to go after something. Or whether you are Latinx, certain identities are naturally harder to make it in this industry, unless you’re a straight white cis man. It’s always going to be challenging, but we need these voices to break that stigma, and I would like to think we have started to finally move away from the whole “women can’t be funny thing,” but there’s even women that believe that women aren’t as funny as men.
I think as long as you stick to your truth, because comedy is about reality and truth. That’s why with stand-up comics you find yourself laughing so hard at their jokes, because you relate to what they’re saying. I think this is my big note to all women comedians across the board, do not be afraid to look silly. I’ve seen women get so scared of looking ugly or not sexually attractive and it stunts their comedy…And you learn this in improv class, little kids don’t really have these social restrictions in their heads, they’re just free. So, you have to come back to your childhood self in order to really tackle comedy at its fullest. And I think as you grow, men tend to still have that confidence that they can be whatever they want and be silly, but I see women restraining themselves, because it’s societal, right? Women are told “oh you gotta behave a certain way, look a certain way.”
What is your creative process in creating new characters in your skits?
It’s always scary for me. I started bringing new characters out after Abuela that was really the scariest because I had been doing only her for a long time and then I was like “oh God, are people going to like this new character?” But even Abuela has an evolution in her body posture, appearance, and accent. I really struggled, I remember one time almost crying because when I started taking the Flor character more seriously and I thought “she sounds too much like Abuela.” And as a voice actor, and too much of a perfectionist, I thought “she cannot sound like Abuela, damn it!” And eventually I found the loophole, to make her talk more English which then she sounds a little Russian, but it’s a process. And then with Maruchi, I was really scared to bring her out with Laritza. And I think overtime it’s okay that what you first saw of Abuela and what we first saw of Maruchi, isn’t the same as what you see now because that even happens on TV shows. It’s a lot of trial and error, it’s like comedians who go to comedy clubs to test out their material and then bring it to the bigger stage. I don’t have that luxury though, but I think online audiences are more forgiving of that and I get to see if they like the character. The character Michi was an accident, because for a long time Flor was just a mom screaming off camera, she didn’t have a family that you could physically see, and then I just threw on a wig that I already had and people liked the little girl and we kept doing that character and giving her more depth. And then I was terrified of bringing Jasleiney out because I didn’t want to offend the goth community. But, the whole joke of Jasleiney was that her stuck-up Coral Gables conservative Cuban mom was talking her up for a whole year in my videos, that she was going to Harvard and teaching kids English in Japan, and so then her name kind of lends itself to like a Miami chonga. I think people expected the joke, because my audience is smart. So we thought, “okay, let’s do this Jasleiney character as a goth character,” because it’s very much a part of who I am, but then I was scared that the goth community was going to think I was mocking them. But that happens in a lot of Latinx households, where the parents do not want their kids to get into the arts, or God forbid they are spooked because they are so Catholic and they think they’re worshiping Satan if they are goth. I don’t just want to be the channel that only has angry Latinas with chancletas. And look, that’s a stereotype that’s just very real. I do it with a lot of love, but it’s just reality. But that’s not everybody, so that’s why I love making more and more characters to show that we’re not all the same. That’s why Maruchi is really important to me, because she doesn’t cook and doesn’t like cleaning, she’s rather lazy. And you have Flor who’s a cleaning maniac and that does exist, because I grew up around that intensity. But Maruchi makes Laritza microwave dinners because she doesn’t care about that, and she’s divorced twice and is more open minded. We just don’t see enough variety in Latinx characters, so I’m trying to kind of expand that. Even with characters that I don’t play, like my husband who plays Benito, he’s based on my father and his cousin’s Cuban dad as examples for this character. And if you look at a lot of Latinx shows, the father is typically seen as strict and “the man of the house” (which is kind of sexist), but a lot of people still relate to him and a lot of people find their fathers and grandfathers in him. In this case, Flor wears the pants, and in my upbringing the women wore the pants… a lot of Cuban women actually wore the pants in a lot of households. I mean, there are going to be stereotypical aspects to these characters, but as long as it comes from a good place, as long as it comes from a place of love, it’s important. And for me it’s autobiographical, because these are based on real people. Sure, you’ve got your Tía Gloria character that’s not really coming from love, that’s coming from me wanting to vent about what I think is wrong in our culture, the very judgmental and stuck-up amargadas. And that’s good too because I like to educate through comedy. I’ve already introduced Tía Gloria’s son Jamie who is Jasleiney older brother, and he’s gay. And again, it’s not to mock gay people and it’s not to mock goth people, it’s mocking Tía Gloria. I think it was brilliant in the way that shows used comedy to teach people what is wrong with society. For example in All in the Family, Archie Bunker was a racist, were the creators of the show racist? No, but it was a way to show his dynamic with The Jeffersons and how ridiculous he was. So, that’s what I like to do with my comedy, especially studying my audience. My audience specifically does not like to be preached at, and I think there’s a way to still educate people on what’s wrong with the culture.
You mention in your bio that you are creating “Latino-based content seen through the comedic and nostalgic lens of a 1st generation Cuban-American. In other words, living in the hyphen.” What are you nostalgic about, and what do you miss most about home?
For me, I’m most nostalgic about my Abuela’s house that we unfortunately had to sell when they passed four years ago. But to me, that was everything. My sister and I spent a lot of time in that house so there were so many elements. In fact, my room is full of props pertaining to things that remind me of her house, like little dollar store tchotchkes. When I design my stuff it’s meant to model a lower middle class Cuban house, a Cuban home that takes food stamps and takes Medicaid. There are a lot of wealthy Cubans that came from Cuba that were doctors and lawyers and had a lot of money, that was not my family. My grandfather was a painter and my grandma was a seamstress. He had so many odd jobs, and they had 3rd-4th grade education, so for me that’s what I try to model. I’m not trying to model it after a gorgeous Miami house in Kendall, this is more like a Westchester Hialeah home… things don’t match, a lot of stuff are hand-me-downs or like garage sale finds. So that’s what I’m very nostalgic about, that simplicity. That’s what Miami represents, it all comes down to that home, that the culture, all the vecinos knew each other in that block, I grew up around all these neighbors and they all helped each other out, so that community is what I miss the most.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think I should have taken better care of myself at a younger age regarding mental health and physical health. I have Crohn’s disease and just three weeks ago I was getting tested for ADHD for the first time in my adult life. It took moving out here and balancing so many responsibilities, and realizing “oh my god, my brain doesn’t work.” I felt as though I didn’t learn anything, but in all honesty, it’s fine because we learned all the wrong history anyway, so I’m learning the real history now anyway… all that crap that they taught us was false. I just wasn’t a great student, I was only a good student when it came to things I liked which was drama class, film class, web design, and that’s part of having ADHD. I feel like I would have been a more productive student, maybe I would have gotten a scholarship. But at the end of the day, I got to where I am maybe because of the struggle. But maybe if I would have been more on top of my health because unfortunately my parents are great, but they weren’t on top of any of that for me. I had to be my own advocate regarding my health from a very young age.
How can people support?
The more I grow in numbers on my socials the more credibility I sadly have with networks. So, keep watching my videos, supporting, sharing is a big one. A lot of people don’t realize that sharing is one of the biggest ways to support a creator and just overall engaging with the content: liking and commenting. It’s not just viewing anymore; you have to do more than that to really support your favorite creators online. For example, Instagram favors more than anything if people save your videos, then sharing it to your stories or sharing it with friends, then it’s views, comments, and likes. So it’s engaging with the content, and my Patreon. On my Patreon, all the money goes right back into the videos, it’s how I pay Kevin and all the props and stuff that go into the videos.