Comedian Cristela Alonzo has a genuine, heartfelt need to not just relate, not just communicate, but to connect — fearlessly and honestly so. She’s aware that she can’t make every bridge happen, but you can bet she gave it her all anyways.
Her show Thursday at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace (Cristela Palace! It writes itself, folks.) isn’t just a return to Bakersfield, but a return to stand-up comedy in general. She took a soft self-imposed hiatus after the 2016 national election, a year and a half after the end of her groundbreaking ABC sitcom “Cristela,” before returning to stand-up last November.
“I didn’t feel like my people were ready to laugh,” Alonzo said via phone interview. "By my people, (I mean) people that just couldn’t process what had happened, and I felt guilty trying to make money making people laugh. I thought that there was a bigger thing for me to do.”
Alonzo kept busy doing voice work for “The Angry Birds Movie” and “Cars 3” (and, in doing so, becoming the first Latina lead in a Disney Pixar movie), and even if she wasn’t performing stand-up in real life, it was streaming on Netflix with her 2017 special “Cristela Alonzo: Lower Classy.”
But the "bigger thing" for Alonzo was the awakening of her dormant inner activist. In 2018, she visited McAllen, Texas, and participated in a nonviolent protest organized by the civil rights organization LUPE against the separation of immigrant families.
“I wanted to go back to my hometown and really focus on helping the community that helped raise me,” Alonzo said. “I love stand-up. I love performing. I love what I do. But I also got to learn that there’s a whole side of me that loves what I was doing (there) and I love that I found a way to marry it (all together).”
Alonzo’s found a socially conscious way to bring the funny — hard — using her own life experiences to mine the humor from our common ground; giving balance to the almost oppressive negativity that dominates our daily narratives with her own spirited, practical positivity.
“When you argue about politics, it comes to opinions, but you can’t deny my truth,” Alonzo said. “That’s the one thing you can’t deny. That’s why I choose to talk about it in my stand-up. You might not agree with what I say or how I grew up or you don’t relate to it, but you can’t deny that that was how I grew up and that’s my history. I’m giving you what I am.”
The show and tour is also a book-signing tour for her recent memoir, “Music to My Years: A Mixtape-Memoir of Growing up and Standing Up,” which uses specific well-known songs to frame her life story. From growing up struggling with poverty in Texas all the way up through the power struggle octagon known as the entertainment industry during her time on “Cristela.”
Coming from the Rio Grande Valley, Bakersfield and its people bring Alonzo a familiar solace that she can’t find in Los Angeles.
“I always like when I get to go to Bakersfield because it makes me feel like I kinda get a little piece of where I come from close to where I live now,” Alonzo said. “So I’m super excited about it and I’m really looking forward to the show.”
Cristela Alonzo: “My Affordable Care Act,” 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, 2800 Buck Owens Blvd. $31.50-$61.50, plus fees. 328-7560; buckowens.com.
BC Jazz Combos, with special guests Ralph Alessi and This Against That, 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 30, Edward J. Simonsen Arts Center, Bakersfield College, 1801 Panorama Drive. $10, $7 students; $35 for VIP donor, which includes pre-show wine and hors d'oeuvres (must be 21 or over). eventbrite.com.
No word if the musicians performing at the Edward J. Simonsen Arts Center at BC on Oct. 30 will be dressing up for Halloween, but rest assured that trumpeter Ralph Alessi and his quintet, This Against That, will be scary enough to render aspiring jazz musicians aghast.
The evening will start with various student combos led by BC’s director of jazz studies, Kris Tiner, featuring original student compositions as well as standards. The event is also a fundraiser to help send some of the advanced jazz combo students to New Orleans — where every day is practically Halloween — in January to perform at the Jazz Education Network conference.
Expect a musical seance next Wednesday with its own flickering spirits of mirth, menace and transcendence (kinda like New Orleans, actually). What ghosts will be summoned? Go and find out!