Over nearly 30 years, John Leguizamo has built one of the most prolific careers of any Latino actor of this generation. And sure, we might still have a bad taste in our mouth from some of his more questionable career choices (The Pest, Super Mario Bros.), but they’ve been more than made up for by his memorable turns alongside the likes of Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way or Patrick Swayze in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Along the way he’s found his voice as a pioneer of the autobiographical one-man show, in which he deftly fuses comedy, storytelling, and theater in a moving and hilarious hybrid spectacle that has come to define his legacy over the years.
Now Johnny Legs is taking this exploration into uncharted territory and turning his latest hit autobiographical show Ghetto Klown into a graphic novel. It’s an unconventional move, but as a glut of entertainers begin to elaborate their own autobiographical shows, it only makes sense that Leguizamo keep pushing the limits of self-representation for others to follow. And don’t think it’s just going to be a rehashing of the same old material, as this new medium has allowed Leguizamo to cover his life in one big multi-decade sweep like it’s never been covered before.
To mark the Ghetto Klown adaptation’s impending publication, Leguizamo sat down with Bronx-born gamer king Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez at New York Comic Con to chat about sharing stories, honing the craft, and purging demons through art. Here are some highlights.
On Telling the Stories That Need to Be Told
“I hadn’t seen people tell our life stories, of somebody coming from an underprivileged background and trying to make it.”
I felt like I hadn’t seen people tell our life stories, of somebody coming from an underprivileged background and trying to make it and trying to deal with our issues, and I just found that that was the interesting part of it. What is it like to be urban and disenfranchised and still have a point of view and still have a sense of humor and still try to make it in America? What’s that life like?
On Starting From the Bottom
I read a statistic a couple years back that said that 45 percent of Latin kids drop out of high school. It wasn’t a shock to hear what a tragedy that is, but I knew what they felt like. You just feel so disconnected and so invisible, and I was hoping Ghetto Klown would make them feel like, “If I could make it, then you could make it – then anyone could make it.”
On Great Storytelling
“You gotta have either a crazy life happen to you, or you better be the best storyteller possible.”
When you’re telling your own personal story it’s a really difficult thing to do. And there’s only two ways of doing it: one, you gotta have either a crazy life happen to you, or you better be the best storyteller possible. I’m in the latter group. I spent years crafting [Ghetto Klown] and making it as perfect as possible. And that’s hopefully what I bring across – great storytelling, so people can enjoy the craft.
On Looking At Your Life Like a Rubik’s Cube
Life doesn’t fit the three-act structure. Life doesn’t fall easily into those places, so it takes years and years of introspection and really looking at my life, like a Rubik’s cube. How am I going to make my life fit into a three-act structure so it can be a satisfying story?
On Dealing With The Toxic Elements in Your Life
I didn’t really start out wanting to do my own life story. Mambo Mouth was my first one-man show and it was about the people in my neighborhood, then Spic-O-Rama was about a fictional Latin family based on my own family. And then I had a lot of demons, and I needed to resolve them and work through them, and Freak became an outlet for that…So Ghetto Klown took those toxic elements of my life and helped me deal with them.