Most of us had the pleasure of watching MADtv give Saturday Night Live a run for its money for 14 years until its unfortunate cancellation back in 2009. In addition to brandishing the logo of the redoubtable Mad Magazine empire, MADtv brought us a conspicuously more diverse cast than its principal rival over at NBC, giving the world contemporary sketch-comedy superstars like Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele along with unforgettable characters like Anjelah Johnson’s Bon Qui Qui.
The 80s babies amongst us might also remember an earlier predecessor to MADtv by the name of In Living Color, which introduced American audiences to a handful of minor celebrities such as Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, The Wayans Brothers, Jennifer Lopez and David Allen Grier (You know, minor celebrities. Wink wink.) But few may remember the missing link between these two iconic programs: a short-lived, Latino sketch comedy show by the name of House of Buggin’ that aired from 1994-95.
Starring John Leguizamo and Luis Guzmán, House of Buggin’ featured a primarily Latino cast along with a few token Caucasian-Americans like David Herman (Michael Bolton from Office Space, anyone?) and Timothy Blake Nelson. When the ratings tanked, Leguizamo was approached by FOX executives about changing the cast. He outright refused and the show was eventually cancelled.
Characterized by its provocative and unapologetic urban sense of humor, House of Buggin’ is a clear reminder that we can do better than the tasteless representations of Latinos that SNL’s been passing off as comedy in recent years. Here are a couple of highlights from this brief but brilliant chapter in American television history.
ILLEGAL ALIEN MAKEOVERS
Now more relevant than ever, this promotional video for the fictitious Illegal Alien Makeovers company kicks off with a young Latino running desperately through New York alleyways with the INS hot on his trail. When he hits a dead end, a blond-wigged, British-accented John Leguizamo appears out of nowhere asking, “Are you sick of being detained, tired of being deported, or just plain fed up?”
After turning Luis Guzmán into a Kevin Costner look-alike, Leguizamo (“Blaine Alexander”), reveals that in addition to being owner of Illegal Alien Makeovers, he is also a satisfied customer. Fascinating to see how little has changed in this country in the twenty years since this sketch first aired.
Did you know that Cops is still on the air? The fact that this infamous piece of reality-shlock holds the record as FOX’s longest-running series is a revealing window into the American psyche. In this sketch, Leguizamo and the gang take advantage of their network’s ownership of the series for a hilarious send up of sensationalist reality TV that is also painfully relevant in 2014.
WEST SIDE STORY SPOOF
Somebody had to do it, and better that is was John Leguizamo and Luis Guzmán. In this sketch, the House of Buggin’ crew brings the snapping, dancing, and brawling Sharks Gang from Leonard Bernstein’s Westside Story face-to-face with a Boyz n the Hood-era L.A. street posse. When John Leguizamo’s switchblade proves no match for a slew of Uzis, AK-47s, and a bazooka, the Sharks desist and leave Guzmán and his crew to deal with a threatening band of Broadway Cats. The sketch closes off with Guzmán lamenting, “I hate the theater district.”