At the age of 8, X Mayo knew she was a star. Born and raised in Los Angeles, X grew up writing, dancing, and performing theater before she bounced around different schools (including some time in college and film and makeup school) – only to realize that academia wasn’t for her.
X, a proud Afro-Latina, spent years in her hometown auditioning – and getting rejected – for roles that were few and far-in between. She unexpectedly moved to New York with $80 and a suitcase when an opportunity to work for a makeup artist during New York Fashion Week presented itself. X booked a plane ticket and arrived in the city, but she never heard from her would-be employer ever again. She stayed in New York to try out her luck, and now, she’s the host of not one, but two of Time Out New York’s picks for “Best Comedy Shows by Women in NYC” – both of which champion people of color – and regularly guest stars as Robbie on the Facebook Watch show Strangers.
We spoke to X about being an Afro-Latina in comedy, the entertainment industry, and the importance of making art by and for people of color. Here’s what she had to say.
How would you describe what you do?
As far as my career, I do entertainment, and right now my focus has been on comedy. I just like, love doing multiple things, but my No. 1 thing is, and what I’m really good at, is producing. Producing my own content is where I’m at right now. It’s very important to me… People just learned what the fuck being Afro-Latino means, let alone seeing that on screen, or seeing it shown through art. It’s not common. So that really excites me to do stuff.
“People have barely, barely, begun to understand what being Afro-Latino means.”
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced in the industry?
People have barely, barely, begun to understand what being Afro-Latino means. And not even fully. People like Dascha Polanco or Cardi, they don’t have my hair, they don’t have my body; I’m darker than both of them. For me, it’s kind of like, it just got to be that people know what the fuck an Afro-Latina is when I’ve known my whole life. And my mama’s told me that, and to be proud of that, and so the challenge is “she’s Latina but she’s not Sofia Vergara; she’s black, but she’s light.” And then the roles are so few, there are already not a lot, and then I don’t get those? I quit acting for a while, because I was asked to lose weight for a gig … Then, I moved to New York … And now my shows and anything I do that stars people of color or has a people of color element to it, is because I was mad. It’s my solution to the problem. I was complaining and my mom was like, “Mija, if you present problems and not solutions, you’re a part of the problem.”
So what are you working on right now? Your live comedy shows “Who Made The Potato Salad” and “Unsung Heroes of Late Night” are purposeful in its intent on focusing on people of color. How much of that sentiment drives you to make your art?
It’s all of it. All my shows only star people of color. There’s always like a token white element to it, like as a bit, and there are white people that I love and are amazing and kind and are, I don’t use the term “woke” for white people… but if I ever were to use that term, it would be the people that are on my shows.
I decided to make “Potato Salad” thinking “Ima do this, Ima do that,” because I don’t need white people to fucking book me. And I don’t need a person of color to tell me I’m not Latina enough. You don’t have to, because I do my own shit. So I don’t have to worry about being rejected, or pitching, or submitting to your shit, ’cause I got my own shit.
So yeah, “Potato Salad” stars just people of color and it’s just for people of color. And yeah, I’m making a statement. Potato salad is a huge-ass show with a rotating cast. Every time you come, you see different people. We’ve done it four times, there’s about 30 people per show. It sells out every time, we try to fit in around 150 people. And I love it when white people come and they’re surprised to see so many different and talented people, and it’s like yeah, so why aren’t they in your fucking shows? ‘Cause we’re here.
Do you, or why do you, find that comedy audiences can be white?
Can be? They are. And I call it out at the top of every show… And why – it’s because these opportunities are not in our communities. That’s why the next “Potato Salad” is a high school takeover. Because if I knew at 16 what the fuck improv was, what sketch comedy was, how to construct a joke, I would’ve had my fucking Late Night packet in by 25, ready to fucking go…. I started a people of color Google Group at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade, a prestigious comedy theater), because many of us have left, thinking “I don’t see us, I don’t see me, I don’t feel me, Where’s the community?”… It’s a list that’s grown from 40 people to 250 …. But, change is happening at UCB. It’s slow, but it has occurred.
“You don’t want to be an overnight success, ’cause then your mind won’t be ready.”
Do you have any advice for young artists or comedians of color who are coming up?
Just do it. I think we think there’s a magical formula or potion or that something just happens. But everything I got – me doing “Potato Salad” – got the attention of my reps, the networks, the executives. And you’re going to make mistakes, but mistakes are beautiful – I just make sure to not make the same mistake twice. Also, do your shit, and because it has your name on it, do that shit right. I take a lot of fucking time with the graphics, with the promo materials, how it was shot, how it’s being branded. But just do it, do the the fucking thing, start, go, do it! Just do it. You’re gonna fail. Everything is not gonna be a success. Also, you don’t want to be an overnight success, ’cause then your mind won’t be ready. If this had all happened to me four years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready. But my mind is ready now.
The next “Who Made The Potato Salad” show takes place September 15 and Strangers is currently streaming on Facebook.