Standup comedian Jerry Garcia was in the fifth grade when he became addicted to making people laugh. Although he admits he was a class clown at school, Garcia said he wasn’t a troublemaker.
“I was all over the place,” Garcia, told Remezcla during an interview last week to promote his upcoming HBO Latino special Jerry Garcia: It’s Not My Weekend. “Teachers would tell me, ‘You’re a pleasure to have in class, but you have to settle down.’”
When his school held a talent show that year, Garcia wanted to participate, but didn’t know what to do. His teacher decided to partner him up with a classmate, so they could perform a comedy sketch together. The sketch: Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First, a routine the legendary comedians first performed together during a vaudeville revue in 1937.
Although the sketch was more than half a century old, 10-year-old Garcia thought it was hilarious. He said he ended up watching the sketch “at least 100 times” on an old VHS tape, so he and his classmate could memorize it for their onstage debut.
“We would stay after school and study it,” Garcia said. “Then, we perfected it and performed it. I remember everyone was laughing — even the teachers. I thought that was awesome. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a comedian.”
The idea to make standup comedy a career, however, didn’t register with Garcia until after high school. He had seen comics like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor on TV before, but when he saw George Lopez in 1999, he knew his goal was attainable.
“I say this kidding around, but everything changed when I saw George Lopez onstage being so funny … and so ugly,” Garcia said. “I didn’t know ugly people could make it on TV. He looked like me. He was brown and sweaty and feo and cachetón. That made it real to me. I thought, ‘There are real people doing this!’”
It would take Garcia another 10 years to “figure out life” and “have the balls to finally get on stage,” but for the last decade, the Huntington Park native has worked his way up the national standup comedy ranks with purpose. Since hitting the circuit in 2009, Garcia has been featured on Fox’s comedy series Laughs in 2016, comedian Chingo Bling’s They Can’t Deport Us All special on Netflix in 2017, and recently on the Latin Kings of Comedy Tour with Paul Rodriguez.
In his new half-hour comedy special Jerry Garcia: It’s Not My Weekend, Garcia uses self-deprecating humor and a mix of fictional and nonfictional characters to talk about his life as a single-father of three boys (ages 11, 10 and 3), parenting with his two baby mamas, dating single moms, and how thankful he is for his sons’ stepdad, AKA his “sugar stepdaddy.”
“This fool’s buying them stuff,” Garcia said during his special. “He’s taking them places. I’m saving money all the way to the bank. I’m telling my kids, ‘Keep this guy. If your mom breaks up with him, I’ll date him. Whatever she’s not doing, I’ll do it!’”
The stepdad he references in the special, Garcia said, is a composite character he created from all the people who supported him through the years.
“It’s a team effort [raising kids],” Garcia said. “It takes a village. That includes some of the boyfriends of my baby mamas who have been nice enough to take them on a weekend when I couldn’t be around.”
Garcia admits working as a standup has been a sacrifice for everyone. Although custody arrangements give him the kids Sunday through Wednesday, schedules sometimes shift when he has to go on the road for a gig. It’s a lifestyle he has spoken to his two oldest boys about and one they understand more and more as they get older.
“My boys have sacrificed so much,” Garcia said. “They’re in sports — soccer and basketball — and I’ve already missed so many games. But I’ve talked to them about what I’m up to. They get it.”
Nearly 30 years since getting his first laugh on stage in the fifth grade, it’s a feeling Garcia still can’t live without.
“It’s like a drug,” he said. “I try and stay home as much as possible when I have my kids, but I go through anxiety when I’m not on stage. I love comedy and I’m always thinking of the next joke to say and the next stage to get on. It’s a gift that I appreciate having. I want to take advantage of it as much as possible.”
Available June 14, 2019, starting at 9:30 p.m. on HBO Latino and all of HBO’s digital platforms (HBO GO, HBO Now, and HBO on Demand).