For those of us with a clear recollection of 90s pop culture, the decade stands out as a heyday for diverse comedy with a distinctly urban sensibility. After In Living Color burst onto the scene in 1990 with comedians like David Alan Grier, Kim Coles, Jamie Foxx and the entire Wayans family (along with Fly Girls Jennifer Lopez and Rosie Perez,) it was ultimately up to the show’s spiritual heir, MADtv, to carry the flag of diversity onto the late-night comedy battle field. (That is, only after Fox dismantled John Leguizamo’s short-lived Latino-powered sketch comedy show House of Buggin, and moved most of the cast and crew to the slightly whiter MADtv.)
Over 14 years, comedic heavyweights of color on MADtv like Anjelah Johnson and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele gave SNL a run for their money while providing Saturday night TV watchers with a channel-flipping utopia. That is, until MADtv’s admirable run came to an end in 2009. Yet even in its absence, the demand for an alternative to SNL’s hilarious but hopelessly white sensibilities hasn’t actually gone anywhere. And with the world more or less in flames, MADtv’s original producers saw a golden opportunity to reboot the show and make fun of this whole mess we’re living in.
Switching homes from Fox to the CW, the newest incarnation of MADtv premiered in late July and brings their edgy, provocative brand of broad comedy back to weekend sketch comedy. But perhaps more importantly, they are staying true to the racially-inclusive vision that kickstarted the careers of some of our most beloved comedians. The new roster includes eight up-and-comers who have been making their names on the TV comedy circuit, along with three comedians culled form the alumni of CBS’ Diversity Showcase.
Among the latter, Mexican-American Michelle Ortiz has officially bumped up the number of Latinas currently on late-night sketch comedy shows to one, and follows up on Jill-Michele Meleán and Anjelah Johnson as one of the few Latinas to make her stamp on MADtv’s roster. Over the season’s first four episodes, Ortiz has emerged as a standout performer, being featured in numerous sketches and earning special attention for her rated-R spin on Dora the Explorer. “The first episode is kind of the Michelle show. It wasn’t on purpose. Even the writers and producers didn’t realize how much stuff I was in until the night of the last taping,” she said in an interview with Latina.
Hopefully this time around, MADtv will be just as influential in launching the career of this promising young Latina as they were with generations past.
MADtv airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.