Solange Castro is a stand-up comic and published playwright. She recently released a comedy album, “A Journey of Self Discovery,” under a new comedy label called Radland Records. She is currently writing her memoir about salsa dancing, “Salsa Chica: How I Learned To Dance Salsa And Avoid Real Life.” You can get to know Solange by visiting SolangeCastro.com where she has been blogging since 2003.
Listen to Episode #77 here:
Working Hard Enough with Solange Castro
My guest is Solange Castro. Solange is a stand-up comic and published playwright. She released an album, A Journey of Self-Discovery under the new comedy label, RadLand Records. She’s writing her memoir about salsa dancing called Salsa Chica: How I Learned to Dance Salsa and Avoid Real Life. You can get to know her by visiting SolangeCastro.com where you can see her blogs, which date back to 2003. Welcome, Solange.
Thanks for having me.
Solange, if you weren’t working as a comedian or a writer, what would you be doing? I guess you’re going to say dancing, but maybe not.
If I didn’t have to worry about paying bills?
The beauty of this question is people can take it wherever they want.
The thing is comedy doesn’t pay my bills.
What pays your bills?
I work in advertising. I’ve been a freelancer for several years, so I have found a way. It’s not for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I have found a way to make time and energy to pursue these creative passions. However, I will say it’s all with the goal of someday earning a living. What I would be doing is probably take classes all day long. I would take volleyball, tap dance. I would be a permanent late student. That’s probably what I do.
You’re a life-long learner.
Nothing hard. Nothing intellectual, just fun things and always be a beginner at all of them.
Let me make a case for not beginner. Let me make a case for intermediate.
Intermediate is good too. I understand what you’re saying because with a lot like salsa dancing, it wasn’t fun until I passed the beginner level. I took a volleyball class and I played in high school enough so that I’m not a beginner, but being a beginner is the most awkward. It’s a growing phase.
I think you still know enough you can’t get into pretty much anything that’s physical, intellectual has a creative component to it, has depth. You named the thing and even something as simple probably as Pong, the old video game, has some element that once you get past some threshold, it starts to become engaging where you don’t have to think about it as much.
Everything I’ve done, I’ve done so hardcore like comedy, salsa dancing, writing. The idea of being not that good at something appeals to me at this point.
It sounds like you want to be retired.
Permanently retired, I basically live that way. The bills get paid and no one pays them but me. Somehow it happens.
You are generous in saying you’re already retired. You’re saying that for comedic purposes than for anything. Our mutual friend, Jen O’Donnell, it’s amazing how often Jen’s name comes up.
She’s the reason why I am here.
You are now the fourth or fifth jump into-er as I would call them, that is someone who says something before I say welcome to the person and you’re in very good company. I don’t think it’s the case. I’ve been fussing around with this idea a lot. First of all, it’s typically more accomplished people who do it. I sometimes have brand-new fresh comics on and I often have many non-comics, certainly people who are funny in the world of business or science or whatnot. First of all, it’s always comics. It tends to be more accomplished rather than less accomplished.
I’m also impatient. I’m always ready to go straight, which probably serves me well in writing jokes because it’s about the economy and going straight to the meat of what you’re talking about.
You joined Jen in good company with Neal Brennan and Jimmy Carr. I’m not criticizing in any way. I think there’s an akin story too. This researcher did some work on employees and whether they had downloaded Safari or Mozilla’s Firefox rather than using the browser Explorer. It’s Safari and Explorer versus Chrome, whatever, basically going to some third-party rather than relying on Microsoft or Apple’s Explorer. I’m screwing this up. It’s a web browser. What they found was the people who did that, who deviated from the status quo, from the norms were more successful than a lot of them in a lot of ways. They just have this openness to new experiences and so on.
This is turning into an interesting therapy session.
I have no skills in therapy.
This is going much deeper than I thought.
This is what happens when you do a show with a behavioral scientist. This is a study that looks at employees basically with their engagement, their performance in someone, and they find this fascinating correlation. My question that I’m asking and this is based on a very small sample is the person who deviates from the script and jumps in with a joke, a question, whatever it may be, do they have this special something that makes them a better comic?
Short answer, yes. Long answer, the stereotype of comics being screwed up or whatever, coming from backgrounds where they might have had a lot of challenges is true to a large degree. I had this breakthrough because I teach stand-up comedy and a lot of times, because you’re a teacher, when you’re teaching, you realize things about yourself. My dad had a large family and everyone is an alternative. They’re very entrepreneurial, very independent. There are a lot of women. He has four sisters and they also are all hilarious. What I realized in my comedy class was that being funny at the expense of anything was valued. I don’t mean to be negative about my family, but it’s not necessarily like what’s going to breed the greatest relationship between people? It will make for a funny gathering and funny people. I realized that even on both sides of my family, being funny was respected and valued. Also being independent in your thoughts and having your perspective was respected. I have four aunts and one of them started her own business with pressed flowers that she sold on Telegraph Avenue. Nobody told her like, “You can’t make that career.” I had these models of people going off doing whatever they wanted and that totally prepared me to be a stand-up comic. It bred me for this.
It’s a rather entrepreneurial lifestyle career.
You could argue it’s super lonely too, especially if you’re not one to make a lot of connections and relationships. Being a female comic and being a woman who’s very relational-oriented, I feel like I have been able to make these connections. No one’s forcing you to do it, especially if you’re not getting paid. No one’s saying you have to go out to drive out to the open mic and sign up and sit through twenty comics and listen to some horrifying ass-eating jokes. I think you should have a whole chapter on that. Some nights I can’t possibly believe I’ve taken this for all these years. There is something about it that must be so gratifying for me that it somehow has been worth it.
I’ve had a tiny bit of experience performing. I give a lot of talks, but in terms of performing comedy or in some way, shape or form, when you’re hitting and if you hit a home run with something funny and those laughs hit you, I think that feeling alone can keep you going.
I’ve done a lot of shows and I’ve been doing longer sets. In order to do longer sets, I have to tell a lot of old jokes that I don’t feel any connection to. It’s in my muscle memory. Sometimes I’ll do a show and it will go great and everybody will compliment me and the audience had a great time and it was honestly not that fun for me.
Even though you’re getting laughs.
I’m getting tons of laughs. Some nights, I’ll do an open mic and try out new stuff and that’s the greatest feeling in the world.
This is related to this idea of intermediate. You’re on your edge when you’re doing that open mic when you’re making your old jokes.
You just explained it all to me. Also, I’m not getting paid a ton of money, but people paid for their tickets. I believe this is part of the problem we were talking before where I don’t think comics value the audience’s time. I respect the fact that people are sitting there and paying attention to me and I want them to have fun before I have fun.
Thank you for saying this because I sit in this weird in-between space. I wouldn’t call it a liminal space. I live in this world where I have one foot in comedy and one foot out of comedy.
You’re a professor, so you have a whole other life.
I have a whole other life but I’ve dedicated much of it in the last several years to decoding what comics do. I’ve done a little bit. I’ve done a tiny amount enough to again be dangerous in my opinions, but I’ll be damned. I go to shows and I get these comics are working on new material and they should. You were saying it’s LA, so people are certainly doing it because they live here and they’re working on their livelihood. Half the time you haven’t paid anything as an audience member. To be critiqued as an audience member for not laughing at jokes, it poisons the well.
You’re addressing a problem that I have had this conversation about 100 times about the state of comedy in LA. I’ll give you a diatribe that’s opinionated and judgmental and my own personal experience. A lot of people I’ve spoken to would probably concur that we are hitting a new low of terrible comedy in LA. This was not the case when I started. I started in ‘96 and mind you, with no intention of becoming a professional stand-up comic, with no real dream of doing it. I just wanted to get up on stage and tell jokes. If I told my friends I was doing stand-up comedy, they looked at me and it was uncouth. It was not cool to do comedy. Fast forward to 2008, ‘09, suddenly it became a rock star and everyone wants to be a stand-up comic.
Everybody’s an entrepreneur. Everybody’s a stand-up comic.
I am aghast. Everything in life when it’s done excellently, it looks easy. At its best, stand-up comedy looks like someone got up and started talking into a microphone and everyone started laughing. You have no idea how the sausage got made, which was for real comics, thousands of open mics or shows, writing jokes or finding jokes, rewriting for that flip breezy one-liner that seemed like they just thought of it in thin air. Much work goes behind that and there isn’t acknowledgment about it. There is for say if you see someone build a beautiful house, there’s no question that took a lot of work. It is an incredible amount of work to be a stand-up comic who delivers consistent good jokes and consistently make comics laugh. When I started, it was definitely a much more disenfranchised group of people who did comedy, like real weirdos. Now there are a lot of clean-cut people, middle-class, well-adjusted.
Everyone wants to get up there and talk to a microphone. That’s okay. Some of them are funny, but the tolerance for bad comedy is high and I don’t know why people don’t revolt. I’ve had all these ideas like I want to have a gong show mic or someone’s bad, you can just gong him off. I saw this one guy and he’s actually a sweet guy who’s hosting and he’ll go for the worst, like making fun of a disabled person or the lowest, non-thought out. To be honest, it’s a reflection of the time we live in. It’s a reflection of what is happening, what our president is doing. He’s basically a stand-up comic and his level of comedy is what you see at many open mic shows. End of diatribe.
I appreciate strong opinions, but we don’t edit unless someone says something that will get themselves fired. Let me offer a counterpoint.
You’re tapping into a well of frustration.
The other thing is you live it. You’re both in the audience and you’re on stage across all these things.
It’s also my community. It’s so disappointing.
The counter to this is it’s never been better. The reason is when you have a big funnel, when you have lots of shows and you have lots of people trying to do it on the clean, on the dirty side, on the mainstream, on the alt side, you get those four boxes. You have lots of people out there tussling. You’re going to have lots of people doing it badly of course. Because comedy takes years to develop, when you have a big funnel, does it increase the likelihood of the genius? This is the classic counterpoint to overpopulation in the world.
I don’t know who told me this quote that may or may not had been said by Jerry Seinfeld or somebody else. The appropriation of it, I don’t know where it came from. A comic told it to me who is a good source. I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said that when he started comedy, there were 1,000 people doing it and 100 were good. Fast forward many years later, 100,000 people are doing it and 100 are good.
First of all, what I know about the development of skills suggests that’s not true. Pick the career. If we want better engineers, we want more kids taking engineering as freshmen. In that sense, if we want the next Pavarotti, we need to triple, quadruple, multiply times 100 the number of people who are learning to sing.Stand-up comedy looks like someone just got up and started talking into a microphone and everyone started laughing. Click To Tweet
You could be right and maybe many years from now when we’re all living underground, we’ll have so many funny people because of how many people are interested in comedy now. It’s literally exponential every year the number of people who are more interested in it.
Which is good business for me. I get your perspective because you have to commune with these people. You have to compete with these people. You have to run through the gauntlet with these people. For the average person who goes to three comedy shows a year and has Netflix, they’re less affected.
I have this conversation with people who go see comedy shows all the time where they’re like, “One person was funny but then there was this guy.” There’s a lot of disappointment. I remember when I started. I tell this story a lot and part of me is probably 90% old lady, “Back in my day, things are so much better,” and totally take it for that. It’s true when you start comedy and you’re a young person, you’re going to have a lot of patience and you’re going to sit, you’re going to watch a lot of comedy because you never saw it before. It’s a learning process. Also in that time period that I started, comedy was not popular. I did not have any support from my family, from my friends, from my community. The only people who supported it were the people I met in the community. The only reason I did it was I didn’t get any social validation for it because I had this passion, desire to do it. I would go to the mic and sit there and watch every single set. Of course some of them were not great, but also if you weren’t prepared, if you weren’t 100% into it, you got beaten up a little bit. It did make everybody a better comic. The people who were in that room was Zach Galifianakis, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford. The list goes on, the great comics in a very small community of 30 people maybe.
I have to agree in the sense that I also think we should be a little too careful about the wistfulness of back in the day.
I totally can see it probably is.
Only because I think about support for diverse comics and how that’s improving and opportunity and so on. I’ve been reading about Richard Pryor. I’ve been doing a bunch of research on Richard Pryor. If you read about Richard Pryor, you’re going to learn about the Improv, the original comedy club in the United States, Budd Friedman’s Improv in New York City. The stories of how the Improv came about, you just hung around and you hopefully became a regular. The regulars at the Improv at the time was like home run hitter after home run hitter. What happened was you had to bring your A-game because if you weren’t good, the Improv would get rid of you. There was no screwing around. If you have to follow Richard Pryor, you better be ready. I think there are these places and times where communities come together and they make themselves better. Like French impressionist artists in the cafes in Paris and the idea was there was a small group and they were frenemies. They both were encouraging and then competing with each other. I think the room that you’re talking about with Notaro, Galifianakis has that element.
I decided at a certain point that I didn’t want to be a stand-up comic. I didn’t think it was healthy for me. I decided to take a break or just not do it. I wanted to pursue other things. I was 26 at this point because I started when I was 23. I still had all these relationships and one of them was with Maria Bamford. I was with her a lot and I went with her to shows. At one point, I went to Australia with her for the Melbourne Comedy Festival and was always listening to her jokes or laughing about stuff with her. We were always joking around. Being around somebody that brilliant is the best thing. It was probably better than 1,000 open mics. Being with someone that genius and her comedy and her process and watching her, I probably learned more from being her friend than I did from doing anything else.
I was reading about research that’s along those lines, which is if you’re in an open floor plan, like these open offices that are super popular and super dumb. If you put someone near a toxic person, if you get seated near a toxic person, the likelihood that you get fired goes up. That person’s toxicity rubs off on you. If you get parked next to a superstar, the likelihood you get a raise and a promotion go up. There are these contagion effects. I have to imagine when you get parked next to a superstar, it’s not just observing the person, but it’s the interaction and learning from them. You mentioned Tig Notaro and you mentioned Maria Bamford. I want to ask you about both of them. I want to ask you about Maria and I want you to tell a story about Tig. I think of stand-up comedy as a very entrepreneurial venture. In vaudeville, they were the first lean startups, failing fast and so on. Maria seems especially entrepreneurial. Tell me how she is because I have a few things, but I want to hear from someone else as well.
Not only is Maria hugely successful and a genius comic and she could not have done it in a unique way. She’s had the same manager, Bruce, for many years.
Can you describe the way she’s done it for people who don’t know her?
She started out as a performance artist, so she shaved her head and she was playing the violin on stage in Minneapolis and then telling jokes and then gradually gravitated towards comedy. She wasn’t like, “I’m a stand-up comic.” She’s like a one-person show. She is very much like a performance artist. She does all these characters and then I think stand-up fit her better. I watched her try to fit herself into Hollywood or I’ve seen her bomb at clubs, at the Improv. She would even say it. She would be booked at clubs and just be like, “I’m not doing this,” because she felt the audience didn’t get her. She gradually found her audience and it’s big, but she learned early on to do what she wants to do no matter what. That’s what’s amazing is that she gets paid to be Maria Bamford 100%. She’s not pandering, she’s not creating a brand. She’s following her artistic muse always. For that, I think she is one of the greatest role models for artists. She’s also got a very savvy business sense. She doesn’t want to work with people, she didn’t want to do Target commercials. She’s like, “I don’t want to be a Target representative.” She made her choices and there are few artists I can think of who have that much. I don’t want to say integrity like other people aren’t honest, but more like they’re able to just completely honor their personal creativity and still be successful. She’s genius, insanely talented.
One of my favorite bits that I think demonstrates Maria’s genius, if you like her and weirdness if you don’t. She does Old Macdonald and then she does the pterodactyl. It’s incredible.
I’ve seen her do that to stone-cold silence. It’s brilliant.
I saw it. I was watching at home on YouTube and cracked up laughing.
It’s brilliant. Anyone who does comedy will tell you that. This happens because I tell her jokes that don’t necessarily appeal to men because it’s not their experience. My experience is I’ll be in a room full of twenty guys and they’re all silent and two women in the corner are cracking up.
What’s an example of a joke that might have that effect? Even the premise. I know it’s always weird to ask someone to tell their joke.
I don’t mind. I’m like racking my brain. This joke, it’s very hit or miss.
Is it hit or miss or is it polarizing?
It’s polarizing and hit or miss. I dated a much younger person, a guy and I say stuff like that, “I normally don’t date younger men because I can’t sleep on just a mattress on the floor. It hurts my back.” I say that, “It’s nice dating a younger person because I find that a lot of men my age are dead inside. I don’t feel like it takes much to defeat a man spiritually.” Basically, one failed relationship and a parking ticket on the dark night of the soul for two decades. Women are much more resilient. We can lose jobs, relationships and one trip to Ross turns it all around.
I can see why that doesn’t land with the guys for two reasons.
Sometimes it lands with the guys great. They think it’s funny because they identify, but sometimes you can feel this injury.
It might be a little too threatening.
I always want to walk that line, but there always will be women. This one female comic came up to me and she’s like, “I tell all my friends that joke.” I hope I didn’t offend you at all.
No. I do get pissed when I get a parking ticket. I have a good life. This will take us into a different direction than I want to get to. Barring any unforeseen tragedy, I see my dark days are behind me, which is nice. A few parking tickets is not going to bring me down at this point.
I’m happy to hear that. I feel the same way.
Here’s my thing. Is middle age good or bad? I don’t know. It’s good if you’ve taken care of business in your life and it’s bad if you haven’t. Youth can disguise lots of things, lots of problems or delay them. When you’re middle age, if you have money problems, it’s worse. If you have physical problems, it’s worse. If you have relationship problems, it’s worse. If you have career problems, it’s worse. If you’re good at taking care of yourself for twenty-plus years physically and you’ve taken care of your career for twenty-plus years, and if you started saving money early and then you’ve learned good habits. You can then start to get to reap the benefits of all that hard work.
I read an article that said that people who had good childhoods have a harder time dealing with adversity in life as opposed to people who had challenging childhoods. You’re building something. I don’t mean to say having a happy childhood means you’re going to have a harder middle age, but it could.
I remember I used to be a little jealous of friends. First of all, everybody who looks like they have a happy childhood, they always have their issues. We all have our challenges. It’s this idea of when people are like, “Comics are so screwed up.” I’m like, “For every comic who’s up on stage talking about his alcoholism, there are five people in the audience who are alcoholics.” His alcoholism is amplified because he has a mic and you associate it with him. Why didn’t those other five people become funny? Most of those five people aren’t. Alcohol is not a good path to funny in the same way that child abuse is not a good path to funny. Usually child abuse just makes you miserable and a horrible adult.
Somebody asked Steve Martin that. This was probably in 1980 or ‘70s and he said, “I know a lot of comics that are unhappy. I know a lot of doctors and lawyers that are unhappy.” I’m trying to teach you. I don’t know what I’m thinking. You’ve written the book on it.
I’d never heard that, but I do believe that. Let’s finish with Tig. I met Tig Notaro. I saw her perform and I got to interview her afterward. She has a very funny joke. The premise is I think her father-in-law lives with her and her partner, but he’s never completely unpacked. No one considers him as being a permanent resident of the house, but he clearly is. I’m not going to make it funny because I’m not Tig, but it’s incredibly funny about the tension between him living with them but visiting, like he’s constantly visiting so much so he lives out of luggage, as he could leave at any moment. I think during the Q&A, I said like, “Very funny joke. Does this cause problems at home? He does live with you. Around the dinner table, does it come up? Does it make you reluctant to tell the joke?”
Her first answer was, “It doesn’t make me reluctant to tell the joke.” I’m not surprised at all. She just goes, “He doesn’t listen anyway.” The issue is comics can be hard on themselves and others and so on. These are my words, not yours. They’re often very hard on themselves. They talk about their alcoholism, they talk about their failed relationships, they talk about their money problems, etc. It’s what I argue part of the reason why we think they’re so screwed up because they’re willing to talk about those things, but they’re also willing to talk about their family. Nicole Blaine, who was a guest previously, makes very incredibly funny jokes about her family. You have some family jokes. There’s one that stood out to me because you were talking about single living. You’re talking about not having children. I’ll let you talk about it, but that’s no longer a problem because of your dad’s behavior. It was once a problem.
My father is married to a woman who’s four years younger than myself, third marriage. I feel weird calling him dad partly because my new stepmother is four years younger than myself. I feel like I should call him Steve and she can call him dad, then it’s not so weird when I say things like, “I’m hanging out with Steve and his wife or Steve and his wife had a baby,” because Steven, his wife, had a child and I have a six-year-old brother now. When I tell audiences, sometimes they think 75 seems a little old to have a six-year-old. I try to be supportive. I’m like, “You go, Steve. You make your own grandchildren.” It works better if I set it up that I don’t have children. You did that. I have a whole chunk about being single. I have a lot of jokes about not having children. By that point, it’s well-established.People who had good childhoods have a harder time dealing with adversity in life as opposed to people who had challenging childhoods. Click To Tweet
Are you ever reluctant to tell that joke?
No, he’s been in the audience five or six times.
He finds it funny?
Yeah. In fact, one time what I ended up doing is like, “Let’s give it up for Steve.” He loves it. I went to Yale like every parent’s dream. Not impressed. He thought it was cool. He could tell his friends. He was like, “You’re a big deal,” but when he came to see my show at the Punchline and I told all these jokes, he brought all his friends. I’ve never seen him more proud of me. Stand-up comedy impressed him more than anything else.
It’s usually the opposite. It’s like, “Why are you not going to Yale to go pursue a career in stand-up comedy?”
I think it’s because on some level he’s a stand-up comic. He just does it with his friends. I think a lot of my family members are. It’s like what I was saying before, it’s valued and I’ve never seen him proud of me until that night. To be like, “I’m so proud of you,” with tears in his eyes.
Are you teed up by your family to be a stand-up? “This is a funny person.”
I never thought of myself as funny. I was an only child until I was fifteen and my sister was born. I was always taking care of her and playing with her and watched her grow up. To this day, she thinks I am the most hilarious female. I can just say like, “Hello,” and she’ll crack up.
“I love my sister for this so much. She thinks I’m so funny. It’s great.”
There is something about family knowing you so well that you don’t need to set up anything. The premise is all there.
They know you’re not a monster just because you’re saying this.
I will say when I’m around my family now, I’m always amazed at how funny everybody is. As a kid growing up, honestly I was always one of the youngest people in my extended family. I have cousins and aunts. I was always quiet at family functions and there was always somebody, usually my cousin or my aunts who were funny, telling a funny story and everybody listening and laughing. I grew up more observing. My friends and I were always laughing about stuff. I think it was something that I was surprised. I was like, “What? I want to do comedy.” It wasn’t something I felt like, “I’m a comedian,” that I had this strong sense of identity around.
You’ve never had children?
Are you letting dad take care of that?
He’s had three children with three different partners.
There’s a line from Fight Club. He’s setting up franchises.
I joke about it. From three different countries. My mom’s Mexican, Thailand, Philippines. Basically it was growing up with an imperialist, trying to colonize the third world all in one lifetime.
I like the two ways that we interpreted that same situation. You’re like, “It’s imperialism,” and I’m like, “He’s supporting diversity.”
You are a white male, so that’s a different perspective.
I have never had kids so I can’t be accused of neither of those things. No kids. Most people do it. Why haven’t you done it? By the way, I’m not saying this in a judge-y way. Why haven’t you done it?
My dad had four sisters and I think one of them had a child and one of them adopted. The ones who didn’t just do whatever they want.
I’m asking because I had Nicole on. She has children and talks a lot about her children. You don’t talk about not having them.
People would ask me why I don’t want to have kids. I’m like, “It’s fairly obvious. Basically doing whenever you want, whenever you want. It never gets old.” If I was a guy, would you ask me why I don’t have children?
Quite often the stereotype is people don’t ask men why they don’t have children. Maybe you would, but in general society would not ask a man, “Why don’t you want to settle down? Why don’t you have children?”
I get that question.
People ask you that a lot?
It’s hard to measure that.
The pressure for a woman is unbelievable. That’s why I tell so many jokes about it because the pressure I felt to have children was unfathomable. It made me question why my friends have had children because I’m like, “If you don’t have the role models I have had and the strength to resist, yes, you’ll have children.”
Is it because of the pressure?
Yes, or because you get pregnant, which also happens. I have all these jokes about being single and childless, or as I like to think of it, well-rested. It blows my mind the response I get. It’s like women are cheering. I have women coming up to me afterward like, “I love those jokes. I hate all this Hallmark bullshit.” I stopped telling this joke. I was like, “I didn’t mean to start a movement here. I don’t want to be that right.” I do feel like those jokes tap into this pressure. Those jokes tap into a territory that has not been addressed very much in our culture. It’s addressed a little bit. That feeling that I get when I tell those jokes or make that connection is partly what keeps me going. It’s just like, “The things I’m saying are tapping into this unspoken feeling.” That’s powerful. That’s hugely satisfying. That’s a reason to keep going.Dancing is good for your health, and being healthy is good for creativity. Click To Tweet
I was eager to talk to you about that. Certainly, I agree with you that the pressure comes up a lot as a man for me because it’s still unusual, but I don’t feel the pressure. I get questions but I don’t get true pressure about getting married and having children. I certainly agree that it’s asymmetric in that sense. I’m willing to talk about it. I have an episode that I did with Alonzo Bodden that we called Married to Comedy. Alonzo talked at length about his life and how he decided to be a bachelor at his age and to be pursuing comedy the way he has. I’m super interested in this type of stuff and I can’t give it away. I have a secret project I’m working on, but this is a little hint to any regular reader. This stuff we’re talking about is related to the secret project. That’s the biggest foreshadowing I’ve done yet.
I’m actually not adverse to having children. I would probably adopt. It’s not off the table, but I feel like a huge sense of purpose in speaking and talking about these things in my comedy. It satisfies me because the other thing is I’m a feminist to the core of my being. When I was ten years old, if you remember iron-on stores, I picked out one that had that quote, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” I was ten years old. I would wear it so proudly. I have this natural desire to protect and speak out for women in some way. That drives my comedy. Because if someone said, “You can’t do that. You need to focus on calm,” I don’t know if I would even want to do it. I have jokes that are non-feminists, I have a lot of jokes about dating, but those feel me.
I’m obviously interested in this stuff. Let me ask a couple of other questions that are related. You’re working on this memoir and the subtitle is How I Learned to Dance Salsa and Avoid Real Life. You have this thread that I’m noticing about avoiding real life from the way you answered. Real-life as defined by society, which is white picket fences, 9 to 5 jobs. Starting all the way back with the way you answered the question, open about being retired and taking classes all the time to this stuff that we’ve talked about through and through. Where do you think this is, I don’t want to call it an aversion to real life, but this sense of being away from it and celebrating it in your jokes, in your writing and so on? Tell me a little bit more about that.
I grew up with a single mom. She later got married and had kids and became a white picket fence, which I didn’t grow up with that mom. She changed. She was a lot younger when I was born. My dad has four sisters and my mom has two sisters. I grew up with a lot of strong women. I had a strong mother who instilled in me this very determined woman to do what I want with my life, despite the fact that she also put an insane amount of pressure on me to have children. I think I knew on some level like, “I can’t do both. I don’t have it in me.” I felt this artistic calling was so strong. I also probably didn’t trust that if I’m married, I’m still going to be able to do all this other stuff. I didn’t have faith in it. People think that marriage rates are going down, but they’re actually not. It’s like the Christian community. There are actually a lot of weddings and a lot of young people, young women feel like this is how they have to live their life. I have so many young women come up to me and like, “I love your jokes. I love what you’re talking about because I don’t know if I want to get married and have children.” There’s nothing sadder than making a decision that you don’t necessarily want because you feel like you have to. I feel like celebrating the whole idea that you can live however you want like how men live. You can do what you want. I feel like celebrating that so that younger women know that they have choices.
To me this is not wholly a female issue because obviously men get married too. Men have kids. The burden is less so on the man when it comes to children. They have their own set of challenges. Both sexes suffer. What you’re saying resonates.
I think men identify with that in me as well. I don’t think it’s just women. I think that I get it from men and women. Women are more likely to talk to me about it more specifically.
You talked about the pressure that women have in the world, so imagine a world where women feel pressured to get married and have children and men want to be with these women. There are guys I think, a lot of times, where they have children not because they want to have children, they have children because they don’t want to lose.
The same thing with women, I feel like a lot of women I know, their husbands were the ones who wanted to have children. I actually read a statistic somewhere that it is men now who more often want to have children. Women probably feel more pressure because as you get older, it gets harder. The pressure to make that decision when you’re younger is greater for a woman.
Men have the luxury of waiting and seeing. You were joking about being retired and I said I don’t think you can do that. I said that based upon my research on you. When someone puts a lot of stuff out in the world, you get to know them. Jen also told me you’re one of the hardest working comics in LA.
That’s very sweet of her. I am not, but I’m glad she thinks that.
Why would she say that then?
I do work hard enough. I do think you need to get up three or four times a week.
I have to come up with a title for this. My working title up until now was Preparing for Retirement with Solange Castro, but I think it is now called Working Hard Enough.
I do believe that I need to go up a minimum three times a week to not get rusty. I think that because a comic told me that it was one of those things where it’s got ingrained in my psyche. I do a lot of mics and shows that you might not necessarily want to go to sometimes. I’ll get up there and I’ll just run my set because I think you have to run it to get it in your muscle memory. I’m glad she thinks I work hard. I think I work hard too. I think honestly a lot of it is I enjoy doing it too.
This is for the reader. It’s 6:00 PM on the summer in a Saturday in Los Angeles. It’s beautiful outside. What are we doing? We’re doing this. Neither of us is being paid to do this. This is not done because it’s work.
I did a podcast in a car with the AC on before a show and that was great too. This is great. I do feel like I did with that podcast a vomiting forth of all. It’s like comedy therapy. I apologize if any of it sounded emotional.
I don’t think you have anything to apologize for.
I’m such a woman. I’m sorry.
The last thing I want to talk about was your dancing. Not only are you pursuing comedy, but you are also an accomplished dancer and instructor.
I’m beyond intermediate.
Beyond intermediate, last I checked is an expert.
There are levels of expert. Anyway, I’ve been dancing for a long time and I do it recreationally. I did teach a bunch of young kids at a summer camp.
You have some YouTube videos of teaching people.
I made a lot of videos. I had a series called Teaching Comics to Dance Salsa. I actually teach Maria Bamford in one of them. You don’t need to know a lot to make a funny video when you’re teaching dance to a comic.
It’s a perfect platform, so to speak. This is going to sound weird. What is it about dance that compels you?
I’m actually quite a physical person. I always did sports and stuff and I am half-Mexican. I grew up listening to Latin music and salsa and I always wanted to dance and then I got into it. If I could go back in time, I probably would have studied dance. I probably would have gone to community college and just studied dance. I love it so much.
What is it about salsa?
It was the music. I don’t love all salsa. I like Mambo more now, but I love music and it’s a Latin culture and I’m Latin. It makes sense.
Any overlap between dancing and comedy in terms of skills, in terms of perspective, in terms of lessons? Is that true?
I always say that there’s no irony in salsa dancing and there’s a lot of irony in comedy.
They’re truly independent. They’re like two different buckets in your life, different friends.
No comedians in salsa.
Yet you still brought them together.
I actually dance on the Promenade on Sundays and I have a show at the West Side Theater, which is also on the Promenade. My salsa friends are going to come and see my comedy show. There’s zero overlap. It’s very interesting. I think that doing physical activity is great for a creative. I think it grounds you. I don’t know if you study creativity, but I think that when you’re physically active, it can open up things in your brain. I think that dancing salsa helped me with my creativity.
Obviously, dancing is good for your health and being healthy is good for creativity. I also think this idea of being fixated on something else away from your problem allows this. I’m working on a book. I go back through these sometimes for little nuggets. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be dancing per se. I was revisiting a conversation I had with Wil Anderson, this great Aussie comic. He talks about working at his desk and then at some point he gets up and cleans the pool and how that helps him with his creative process. Have you been blogging for several years?
Yes. I have to say in the last year or two, I post a lot of stuff. Not every year I had as many posts or zeal to it. I’ve been drawing cartoons lately, so I’ve been posting those and I post shows or I’ll write something, but I think a lot of my writing energy has gone into my jokes. Sometimes I’ll take all my jokes and I’ll create a little essay. It’s like a notebook.
What’s one thing that you’re reading, watching or listening to that’s great?
BoJack Horseman season five, I finished it for the second time. That show’s brilliant. If it doesn’t win a lot of Emmys, I don’t know what I’m going to do.
I ask that question with everyone. BoJack doesn’t come up very much, but I’ve heard from lots of people in comedy about how wonderful the show is. If you’re going to make a case for someone reading why they should, because I will tell you this, BoJack Horseman is not an obvious choice for someone to say, “I’m going to sit down and take a gamble on this animated show where the lead is a horse.” Make the case.
It is dark and deep and it’s about show business but it goes into all kinds of directions. One of the writers I used to watch do improv and she’s brilliant. It’s obviously like improv people. It’s like they took some improv exercises and went crazy with them. There are no limits to it in any way. At the end of the day, season five, it was written before 2017 or maybe in 2017, but it addresses all the #MeToo issues. BoJack becomes a feminist because he’s like, “The problem with feminism is that men weren’t doing it.” It makes fun of True Detective, which I love because I hated that show. It satirizes True Detective so brilliantly and that whole macho auteur, I can’t stand it. It’s brilliant on so many levels. It talks about all these issues so amazingly. It’s not pandering to anyone. It has this voice. I find quite a bit of Netflix and Amazon content like I can’t even watch it.
It shoots down the middle. Big audiences are not niche.
BoJack Horseman is very niche.
I knew this would be fun because I trust Jen O’Donnell’s judgment. She has not failed us.
Jen is an amazing woman and an amazing resource for people, things, anything.
I’m excited to read your book when it comes out, Salsa Chica.
I just want to plug my play. It’s called Changes in the Mating Strategies of White People.
I look forward to that too. Especially because I may be going through them. Thanks so much.
Thanks so much for having me. This is great.
- A Journey of Self-Discovery
- Jen O’Donnell – past episode
- Neal Brennan – past episode
- Jimmy Carr – past episode
- Maria Bamford on YouTube
- Nicole Blaine – past episode
- Married to Comedy – past episode
- Wil Anderson – past episode
- Changes in the Mating Strategies of White People
About Solange Castro
Solange Castro is a standup comic and published playwright. She recently released a comedy album “A Journey of Self Discovery” under a new comedy label called Radland Records.
She is currently writing her memoir about salsa dancing, “Salsa Chica: How I Learned To Dance Salsa And Avoid Real Life”. You can get to know Solange by visiting SolangeCastro.com where she has been blogging since 2003.
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