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23 Feb 2010

Impacters of Today

Impacters, Today No Comments

John Leguizamo

Actor and comedian John Leguizama was born on July 22, 1964 in Bogotá, Colombia. With his chameleon-like ability to satirize a range of ethnic groups, Leguizamo is pheraps best known for his one-man stage shows.

Although born in Colombia, Leguizamo spent his formative years in Jackson Heights, a formerly-rough neighborhood in Queens, New York. His parents spent much of their time either working or bickering. His turbulent home life would become the basis of some of Leguizamo’s most popular creative work.  His parents eventually divorced when he was 14. Meanwhile, Leguizamo began experimenting with the milder forms of delinquency. He was arrested twice, once for hopping a subway turnstyle and another time for truancy. He also ran afoul of the law when he and a friend commandeered a subway public address system and performed an impromptu comedy routine. While his comedy stylings would later amuse Broadway audiences, the Queens police were less than tickled by the effort.

In order to “straighten him out,” Leguizamo’s parents sent him back to Colombia for a year. Upon his return, Leguizamo continued to demonstrate a penchant for mischief. At the prompting of teachers, Leguizamo attended a local acting school, funding his classes through a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. This led to a stint at New York University in 1991, but Leguizamo soon left school to join the Off Center Theater, a Manhattan comedy troupe.

Leguizamo spent the mid- to late-1980s performing in comedy clubs,polishing his material and working on the various stage personas that would later populate his live shows. He made his film debut in Brian De Palma’s critically acclaimed Vietnam drama, Casualties of War (1989). Other film roles followed in quick succession, from bit parts in big-budget vehicles like Die Hard II (1990) and Regarding Henry (1991), to featured roles in independent films, like 1991’s Hanging with the Homeboys.

Despite his rising professional fortunes, Leguizamo was frustrated by the roles offered him, which often involved playing thugs or drug dealers. He turned to live theater as a means of blasting Latino stereotypes through fierce comedic caricature.

His first effort, Mambo Mouth (1991), opened off Broadway and was later picked up by HBO for broadcast on their HBO Comedy Theater series. The performace won an Obie Award from the Village Voice, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Vanguard Award, and a CableACE Award. Although some critics contended that the show perpetuated the very stereotypes is purported to undermine, audiences disagreed. Leguizamo’s 1992 follow-up, Spic-O-Rama, continued on in the same vein. His 1998 offering, Freak, was equally successful and turned into an HBO special directed by Spike Lee. 2001 saw John return to the stage with Sexaholix…a Love Story, which was based on his sold-out national tour, “John Leguizamo Live!”

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