A True Story: How Gustavo and Lalo got on Fox’s ‘Bordertown’

twoamigosWant proof that Jesus does more than appear on tortillas?

Refry this: Lalo and I are part of Bordertown, the Fox animated show that’ll satirize the Mexicanization of America through the lens of—yep!—a border town.

Think about it: two of America’s most locos Mexicans, outrageous cartoonist of La Cucaracha and POCHO Jefe-in-Chief Lalo Alcaraz and the notorious author of the ¡Ask a Mexican! column, are on a primetime network TV show. Together (photo, above.) To raise DESMADRE. In an industry that still mostly casts Mexicans as cholos, maids, or…

We’re still pinching ourselves about it, about how awesome Bordertown will be and how lucky we are. And we want to tell our story, not only to allay any fears that the show is going to be a watered-down disaster but to show that the Reconquista has even reached Hollywood.

The story began in September, when I got a call from my agent saying that a Mark Hentemman wanted to talk to me about Bordertown. I Googled Mark and found out he was a veteran of Family Guy, a show I have always loved for its anarchic humor but accepted as a laugh-a-second romp that didn’t aspire for the heights of, say, Edward R. Murrow.

Before our meeting, Mark’s assistant forwarded me a copy of what’s called “the bible”—a detailed outline of the show, from the arc of the show to character bios to episode possibilities. I liked what I read, but wanted to meet Mark to see if he was the real deal or one of the many Hollywood pendejos I’ve encountered in my career (I’ll still never forget the guy who said I could be the next Cantinflas).

Not only was Mark the real deal—nice, funny, and trusting in the opinions of others—he was refreshingly honest. He told me that, while he knew comedy from his years with David Letterman and Family Guy, he wasn’t going to pretend that a gabacho from Cleveland like himself knew much about the Mexican experience in the U.S.; he wanted the best and brightest Latino writers to give his show the right perspective, to tell stories that not only have never been told before on network TV but have them told by the right folks.

He asked if I had any interest in being a writer for the show, and I said no—I love my job being the Mexican-in-Chief at OC Weekly too much. More importantly, though, I told Mark that I felt that this show was already so important that there was no way I wanted a novice like myself (I hadn’t written a television script since my sophomore year at Orange Coast College in 1998) to have a writer’s slot on the show.

I would love to help out on the show in any way possible—but if he wanted a writer, I insisted, the guy he had to hire was Lalo. As it so happened, Mark told me, he had read about Lalo in my ¡Ask a Mexican! book and was going to interview him the following day.

As I left the Family Guy offices, I got a text from Lalo. He was wondering what the hell was this Bordertown and why did a Family Guy producer want to talk to him? I wish I had saved the text, but I essentially told him I had talked him up, so bring the menudo home. He did, because about a week later, Mark, Lalo and I had breakfast at Guisados in Boyle Heights, where we discussed Bordertown possibilities over the restaurant’s fabulous tacos y horchata.

The rest, as they write, is historia. Lalo got hired as a writer, one of five Latinos on staff (and if you count the Jewish guy who grew up in Miami, that’s nearly half the team!). The show was announced, and everyone immediately started hating because of Seth MacFarlane’s role in it as executive producer. Then Lalo wrote his piece defending a show that hadn’t even aired, and people became rightfully excited. And now, I’m involved.

I’m only a part-timer, as a consultant who’s mostly going to be offering notes, but I’ve already seen scripts—amazing, hilarious, and spot-on about what it means to be Mexican in America right now: the pochos, the immigrants, the nerds and narcos. SB 1070 and Zacatecas. Hispandering and the military-industrial complex. Pozole and “El Son de los Aguacates.” The writer’s room is a perfect mix of young guns and vets from legendary shows (South Park, The Simpsons, Mr. Show, The Daily Show, and the Family Guy empire, among others), all knowing full well that they’re writing a pioneering program—and that it has to be pinche funny, or no one will care.

Is the show going to offend people? Of course—that’s what comedy does. But with Lalo and I on board, we’re going to do our damndest to make sure that when Bordertown offends, it’s for a reason—just like we’ve done during our respective careers. Already, our suggestions are being appreciated and being worked into the show; already, Lalo is writing a script and suggesting art and music.

We know that un chingo of people have high expectations for this show, especially given Hollywood’s horrific history with raza — hell, we’re two of those people. Bordertown marks a coming-of-age-in-Hollywood moment for Latinos, especially for immigrants, Mexican-Americans and Chicanos, (and Zacatecan-Americans) because of the casting, the themes and the writing behind this groundbreaking show.

And like Lalo says, it’s time for Raza to put on their big boy and big girl chonies and prepare to experience some of the best, outrageous satire that only cartoons can deliver!

See ustedes in November, and tell your 386 cousins to set their DVRs NOW!