It’s one of the dog days of summer, and Arturo Castro, who shot to fame in “Broad City” and “Narcos,” has been running around town promoting his new Comedy Central show, “Alternatino.” The sketch show― a quirky series in the vein of “Inside Amy Schumer,” sees Castro play 45 different characters as he explores sex, stereotypes and identity politics ― and it has earned him rave reviews.
But Castro’s success didn’t come overnight ― more than a decade in the making, he proudly points out, it wouldn’t have happened if not for women: “Every person that’s ever helped me out in this business has been a woman.” His mother took out a loan to send him to school in the U.S. from his native Guatemala, his manager is a woman and then, of course, there are “Broad City” creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, whom he’ll get to later.
Castro’s mom was with him when he recently took his extended Guatemalan family to the “Alternatino” premiere. Afterward, they walked out into Times Square, where they were greeted by a billboard of his face in character and the name ‘Arturo Castro’ staring down at the crowds.
“I thought I was going to have to change my name when I first moved to the States because I thought ‘Arturo Castro’ sounded too ethnic,” he tells me. “[So] to be able to see it on a billboard is a great honor.”
Castro, who has lived in New York for 14 years, explains how shocked he was when he first moved there and realized that he wasn’t white. For a while, he tried to get rid of any traits ― from his accent to his appearance ― that would result in him being labeled or perceived as “other.”
“When you move somewhere, you try to really adopt a culture for a bit, and that means shunning your roots a little bit to gain some separation from it,” he explains. “But then, around 2011, a bunch of my friends from Guatemala moved here to be photographers and actors, and I realized my superpower is where I come from.”
His pivot to lived authenticity is being reflected more broadly on television today, with shows like “Los Espookys,” “Vida” and “Jane the Virgin” marking a shift in where studios and networks are investing their time and their budgets, though there continue to be reservations about the long-term commitment to programming shows that celebrate and promote Hispanic culture in ways that are accessible to the public writ large.
“The pushback used to be, ‘We can’t make any money off of an ethnic person leading a show, or a movie.’ ’Black Panther′ did a lot [to correct] that,” he says. “The numbers started to prove them wrong, and Hollywood is nothing if not clever, and they smartened up pretty quick.”
His comedy is typically fueled by what’s irritating him. He hangs out with his writers every Tuesday, he tells me, kicking off their meetings with the same question: “What’s bothering us today?’”
The misrepresentation of Latin culture, particularly of Latin men, has long peeved Castro and features prominently in the show, like the “When You’re Latinx But You Can’t Dance” sketch.
It’s also a trope he played with on “Broad City” as the series’ beloved Jaimé. He still stands hard for creators Glazer and Jacobson: “They just made my entire career possible. Whenever I came into any questions, I could just always call them, and their point was always stay true to your voice, and be kind.”
Castro’s voice rings out in “Alternatino” with a bite that can be surprising at times.
His comedy might once have been called “bold,” but in today’s political climate, it feels more like “essential.” He pointedly satirizes some of the nation’s most troubling issues, such as the Trump administration’s response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico or the draconian U.S. policy of family separation— issues he says are “impossible to ignore.”
Gun violence has been top of mind of late. An “Alternatino” sketch he’d written about trying to explain mass shootings in the U.S. to a recent immigrant from Central America was delayed after the violent domestic terrorism gun attack in Gilroy, California. Recently, in the wake of August’s devastating weekend of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, he explained on Twitter and in an op-ed in The Washington Post why he could not hold the sketch back any longer: “It will always be ‘too soon’ when gun violence happens so frequently.”
And though politics isn’t the predominant mainstay of “Alternatino” ― it takes up about a quarter of every show ― his approach to covering politics is similar to his approach to covering cultural misnomers: Subvert them to the point of breaking them.