My wife started the day by showing me this article about systemic racism at the Groundlings Comedy Theater.

Wow, I thought, I gotta read this! Here was the LA Times telling me that my life and career was directly impacted by systemic racism. Maybe there is something to this national dialogue on race…

In the early 1990s I was at the Groundlings Theater. As a BIPOC* I was truly in the minority of performers. There were zero Blacks or Latinos on the main stage at the time. After a comparatively short stint in the classes, I myself had reached a highly prized spot in the Sunday Show where I befriended and regularly collaborated with two of three other BIPOC performers. The whole atmosphere was highly competitive, though. Success on Sunday meant a possible upgrade to become a full-fledged Groundling, which in turn was a door to opportunities at superstardom: a sit-com like Friends, a movie career, or a spot on Saturday Night Live.

That last one was especially quite a prize for a guy like me. At that time, SNL had never had a Latino cast member or writer (to this day, they’ve only had 3).

When I was a little kid growing up in the heavily Chicano town of Pueblo, Colorado, I saw the first episode of SNL live (y’know, the episode with George Carlin speaking truth to power), and I watched the show religiously from then on. But I never saw any Brown faces on it.

I saw White faces, and even Black faces, and gay faces, and of course lots of women. But never one like mine. The fact that I reached the Sunday Show felt like one step closer to a dream where being the “First Latino cast member of SNL,” could be a small but important contribution to the empowerment of La Raza.

That dream came crashing down, however, soon after I started performing on Sunday nights. I started feeling the full-scale realities that came with the opportunity. People that I had thought were my friends were now my adversaries. Mentors I had trusted became victimizers. Worse, I was screwed over on some genius comedy bit being in the show. And although I had a cool Latino brand off and running—including a regular sketch which featured my impression of Geraldo Rivera—it seemed to me like I was living out a destiny more as an oppressed minority: marginalized, crying out for justice and justifiably outraged.

Realizing that tyranny must be answered, I ended my career at the Groundlings one night when I turned my Geraldo Rivera impression into a weapon of resistance against a power structure that embodied “White male” values of competition, individualism, compartmentalization and capitalism. “F### U Groundlings!” I thought, patting myself on my little brown back. I left Los Angeles soon afterwards and headed back to Pueblo with a dream of the whole oppressive system crashing down.

Sadly, I was the only who crashed. Over the years, I saw my former fellow performers (including the BIPOCs) step up into their different opportunities that the Groundlings experienced blessed them with. When the smoke finally cleared, I realized that I had not taken a stand for justice. I had only self-destructed and sabotaged an opportunity which that little kid in Pueblo had thought was impossible. How did that happen??

I think my problem at the Groundling started when I lost my virginity to Kathy Griffin. Yeah, that Kathy Griffin, the rich and famous comedian who is against all things Jesus and all things Trump. Kathy was my first teacher at the Groundlings school. I had never had a girlfriend, let alone sex, and I remember wanting to save myself for marriage, perhaps a vestigial value from my abandoned Catholic upbringing. In contrast, Kathy was a woman who liked a good challenge—a very masculine trait. I was just another notch in her anti-chastity belt as we traded the classic gender roles of maiden and lothario. But Kathy was also someone who had authority over me and used it against me. It broke my trust with the organization that gave it to her.

From that point forward, I worked in the system, but I had a chip on my shoulder. Simultaneously, my lack of personal boundaries allowed me to be further wounded. I had a job at the box office, but I lost it when I broke a rule to help a mentor (one who had advised to play up my Latino heritage, incidentally). I had met with some minor unfairnesses in dealing with the personal politics of the place (“Groundlings eat their children” was oft heard backstage). Of course I had to stand up to “The Man!” even if he or she were wearing a dress. I hated authority with every fiber of my being.

But the one thing I never really did was take personal responsibility for my actions. That is, I never took authority over my own life. How could I? All the things I just described—lack of personal boundaries, unhealing woundedness, resentments—are the symptoms of being a professional victim.

Growing up I had been sexually molested, bullied at school, was chronically ill, got called queer, had my ethnic identity constantly thrown in my face—all the while suffering from mental health issues, including depression, that negatively impacted my social skills. As well, I had been raised in a home and a culture that said that men were perpetrators and oppressors that needed to be reformed (aka “Don’t be like your father!”), except the only way they could be fixed was to make them more like women. All the time I heard from the enlightened progressive culture that organized religion was bad, rich people were evil and governments just started wars to dominate other cultures.

God was just some a-hole invented by other a-holes who didn’t understand the true underpinnings of an egalitarian, all-accepting, universal ground of being.

So despite comedy being critically important to me as a means of survival in being the constant minority voice in the room, I became an angry young man always ready to go to war with a system where nothing was funny. I learned how to code-switch with funny characters and voices until that didn’t work anymore and then the only switch I felt I had left was flipping on my violent temper.

And that’s really what killed my career at the Groundlings. My temper. I got pissed and threw a fit and acted like a two-year-old. 

For the record, you have seen a similar victim narrative to mine—along with the consequent self-destructive choices—played out regularly on TV recently when angry young men take to the streets and inflict their vengeance on the world around them. Take it from me, it’s not good. Don’t encourage it. In fact, ask who benefits from these young BIPOC men having a victim mentality?

And don’t “Defund the Police.” That’s short-sighted. It’s not going to fix bad people policing other people (even if they’re called “community-based”). It especially won’t fix the problems of angry young men taking to the streets.

I know. Despite my many run-ins with the cops in my youth—some that sound like those described in BLM narratives—it wasn’t until one day when the police arrested me, and I accepted my consequences that I changed. That day I had destroyed my family and my marriage. I could no longer claim that I was the victim when I had clearly become the victimizer. And long story short—I met Jesus and he saved me from myself. I accepted my personal authority, the consequence of my actions, and in turn put it under the authority of a loving and just God.

As a result, I’m actually back in Los Angeles now working in Hollywood. But this time, I left my victimhood in that past. To wit, I’m told that Hollywood still only has a Latino representation of 1%. But that’s their problem, not mine. Truth is, I face more discrimination in Hollywood for being a conservative Christian than I will ever for being named Martinez. 

Today I live my life in spite of the haters. In fact, I love the haters, like Jesus loves them. And a mind of service and responsibility has led me to regain some of the opportunities I destroyed. 

I now work in development for indie feature films that show on TV. I also run a community of Christian creatives called “Sunday Night Studio” (Sunday has a different meaning for me today). We recently just finished production on a web series called “What the Church!” Check it out at WhattheChurch.TV!

I have the Groundlings in part to thank for that, whether they’re racists or not.

And in their defense, if you do read the LA Times article then please question the narrative. The Groundlings are actually pretty liberal and “woke” folks. They’re trying hard not be racist. I know because several of my old Groundlings colleagues have lectured me and unfriended me for being pro-life, pro-Trump, and not stepping into line with Black Lives Matter. Give them a break. Maybe Blacks and Latinos just really aren’t all that into improv comedy, culturally-wise. 

I mean, it does have a pretty “White Bread” vibe to it (unlike stand-up comedy which is full of Black, Latino, and other voices), right?

Not saying that racism doesn’t exist…just sayin’ that if that’s your defining narrative, your narrative is badly broken. Peace.

🤔😘 🤣 @theEmilioShow 🤪😠😇

*For the record, I find the term “BIPOC” insipid and ironically quite racist. Just rework the words “Black, Indigenous and People of Color” around a bit and you can make the phrase “Colored People, Blacks and other ‘people who were here when we discovered America’.”