Thirty-three years since debuting at the Galeria de la Raza (art gallery) in San Francisco, CA, for what was supposed to be a temporary gig, Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza, together known as Culture Clash, have since become acclaimed playwrights, TV stars, and lived up to their billing as the self-proclaimed kings of satire. And on Sunday, July 16th at the John Anson Ford Theatres in Hollywood, CA, the Chicano boys were back in town, headlining a revue with friends and other acts, entitled “Culture Clash’s OG Summer Desmadre,” as part of the IGNITE! @ the Ford series, which ultimately focused on an inclusiveness and common bond amid the jokes and melodies.
With a capacity audience of 1,200, the three-and-a-half-hour show did not overstay its welcome, due to in large part of how multifarious the production was as an entertainment spectacle. It was, essentially, a variety show that mostly celebrated Latino heritage and rights – with sketch and stand-up comedy, folkloric dancing, and music from three disparate bands that galvanized the spirited audience.
The show began with a feverish number featuring Siguenza doing a Latin-infused homage to the legend of Prince by lip-syncing “Let’s Go Crazy,” as he sashayed flamboyantly across the stage, strumming his purple guitar with enough gusto that silly string shot out from the frets. Soon, Montoya and Salinas were out on stage as pink-clad rancheros, doing a hysterical partner dance to Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts.” This outlandish tableau was a superb way to summarily rev up the crowd for the rest of the festivities.
When it came time for “Chicano Jeopardy,” with Siguenza this time hysterically impersonating President Trump, Salinas playing a Cheech and Chong superfan, TV/film star Emilio Rivera as himself, and Montoya as Alex Trebek, the crowd ate up the funny exchanges, even more so when it became extraordinarily self-aware — as when Montoya humorously ordered his “contestants” to skip from page 9 to 11 in the script.
Montoya’s candidness was indicative of the evening’s lightheartedness, which felt like a genuine family affair. There was less a feeling of being a passive observer, and more so the empowerment of being an active participant, exemplified by Ric Salinas inviting a male attendee named Danny on stage, so he could comically teach the civilian how to differentiate Latinos from each other by virtue of how they dance (e.g., salsa, meringue, etc.).
Rivera, who will be seen in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” in 2018, also showed his comedic chops after being unexpectedly put on the spot by Montoya, who hadn’t informed Rivera ahead of time that he would be doing a routine. Nevertheless, Rivera effortlessly thought of one within a split second, evoking much laughter with a concise and very memorable set that culminated with an uproarious love poem.
Two other guest comedians joined Rivera – Rudy Moreno, a 25-year-veteran, who can be regularly found at the Ice House in Pasadena, and Sandra Valls, from Showtime’s “The Latin Divas of Comedy.” Moreno shined brilliantly, with the audience practically in the palm of his hands, specifically during his portrayal of how football plays would be called by various individuals if they were an NFL referee.
Valls, too, was excellent in her delivery of punch lines and real-life stories, particularly about a recent drive-thru experience at El Pollo Loco when she misconstrued what the attendant had told her. Following her stand-up set, Valls then counterbalanced her comedy with a rousing rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Her vocals were on-point, gritty, and brimmed with an intensity that left a lasting impression.
Valls’ poignancy was matched by Alice Bag and her band, who performed songs about activism and awareness. Bag, who was an important member of LA’s underground punk scene in the late 1970s, is still equipped with her evocative voice that pulls at the agency of those listening intently to her words. One song, called “Programmed,” which reflects on her time as a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, notably about how she had to conform to a scripted curriculum after previously being afforded the flexibility to engender critical thinking skills, came across as topical and eye-opening about modern-day challenges, especially with (social) media being as pervasively influential as it is.
The best medicine or defense to groupthink is to be not only informed, but unified as a whole while still being cognizant and appreciative of each other’s cultural values. The talented all-female, musical trio, La Victoria, were proof that one can be very contemporary all the while paying homage to a rich Latino heritage. Their original mariachi stylings were familiar, yet also spoke to new horizons and a collaborative future where diversity is to be embraced. In addition, the Pacifico Dance Company, highlighted by folkloric outfits and stellar choreography, similarly underscored this sensibility.
The final act of “Culture Clash’s OG Summer Desmadre” was the 1973-formed band from Lincoln Heights, CA – Tierra. Led by its primary founder and guitarist/vocalist Rudy Salas, along with Will Rivera’s soaring lead vocals, and seven accomplished instrumentalists, the national chart-topping Hispanic R&B group performed, among other songs, “Zoot Suit Boogie,” and their iconic “Together.” The latter was the most appropriate song to end a convivial, and more importantly, communal experience that offered substantive meaning via expressions of satire, comedy, and music.
For more information about future events at the John Anson Ford Theatres, please visit fordtheatres.org