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Cristela Alonzo
Cristela Alonzo

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Comedian Cristela Alonzo has a very serious message for you

It involves Muppets

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

In Nine Off-Topic Questions, we talk to luminaries in all fields but ask them questions that have nothing to do with their day jobs.

Cristela Alonzo's career is skyrocketing right now. Her ABC sitcom — Cristela — was just picked up for a full season despite a tough Friday night time slot. Her stand-up comedy career continues to be one of the most promising out there. And she's just released the album Some of the Hits on Comedy Central's record label. That, of course, makes it a great time to check in with her and ask her about anything but those things.

Here are Nine Off-Topic Questions (and one on-topic one) with Cristela Alonzo.

1) What is the first movie you can remember loving?

Cristela Alonzo: First movie has gotta be The Muppets Take Manhattan.

I was a big fan of the Muppets, and I was a really big fan of musical theatre from a really young age. So it was a perfect marriage of both things. What I liked about it is that they were doing exactly what I wanted to do, which was to be on Broadway, and it was for kids. For me, it was kind of like a manual on how to get to Broadway.

Todd VanDerWerff: Did you learn any important lessons from it?

Cristela Alonzo: Yeah! This is actually kind of a serious one. There's a song called "Saying Goodbye," and the whole song is about how if you really want something, you have to be willing to leave home and do whatever you have to do and go where you want to go, to pursue the dream that you want. I learned that, and I always carried it with me, and I always tell people about that song. It sounds ridiculous, but that's what made me leave Texas to try to do stand-up.

2) What is the best advice you've ever gotten?

Cristela Alonzo: You have to be yourself, and you have to write things that make you laugh, because once you try to get somebody else's voice down, everybody knows that you're not being yourself, and it feels artificial. And the audience feels betrayed. You've gotta stick to what you think is funny and make what you think is funny translate into something the audience will laugh at.

That was actually from my brother, who has no idea what stand-up is. It was something that he thought about one day before I left. I didn't want to leave Texas. Part of me was scared, and my brother said, "You always have to remember that if you leave, we don't lock up the city. You can always come back. Another important thing for you to know is that you always have to be yourself. You're funny. You're a funny person by yourself. Don't try to be anything you're not."

3) What's the best advice you've ever given someone?

Cristela Alonzo: The best advice is to not Google yourself.

I don't Google myself at all. I can't take it. In my mind, I imagine terrible things written about me on the internet, so therefore, I never Google myself. People out there, they think that because they can afford a laptop, they have the right to say anything about anything to anyone, at all times. Don't Google yourself, because then you'll judge yourself way too hard.

Todd VanDerWerff: Was there an incident that prompted this?

Cristela Alonzo:There's a show Iconoclaststhat I used to watch on Sundance, and Maya Angelou and Dave Chappelle did one. They talked to each other for about an hour, and Maya Angelou was talking about how sometimes you really can't pay attention to what people are saying about you, regardless of whether it's good or bad, because if you take the compliments, you have to take the criticism too. That's how I took it. "Oh, you know what, Maya? You're right. I am not gonna Google myself."

4) What was the first time you met a celebrity?

Cristela Alonzo: I went to college for a year in St. Louis, and I got a job working at the arena where the St. Louis Blues play, doing catering. And the first celebrity I met was Cher. I was doing catering, and she was there, and I was so in love with her, because she's iconic. She's Cher!

I remember rehearsing what I was going to say to her, because I wanted my first line to Cher to be epic. I wanted it to be so memorable. I remember trying to do it, repeating, "Hi, my name's Cristela. I love your work." Or, "Cher, you're great." Or, "Hey, Cher, I love you with or without Sonny Bono."

And then I finally ended up meeting her, and I freaked out, and I ran away, because I was so nervous to meet her. I literally ran away and never spoke to her.

Todd VanDerWerff: Have you met her since?

Cristela Alonzo: Never ever ever! There's part of me that feels like she'll remember that one random Latina chick that ran away from her 10,000 years ago in St. Louis, and I will never meet her because of that.

5) If you were stranded on a desert island, what would be your secret survival skill?

Cristela Alonzo: Is this even a survival skill? I'm not afraid to eat anything. I will eat anything. If I'm hungry, I don't care if it's poisonous or anything, I'm like, "You know what? Let's chance it. We're gonna eat everything!" That's probably my skill. I've got no fear of food.

6) What song is essential to have a good road trip?

Cristela Alonzo: I am a big Billy Joel fan — like super big Billy Joel fan. If it's a road trip to do a gig, I start playing a lot of "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." It depends on how good the show goes. If it's a bad show, I will listen to Billy Joel's "The Entertainer." The entire song is just basically about how you're the entertainer, and this is your job, to go make people feel good about themselves. You've gotta keep it going, or else if you don't, people will forget who you are in a year. For some reason, I listen to that after every bad show I've ever had.

Todd VanDerWerff: Do you remember early in your career a bad show that stands out to you?

Cristela Alonzo: Oh yeah! I did a college gig at a community college at noon. First of all, they told me they didn't tell the students I was coming. They thought the students were turned off at seeing stand-up comics at lunch, so they just decided not to tell them anymore. So it was basically just me surprising them.

Then they tell me that I can't be dirty, which I wasn't. But I couldn't be dirty because there was an elementary school touring the campus, and also a group of war veterans visiting the campus. So it was really weird, because I was performing in the cafeteria during lunch, and the war veterans came in and decided to get on stage with me, because the stage was blocking the lunch line. That's how they thought they were gonna get into lunch. So they got on stage and formed this line to get into the lunch line, and I had to do my set behind the war veterans to this cafeteria of people who did not want to hear me.

Todd VanDerWerff: That does not sound fun.

Cristela Alonzo: I wanna say it's called paying your dues.

7) What is your most irrational fear?

Cristela Alonzo: I have a fear of walking next to really tall buildings. I have a fear of heights, but for some reason, it goes the other way around, where if I walk next to a big building, I feel like it's gonna fall on top of me the moment I walk by. Always and forever.

Todd VanDerWerff: Growing up in Texas, did you have a lot of tall buildings around you?

Cristela Alonzo: The biggest one was the church that we went to. It was this huge church. It was gigantic. My family being super Catholic, we would go to church, and every time I went to church, I felt like I was gonna die, which made me a really great Catholic.

8) What's your favorite holiday?

Cristela Alonzo: Honestly, I celebrate President's Day. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I don't like Valentine's Day, and President's Day is usually a week later. So as a big F-U to Valentine's Day, I celebrate President's Day, and I tell people that President's Day is a holiday for single people.

Todd VanDerWerff: How did you develop that theory?

Cristela Alonzo: I was dating this guy, and I felt really bad that for Valentine's Day, guys always have to take women out to these expensive dinners at places where it's the same food you get any day, but because it's Valentine's Day, it's twice the price. And I always felt bad for guys because of that.

So I was dating this guy, and I told him, "You know, I'm not into Valentine's Day. I don't want you to do anything. If you want to do something for fun, let's go celebrate President's Day, because I'm really into politics, and I'm really into history." I thought, this is more me. He thought I was joking, but we did it anyway, and it became this tradition that we did every year to go out to dinner on President's Day to celebrate my love for presidents. It was really weird.

9) Who do you think is the most underrated president?

Cristela Alonzo: I'm going to say Grover Cleveland. You don't hear a lot about him. Why not? He's got a great name. No one cares. What did he do? I don't know.

Todd VanDerWerff: He had the two non-consecutive terms.

Cristela Alonzo: Well, yeah, but try to impress people by saying that. "You know what Grover Cleveland did? Two non-consecutive terms!" "Oh okay, great! I'm a fan now! You had me at non-consecutive terms!"

One on-topic question: As your career has skyrocketed, what have you learned about time management?

Cristela Alonzo: I always tell people that when you start doing stand-up, it's like being a drug dealer, where you have to give it away for free so you can get people hooked on it. And by doing that, you kind of realize that I love working so much now, because I look back and think about all the years that I wasn't busy.

And that's what keeps me going is knowing that sometime it will stop, and when it stops, I want to know that I did everything I could to keep it going as long as I could have.

Lead image: ABC

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