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John Leguizamo has had a long and successful film and TV career. Early on he had recurring roles on Miami Vice and ER and worked with directors like Brian DePalma, Spike Lee, and Baz Lurhman. And he also provided a voice in the animated Ice Age franchise: Sid the sloth.
But alongside this life on-screen, Leguizamo has also built a singularly successful theater career, based on a form he helped pioneer—the funny, autobiographical one-man play.
He started in 1991 with Mambo Mouth, a collection of vignettes, each of different Latin characters, all played by Leguizamo. Next came Spic-O-Rama, then Freak, Sexaholix, and Ghetto Klown. Each play was written and performed by Leguizamo and dug into Leguizamo’s own life as the son of Colombian immigrants, who broke into show business young.
His latest, Latin History for Morons, won a Tony Award in 2018. It sticks to the form of his earlier productions, but this time, it’s more explicitly educational. Dressed in his professorial best—vest, tie, and jacket—Leguizamo spends his 90 minutes onstage instructing his audience. But like all of Leguizamo’s plays, Latin History is funny and jam-packed with impersonations. But he’s not kidding about the history teaching part. He writes on the chalkboard, asks questions of the audience, and whips out books. He even created a reading list.
“I wanted to make it as fun as possible,” Leguizamo says, “to get kids to read, to want to find out, and get adults motivated to look at these syllabuses that I posted.”
Like all Leguizamo’s plays, Latin History for Morons sprang directly from his life. He talks with Kurt Andersen about the origins of the play, the craft of creating the multitude of historic characters he plays, his career onstage, and his new roles on screen, including in Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us.
John Leguizamo’s one-man show Latin History for Morons is touring nationally, in 11 cities, now through the fall.
This podcast was produced by Studio 360’s Lauren Hansen.
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