By David Gavri
Juan Villareal is a name that’s practically legendary in this city. He’s shared the stage with some of the greatest: Steve Harvey, Paul Rodriguez, Cedric the Entertainer, Jamie Foxx, and Carlos Mencia. His TV credits are outstanding. He’s appeared on HBO and Showtime, and he’s performed on BET’s Comic View an honorary eleven times—more than any other comedian. For the past twenty years, he’s been traveling the country, entertaining audiences from coast to coast. But no matter how long he’s on stage, it’s never enough. He always leaves the crowd wanting more. Get your fix this weekend, as he takes the stage tonight and tomorrow night, right here in town, at The Comedy Showcase.
So Juan, how did you get your start in comedy?
Well, the way it happened, one time I got my lights and my water cut off—I was strugglin’. I felt real shitty not bein able to provide for my family like that, so I went into the garage to be alone. It was real cloudy and real windy—newspapers were flyin’ all over the place. And all of a sudden, outta nowhere, a lil joint fell to the ground. And I’m like, “Damn, did I hide that in here and forget about it?” And then, out of ALL the papers flyin’, with ALL kindsa pages, the one that lands right in front of me opens to the page that says, “Be a Star: Open Mic Night! Amateur Comedians Wanted!”
And so I started smokin that joint, starin at that page thinkin of all the things I would say if I went up and did comedy. And after that, I ran outta there, and went straight to The Laff Stop. It gives me chills every time I think about that night. I’m not really religious or superstitious, but some things gotta happen for a reason.
Your first time on stage—what was it like?
I really don’t drink, but that night I drank a forty ounce right before I went on stage. I was real graphic. I wore spandex and stuffed the front of my pants, makin it look like a big ol’ fake dick. So I made jokes about havin big dick problems. [laughs] Talkin’ like, “I can’t get no head with this big dick! My girlfriend’s got stretch marks all over her face!” [laughs] It was graphic, but the crowd loved it. [moment of laughter]
Your career picked up shortly after. Tell us about that.
Well, I went back on stage the following week and did jokes about the flood people—always gettin’ flooded from the hurricanes, yet they never move away! In fact, that was the joke that got me on TV my first time. Soon after, I started hosting and doing guest spots. Soon I was introduced to Rashon McDonald—Steve Harvey’s manager. At the time, he was runnin the Hip Hop Comedy Stop. Rashon saw me and liked me, and then he later introduced me to Carlos Mencia. Rashon got me on BET, Carlos got me on HBO, after that I started goin on tour—it was on! This was just three months after I started.
How many times have you been on TV throughout your career? And what’s it like?
Been on TV twenty-two times. Now the thing about TV, is that it gives people a false impression of who you are. People think that since you’re on TV, you must be rich. I mean shit, the first time I went on BET, they paid me a hundred and fifty bucks! And I still had to pay for my own flight, hotel, rental car, and all that. But the upside was the exposure. But just be careful, once you get on TV, people are going to look at you very differently. That’s just how it goes.
How do you deal with the way people change towards you?
That’s just how it is, man. And on top of that, people are gunna talk shit about you. You’ve probably heard more bad things about me than good things. But its like, I know who I am, and I know what I’m doing. You’re never gunna alter my mind and my mood no matter what negativity you throw at me. And you know somethin, that’s how you know you’re gettin’ places—when people go outta their way to talk bad about you.
And when you start makin it, be ready—people are REALLY gunna talk shit. Even your own homeboys are gunna turn their backs ‘n start talkin shit. But that’s how you know you’re gettin’ places. Just keep doin what you’re doin’ and stay positive.
And believe me, it’s TOUGH, especially when your closest friends are talkin shit to you. Just try not to go down to their level. And I ain’t sayin I’m perfect—I’ve knocked some people out from time to time. [laughs] And most the time I try ‘n walk away, but other times I had to be like, “Oh you wanna disrespect me like that? You wanna see how hood I am?! We gunna take care of this RIGHT NOW FUCKER!” [laughs]
You just performed with Carlos Mencia here at the Improv. What’s it like to share the stage with a comedian of that caliber?
Oh it’s unbelievable. And we’ve both known each other for a very long time—he’s one of my best friends. We’re have a lot in common. We both come from big families, and we both grew up in the hood. The only thing is, he went to college and I didn’t—and that’s why he’s got about a hundred million more than me. [laughs]
Despite what everybody’s been sayin about him, the guy is brilliant—way ahead of most people. Carlos shows love to the up-and-coming comedians. He really helps ‘em out—and so many comedians aren’t doing that.
Alotta comedians keep the same few openers that they roll with and nobody else outside of that. But you gotta give these young comics a shot. Carlos has brought in alotta young talent. He’s responsible for alotta comedians’ careers. A LOT. And he treats ‘em all like family.
Carlos is a great teacher. He can be harsh on us sometimes, but he’s really pushin’ us. One time I left the stage with a standing ovation—it felt great! And Carlos was like, “What was that shit?” I’m like, “What do you mean? I got a standing ovation!” And he’s like, “Of course you did, anybody coulda got a standing ovation with that shit!” [laughs] He’s a true perfectionist. He’s doesn’t settle for “Good”, he wants “Great”.
Carlos Mencia has been under a lot of attack. How do you respond to that?
You know, like I said, Carlos does a lot of good things for people. He’s real friendly, and he’s real humble. And it’s a real shitty thing to see these attacks on him like that. If you got a problem with a comic, then address that comic personally. There’s no need to make it anybody else’s business. And also, check yourself, like, who the fuck are you to criticize anybody? What have you done for you to tell this guy ANYTHING?
But ya know something, Carlos is stronger than ever now, and he knows it. He’s killin ‘em all over. He’s on a whole ‘nother level now. He’s sellin’ out crowds EVERYWHERE. And that’s why people don’t like him. Cuz he can go to a place like Billings, Montana—charge fifty bucks—and still sell five thousand tickets. Who does that?!
You’re friends with a lot of big name comedians. Does it help to have friends like that when it comes to getting gigs?
Not at all. Nobody owes you anything in this game. Carlos is one of my best friends, and I’ve known him for a very long time, but I’ve NEVER said to him, “Hey man, put me on your show!” Never. But as soon as I got the call from him askin’ to be on, I was like, “Hell yeah! Let’s go!”
And alotta people feel entitled to certain things just because they know certain people. But, it doesn’t work like that. I mean, I’ve hung out with Steve Harvey—my kids and his kids are friends, Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Jamie Foxx, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mack, D.L. Hughley—all those people. I’m cool with all of ‘em, but at the end of the day, they don’t owe me anything. Alotta people say things like, “Whattt?! Why don’t you ask ‘em to put you in a movie?!” It’s just not like that. But as soon as you get that call, you better be ready.
Is there a “proper path” to becoming a comedian?
Well, traditionally, you’re supposed to go from open mic to host, on to feature, and then onto headliner/closer. That’s how you grow. But alotta comics try to skip steps. You see comedians getting on TV bevause they can do a killer five minutes. And because of that, all of a sudden, they’re a headliner—outta nowhere. Yet, they can’t really headline cuz they don’t have enough material. So you gotta be real careful. TV can make you a star real quick, but it’ll eat you up if you’re not ready.
What is a good amount of time for a headliner to perform?
I’d say between an hour and fifteen, to an hour and a half. After that, people start to get tired.
You’ve performed all over the country. How does the crowd differ from coast to coast?
The crowds on the west coast are pretty chill for the most part—you can take a little more time with your set ups and punchlines. And for the most part, the middle of the country’s like that, too. But the east coast is a different ball game. It’s very fast paced. Crowds are snappin at you like, “C’mon, lets go!” They want constant jokes, back to back! But no matter what kinda crowd you perform in front of, if they’ve never heard of you, you gotta hit ‘em hard within the first six seconds.
You’ve done comedy in so many different places—touring the country, being on TV, performing overseas for the troups. Ever perform on cruise ships?
Na, never did cruise ships. I got invited to do ‘em, but I was like, “Na I saw Titanic, I’m cool.” [laughs]
How do you like to write?
I’ve never really written out a joke on a piece of paper or anything like that. On stage is where I write my jokes. And that’s how I’ve honed my style. And then the topics sorta come together as they fit with my style.
What’s it like trying to balance family life with comedy life?
For a comedian, it’s tough. You’re gone ALL the time. I’ve had to miss alotta birthdays, New Years’, Christmases, first days of school, parent teacher conferences—I’ve had to miss alotta that stuff—and it’s been real hard. All I know is: Stay close to your kids. Don’t be their friend—be their PARENT. And do the best you can—be there for ‘em as much as you can. Every moment I’m with my kids, I love it. And now I have grandchildren, and those moments I have with them are my moments. We have alotta fun, I love it.
What’s in the future for Juan Villareal?
I’ve got alotta material, and I’m ready to start burnin’ it. It’s time to start droppin albums and DVDs. Ima hit it hard, it’s time to go on a lil run.
What’s the best part about doing comedy?
Getting to help people and make ‘em happy. I do alotta charity work—and that’s the best part for me. Helpin’ people through comedy. We did an event at Maggie Ritas—Carlos Mencia’s restaurant—it was called Feeding Back Our Children. And I’ve had to be on food stamps. So it’s a good thing to be able to help out these kids.
[A drunk lady comes over to complain about her seats. She spoke in a way where each word was a higher pitch than the last, finishing each sentence in the highest pitch possible]
Girl: [gasp] Uhh like okay, so our TABLE was RIGHT in fronnatha POLE! But we thought you were SO FUNNY, we LOVE YOU, we ADORE YOU! But we had the WORST VIEW! Like, OMMAGODDD!
Juan: Oh no, I’m sorry to hear th—
Girl: Like, whatthaFUCK? [at maximum pitch] We pay ALL this money, RIGHT? And we’re in fronnatha tha fuckin POLE? REALLY?!? [peaking at maximum pitch]
Juan: Ya know what, I will—
Girl: But we fuggin LOVE YOU! But, like, sooo how are you gunna accomodate me? [seductive tone] Thiss’mah husband b’thaway. [points to her left]
Juan: Ya know what, I’ll get ya some tickets to my next show.
Girl: Ommagod THANKYEWWW! That is SO sweet of YOU! G’NIIIGHT!
What advice do you have for younger comics?
Comics today aren’t realistic—they’re not being real with themselves. So many comics are out there sayin things like, “I can DO thirty minutes, but I really only have a strong fifteen.” Its like, “Well…then you ONLY HAVE fifteen minutes!” There’s a difference between being able to DO thirty minutes, and HAVING thirty minutes. You see a comic nowadays doin comedy just a few years, and they think they’re a true headliner, yet they barely have ONE hour of material. They think that everybody owes them something. Like, “Well I did this for him, so now he owes me this ‘n that.” Nobody owes you anything in this game. You gotta work for everything you get.
Have fun, respect the game, and do work. Alotta comics don’t realize that it’s called “Show BUSINESS”. So you gotta take care of both your show and your business. There have been times where I’ve made three, four hundred thousand dollars in ONE YEAR—and then had nothing left at the end of it—nothin but stories. [laughs]
Work together and help each other out. We’re all in this together, so let’s work with each other and make big things happen. We can ALL do great things. It’s all about collaborating with each other.
And stay away from negativity. Stay away from those bitterass comics who never made it. You gotta stay positive, and you gotta surround yourself with people who are positive. There’s no need to be negative. Afterall, we’re lucky as hell! We get to go up on stage and be funny for a living! Everyone’s nice to us, and we get to meet alotta really cool people. It’s so much fun. Enjoy it.
Be gracious. Stay humble. Keep it real.
Click Here for the official site of Juan Villareal!
Click Here for his Facebook page.
Interviewed & Written by: David Gavri