“Breaking” returns with Ricardo Gamboa, a multimedia creator making comedy and news programs for the web while empowering Latinx voices in Chicago’s theater scene.
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Projects: Gamboa’s ”Brujos” is an OpenTV-based comedy series about gay Latino witches who navigate White heteronormative doctoral programs and sinister metaphysical threats alike. “The Hoodoisie” is a new live online news program covering community activism in Chicago. Gamboa also participates in myriad theater projects in his hometown.
Why You Should Care: Ricardo Gamboa first emerged on our radar with an irreverent video diatribe on “Saturday Night Live’s” decision to let Donald Trump host despite his racism toward Latinx people and immigrants. His combination of sociopolitical commentary and in-your-face humor is on full display in “Brujos,” which debuted this year via Open TV, a digital platform for creators from marginalized groups.
Prior to launching his own projects, Gamboa acted in commercials. One 2003 role convinced him that the had to go his own way. ”I was the McGriddle cholo in a McDonald’s ad for the McGriddle,” says Gamboa, a South Side Chicago native of Mexican descent. “The commercial was just me washing a lowrider while wearing a saggy jersey, jeans, gold chain and bandana. I thought, ‘This is the most racist shit ever, I don’t need to be doing commercial acting anymore.’”
The experience pushed Gamboa into Chicago’s theater scene, where he began confronting racial disparities head-on. “I realized that the audiences there were mostly White and really divorced from the surrounding communities,” he explains. “Over 70 percent of all arts funding goes to the North Side, which is Whiter and more affluent, while the South Side, where I grew up and is full of people of color, doesn’t get those resources.”
Gamboa has persevered, eventually crowdfunding more of his own projects, like “Brujos.” The series, whose first four episodes are available now, stars Gamboa as “Panfilo,” one of four gay Latino Ph.D. students who are also male witches, or “brujos.”* The brujos navigate their academic programs while fighting a witch hunters’ coven descended from European “New World” colonizers. Gamboa drew from the Mexican “brujería“ tradition and his own experiences as a Ph.D. candidate in at New York University for the show. “[I was] thinking about us, people of color and queer people, having been invalidated to the point of not trusting ourselves,” he says about the show’s inspiration. “And I wanted to respond to the media landscape, which [too often] reduces queer people to homonormative White guys.”
Gamboa envisions “Brujos” as a three-season arc, an homage to Spanish-language telenovelas. He prioritizes casting actors of color in ways unseen on most television, as well as writing with a progressive voice that makes comedy out of the racism and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric familiar to the characters.
Gamboa, who grew up among community organizers, has also created “The Hoodoisie,” a DIY live news show and podcast set in a different gentrifying Chicago neighborhood every month. On each episode of “The Hoodoisie” (which rhymes with “bourgeoisie”), Gamboa talks to organizers, artists and other community figures involved in local anti-oppresion efforts. In an April 22 episode, Gamboa interviews Jesús “Chuy” García, the Cook County commissioner well known for his progressive, populist mayoral campaign against Rahm Emanuel.
On top of his comedy and news series, Gamboa works in local theater. For his upcoming show, “Meet Juan(ito) Doe,” he opened a “storyfront” community space in the Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood to collect stories from the area’s Mexican-American residents. He and other Mexican-American writers will use those stories in their narrative portrait of the community’s rich history and present, which will debut in September 2017.
*Post has been updated since publication to clarify that “Brujos’ ” first four episodes are not the first season, but part of it.