VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Comedian Erik Rivera Explains How He Made Culture Clashes Funny In HBO Standup Special ‘Super White’
Hispanic comedian Erik Rivera has a brand new HBO standup special called Super White that pokes fun at his “whiteness” and discusses his family’s humorous culture clashes.
The comedian and writer — who is best known for his roles on the televised series Off Script and Superior Donuts — spoke to uInterview exclusively about his new comedy special and what it was like to incorporate his family into it. Rivera explained that Super White primarily revolves around the subject of cultural identity and how many American-born Latinos often find themselves trapped between two cultures: their family’s way of life and American customs.
“There’s a duality we live,” said Rivera. “You’re trying to assimilate and be American and at the same time not lose your culture. If you go too far one way, your family will call you a sellout,” he added before revealing that his family often mocks him with nicknames like “Mr. Hollywood” and “coconut” whenever he comes to visit because of his gradual assimilation to white American culture.
Rivera also referenced the current political climate and said he believes that as a Latino, veering too far into his native culture can easily turn him into “the bad guy.”
The comedian devotes a significant amount of time to his family in the new special, and specifically talks about how his mom checks his “whiteness.” Rivera explained that his mother had a certain expectation that he would marry a woman like her, rather than a white American girl.
“I think she was looking forward to me settling down with a nice Latino woman who would do the traditional things that are expected of a wife,” said Rivera before describing his white wife as a “modern woman.”
“She doesn’t cook,” Rivera added of his wife. “She tried to cook once and she burnt spaghetti, which I still don’t know how you burn spaghetti!”
The comedian conceded, however, that he is certain that his wife’s family also struggles to fully understand the cultural differences between him and her and told a hilarious anecdote of his wife’s mother failing at her attempt to get to know him. Rivera revealed on the day he met his mother-in-law, she presented him with a Mexican sombrero-shaped platter that holds tortilla chips and that was activated with a button that opened a guacamole compartment and that sparked the playing of the Mexican hat dance.
“To her, it was like, ‘oh my god, we’re going to be best friends!’ And in my head, I’m like ‘this is culturally not correct. But luckily for you, I’m in standup and I’m gonna talk about it.'”
Rivera, who is a father to young children, said he is relieved that he still has “about 10 years” until they can understand what he does for a living and discover his jokes about them. Nevertheless, the comedian said he is always cautious to talk about his family in a respectful and non-patronizing way.
Rivera also admitted he is still learning the ropes of child-rearing and strives to adapt his parenting style to today’s complex world. The comedian revealed he tries to be especially loving toward his children and becoming involved with their life because his father was often emotionally detached.
“In the special, I talk about trying to be a part of my son’s life and going to school and talking to his teachers,” said Rivera. “I don’t think my father met any teachers throughout any of my schooling: middle school, high school or elementary. I don’t think he could pick one out of a lineup.”
The comedian also marveled at his wife’s family’s holiday traditions, saying he found their celebration of Christmas to be especially intriguing.
“They do what I call ‘white Christmas,’ which is amazing,” said Rivera. “My father-in-law goes out to a tree farm and picks a real tree and chops it down himself!”
“The first time he introduced me to this, I thought he was going to murder me in the woods,” Rivera added jokingly before describing how utterly frightened he was by his father-in-law carrying an ax.
The comedian said spending the holidays with both his family and his wife’s provided great material for his new standup, as the festivities were filled with cultural clashes and misunderstandings. Rivera explained his mother-in-law made turkey for Christmas, while his mother cooked pernil, a slow-roasted pork dish common in Latin American cultures.
“It was just complete chaos, so now we do separate Christmases,” said Rivera. “That’s how you keep them together and happy.”
Super White is now available on HBO Latino.