In some circles, Arturo Castro is best known for his role as the colorfully comedic Jaime on Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s “Broad City,” while others recognize him most as the much more serious and dramatic David on Netflix’s “Narcos.” But the writer, producer and performer doesn’t want to be put in a box. That’s why he began doing online sketches on comedycentral.com a few years ago and has now taken such material further, for his own variety series, “Alternatino with Arturo Castro.”
“The show started as a love letter to my upbringing,” Castro tells Variety.
Castro was born and raised in Guatemala, but spent the most recent decade and a half of his life, and crux of his professional career, in New York City. With experiences from both places shaping him as a man and comedian, Castro acknowledges he has a unique point of view. But, he believes that all of his friends, whether they’re American or “international,” laugh at the same circumstances.
“The human experience at its base level is pretty much the same oh,” Castro says, “so for the television show I wanted to create some relatable circumstances throughout the narrative portion. Everyone can relate to feeling awkward on a first date or being at a party where you’re uncomfortable, and my theory is that if you can watch it and you relate to that and there’s somebody that doesn’t look like you doing it, maybe it will shift the conversation in your head a little bit.”
Each episode of “Alternatino” includes a narrative story that carries through the entire half-hour, interspersed with other sketches. Although Castro believes the success of sketch is in the ensemble, he does portray the main character in each narrative story, as well as key players in the other sketches — more than 40 characters in the first season overall. This includes parodies of pop culture phenomena such as “50 Shades of Grey,” as well as the rapper Pitbull. But he also takes on an “Arturo character,” who Castro calls a “heightened version” of himself but draws on some of his own experiences, such as a bad break-up or being assumed to be just like his “Narcos” character in real life.
“He’s definitely more naive than I am — he’s a bit more of a dumbass,” Castro says of this character. “He’s well-intentioned but because he’s so well intentioned he tends to put himself in situations that are so idiotic.”
Although Castro admits he doesn’t “think comedy should be a like a documentary,” mining his own experiences and emotions helps get to a truth underneath the exaggerations that he thinks is essentially in making an impact on one’s audience.
“I do believe there’s something to be said about leaving a little blood in the water,” he says. “If there something that is hard to talk about, and you can acknowledge it or explore it through your show, it’s real and it’s raw, and I think it’s funny.”
This is also why Castro prefers to get personal over political. The first season of “Alternatino” was written over a few months starting in the summer of 2018, and then shot from December 2018 to February 2019. Castro admits “it’s hard to be topical” when you’re working on a longer lead show as opposed to a daily, because you don’t want to be working on a sketch about something, while “the next thing is already happening.” Instead, Castro looks to talk about the “grand themes” and attitudes towards certain issues, especially “negative narratives” about the Latino experiences.
“We try to exaggerate it so that people will be like, ‘Oh my God that’s ridiculous.’ Exactly. Just put it at the forefront and try to break it down through behavior,” he says.
The first season of “Alternatino” taught Castro the importance of “gratitude,” he says, after watching how hard his crew worked to see his dream realized. “We wrote this in L.A., not thinking abut things like weather, but then we they had to make Long Island in January look like a warm beach in Miami,” he recalls for one sketch that featured him playing Pitbull.
But he also learned a lot about himself. “After doing 42 characters on the show, I’m not really scared of anything. You have to make choices in such a rapid space,” he says. “But where there was a learning curve was in being a boss. First, you’re an actor and you’re hustling and hustling and hustling. And then there’s some people working under you. Thankfully I have Abbi and Ilana to lean on and call. The main advice is [that] all you can be is ‘cool dad,’ but there’s a power of responsibility.”
“Alternatino with Arturo Castro” premieres June 18 on Comedy Central.