Cristela Alonzo is making history as the first Latina to write, produce, and star in her own prime-time television show, the new ABC sitcom Cristela, her own semi-autobiographical comedy–and she’s only 35. Already the show has been rated the # 2 most-watched new comedy debut of the fall and airs on Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. eastern.
In February 2014, a full-length pilot for ABC was filmed on the stage of the sitcom Last Man Standing. Its testing made a strong impression on the audience, and in May 2014, ABC chose the pilot to become a series for the 2014–15 season. The real Cristela tells of a rough childhood in San Juan, Texas, when she, her 3 siblings, and her mother sometimes had to squat in an abandoned diner. Ms. Alonzo spent a lot of time indoors, watching TV; letting her play outside was too dangerous. Over the years, Alonzo absorbed the storytelling techniques of television, making her a natural TV writer.
In her show, she uses actual events from her life in her storylines, drawing on the characteristics of her mother, who was, in many ways, a prototypical Latina maid. The TV version of Cristela has bettered herself and is an aspiring lawyer who moves in with her extended family in Dallas while she finishes law school. Her character has an unpaid internship, something her family members do not understand. Alonzo had a lot to draw on here, as well: her family did not understand her dream of becoming a performer.
Since Cristela bases her sitcom on her own life, her family has had a big personal interest in the show’s storylines—this especially goes for Cristela’s sister, whose fictional counterpart is a big part of the show. Cristela’s real life sister admits to being obsessed with the actress who is playing her on Cristela, Maria Canals Barrera, whom she befriended on Facebook, follows on Twitter, talks to regularly, and about whom she commented, “It is like looking in a mirror!”
Ms. Alonzo started her career in 2006 as a stand-up comedienne, worked her way up the circuit, and advanced to appearing on Conan, Showtime, Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand Up Revolution, Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Live at Gotham. She has said that her goal for this series is simply to present funny, entertaining stories showcasing a normal Latino-American family, with all the customary love and ribbing and sass that comes with the territory.