Salvadoran American stand-up comedian Marcella Arguello was a force to be reckoned with from childhood. Describing herself as a “class clown” who was always “being silly, being goofy” from day one, Arguello has since headlined and opened for acts in comedy clubs around the country, not to mention shows on every network from HBO to Comedy Central to Tubi. Her most recent project, We Need to Talk About America, premiered on Fuse at the end of April and and the 10-episode series features a diverse array of first and second gen entertainers commenting on cultural issues in the U.S. with honesty and their brand of humor. Arguello joins Chinedu Unaka (Insecure), Crystal Marie-Denha (Jane the Virgin), Aida Rodriguez (Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready), and Jesus Trejo (Mr. Iglesias). Even as she enters her 16th year as a professional comedian, she’s still in awe of the opportunities she’s been able to take and how she’s been able to grow over the course of her career.
“I did drama, I did theater, I did chorus. I always liked to perform,” she tells HipLatina. “But as a woman, obviously as a Latina, I never saw us doing anything like that so I didn’t think it was something I could do.”
Like many from marginalized communities, Arguello wrestled with that back-and-forth throughout much of her early life. Though she was always considered funny by friends and family — even enjoying local fame for her Michael Jackson impersonation in school — her plan had initially been to become an elementary schoolteacher. It wasn’t until she began immersing herself in the local comedy scene in Los Angeles—attending comedy shows, making connections and conversation with headliners—that she realized it was something she could also take part in. Turns out, one night seeing the now-famous comedian Jim Gaffigan perform and chatting with him backstage after the show would change the entire trajectory of her life.
“At the end of the conversation, he goes, ‘You should try stand-up comedy,'” she recalls. “No one had ever said it to me, so it was because of him. He is the reason I started getting into stand-up comedy.”
She’s since appeared in countless comedy programs and clubs around the U.S. and now she’s co-starring in the Fuse series with Trejo, a long-time friend.
“I think we’ve known each other for the past twelve years,” she says. When it came to working with him on the show, she laughs recalling their perfect dynamic. “He’s not always comfortable talking about everything the way that I am. I can see his face when he sees something and doesn’t really want to talk about it but I’m like, ‘I can flip it.’ It was really fun to work with him.”
Though the cast and crew had to film the show well within COVID restrictions, she adds that “it was really nice to be able to work with some people that I’ve known forever, work with some new people.”
Because these professional comedians are coming from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, it makes hearing them roast American cultural quirks that much funnier. From gender reveal parties to eating contests, nothing is off the table and everything is fair game to make fun of.
Yet Arguello is constantly argues that being Latina isn’t the only thing she brings to the table as a comedian or as a woman. White men don’t have to explain where they come from or why they look a certain way, so why should anyone from a marginalized community, let alone someone who is Latinx?
“I don’t try to be like, ‘I’m the Latina comedian,'” she explains. “My background is so mixed and yes, I was raised culturally to be proud of my background. But I’m just as white-washed as every other first generation so I don’t ever want to try to be the representative. But I do love when I’m able to talk about my background. And that’s what was cool about [We Need to Talk About America]. Sometimes, it naturally came out and sometimes my shit-talking brain could just talk shit about this thing without it having to be about race or culture.”
The ability to do both on the show and in other performances on stage, to engage with the comedy she’s interested in rather than subscribing to non-Latinx ideas of what being Latinx means, has been extremely freeing for her.
Looking back at her career, Arguello has also noticed a huge shift in the way female comedians carry themselves on stage compared to male comedians, how they are represented, and what expectations they embrace or let go.
“In the 90s, the most popular women in comedy were raunchy, which is cool but it was that concept of the virgin versus the whore,” she says. “It was either girls who were straight-laced, kept it clean or who were very nasty, raunchy, and I’m glad that everything is getting mixed with young women now. Young women are bold as hell nowadays in different ways.”
That hybrid existence that Arguello is pursuing—being Latina but not Latina, being both raunchy and “straight-laced” on stage as she describes—is what she wants for other female comedians. It’s more important than ever to not let our own identities consume us, especially for Latinas who are just beginning their careers in the industry.
“I do hope more Latinas are more comfortable talking about everything they want to talk about and not being like, ‘Because I’m first generation’ or ‘because my parents did this’ or ‘because of my ESL.’ We shouldn’t have to lean on that,” she says. “It’s totally cool if you do but I hope that more Latinas are more comfortable being open and expressive. That’s what I want. I want that for everybody and for us. To not be restricted by our culture and how people see us and what people expect for us.”
When it comes to offering advice to the next generation of Latina comedians — and to herself when she needs a pick-me-up — Arguello keeps it simple: “Be yourself.” She notes:
You have so much to offer, you have so much rich history that we shouldn’t restrict ourselves. We don’t need to explain our history, our hair, our skin tone, our clothes, our background, our accent in front of every audience. Give me what else you’re thinking about, what else is bothering you. Bring them something different. That’s my advice.
We Need to Talk About America is now streaming on Fuse.