J.J. Ramirez is one of the stars of the 2006 documentary The Latin Legends of Comedy. He's done stand-up all over the City since 1981, and, these days, performs at least twice a week at Comic Strip Live. On his business card, he states "Comedy is my life" and refers to himself as "The Latin Lunatic."
Are you a native New Yorker?
J.J. Ramirez: Yeah, this is my city. I was born in south Bronx and raised in East New York, Brooklyn, so they're pretty tough neighborhoods. They molded me pretty well. And I've been living in Queens now for about 20 years. I call the B-B-Q home: Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens.
What can people expect if they come to your show?
JR: I do a lot of audience participation and improvisational stuff, a lot of ethnic and observational stuff. It's not one specific genre.
Tell me about getting your start in comedy here.
JR: I got started right here [at Comic Strip Live] about 28 years ago—in '81.
Was it a struggle to make it in comedy?
JR: Yeah. I often thought of changing my name. I didn't want to use the name "Ramirez." At the time, everyone was changing their names, and I thought about shortening it to "Ram."
What was your experience as a Latin comic in the City?
JR: Back then, there weren't very many. That's why we did the movie The Latin Legends of Comedy. We were pretty much the pioneers—me and my friends Joe Vega, Angel Salazar and another comic, Al Romero, a Cuban comic. We were the first Latin comics in New York and sort of paved the path the way George Lopez and those guys did on the West Coast. Young Latin comics kinda look up to us.
What do New York audiences have that other audiences don't?
JR: They're quicker. New York crowds are sharp. They've heard everything and seen everything; it's easier to get across different references to them—especially older crowds. People are intelligent here and wise to the world surrounding them.
You improvise a lot. What if you can't find the right target in the audience?
JR: Then I'll make a target. I'll shape it. Sometimes it's there for you and it's easy; other times you have to mold it. Some comics are really harsh with audiences—or they're really mean—but I'm not. Everything's in fun. There's never that meanness, unless I have a heckler, and that's different. You also have to be on top of current events and at least aware of things that are going on around the world, so that you can comment on them.
Do you have an example of how you've shut down a heckler in the past?
JR: One time, I was onstage, and for some reason I had a hair caught and people were saying it looked like I had a toupee. And this guy who was with his girlfriend, he swore I had a toupee. I said, "Guy, it's not a toupee—it's my real hair." And he says, "I'll bet you $50 that's a toupee." Finally, I couldn't take it anymore, so I said, "Give the waitress the money." Then I had his girlfriend come up. She pulled on my hair and said, "Oh, my God, it's his hair." I made $50 extra bucks that night, and that guy had to sit there all night while everyone was laughing.