For Ignacio Gonzalez, his is a life of contradictions

Ignacio Gonzalez works at a non-profit agency helping people with developmental disabilities, and moonlights as a stand-up comedian. Photo by Eric Pierce

Ignacio Gonzalez works at a non-profit agency helping people with developmental disabilities, and moonlights as a stand-up comedian. Photo by Eric Pierce

Name: Ignacio “Nacho” Gonzalez

Age: 48

Residence: Downey

Occupation: Independent living advocate

For as long as he can remember, Ignacio Gonzalez was the “funny” one.

Every group of friends has an Ignacio: the person who lightens awkward conversations with sarcastic comments, the guy who cracks jokes around the office Xerox machine. He is somehow quiet and reserved and also the life of the party.

Ignacio grew up in Bell Gardens, and after graduating Bell Gardens High School, completed his general education courses at East Los Angeles College before heading off to UC Berkeley. He graduated with degrees in economics and public policy, and went straight to work, mostly in non-profit and public service jobs.

His most high-profile position was working as legislative director for then-L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina. When she was termed out of office in 2014, Ignacio landed at the Downey-based Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living, where his responsibilities include helping people with mild to moderate developmental disabilities live independent lives -- in other words, outside a nursing home. He remains there today.

Ignacio Gonzalez performing at the Ice House comedy club in Pasadena. Photo by Nicole Pierce

Ignacio Gonzalez performing at the Ice House comedy club in Pasadena. Photo by Nicole Pierce

It’s fulfilling work, but one that doesn’t scratch Ignacio’s creative itch.

That’s why late last year he enrolled in a six-week stand-up comedy class taught by veteran comic Rudy Moreno. Moreno has been a stand-up comic for more than two decades, with credits in “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Arrested Development” and dozens of other TV shows and films.

Ignacio learned of the class through Josefina Lopez, artistic director at Casa 0101 Theatre in Boyle Heights and author of “Real Women Have Curves.” Lopez had enrolled in the comedy class and invited Ignacio, a Casa 0101 board member, to come along. (Side note: a new 6-week session begins Feb. 23.)

“It was kind of spur of the moment,” Ignacio said. “You know, last minute, two days before the deadline.”

In the class, Ignacio learned that being funny simply isn’t enough to be a successful comic. He had to learn structure, timing, emphasis, and how to effectively string one funny anecdote to the next.

“I had all these scattered jokes and Rudy guided me on how to actually put them together in a tight set -- all the mechanics of writing your niche joke, writing the set, and then going up on stage,” he said.

Ignacio made his stage debut Oct. 27, 2018 in the main room of the Ice House, delivering a 7-minute set of mostly self-deprecating humor. The performance was positively received by the audience.

Before the show, Ignacio had watched YouTube videos of comedians giving advice to rookie comics, and worked on his material until he knew it line by line.

“You work on your set not just until you memorize it, but until you can’t forget it,” Ignacio said. “And that eliminates a lot of the nerves, because you’re nervous because you think you might embarrass yourself and fall flat, but if you’re positive that you know your set, then the nerves go away a little bit.”

For his debut performance, Ignacio developed material by drawing on personal experiences. His very first joke was a jab at his oversized frame. (“It’s my first time going on stage,” he said, before deadpanning, “I’ve been doing stand up for like 10 years but it’s the first time i made it up the steps.”)

“Rudy had us write a list of premises, things that happened in your life, things that you hate, and then take it from there,” Ignacio later explained. “You develop all these premises, and some of them you’ll find might be funny but it would be a one-off: ‘Don’t you hate when this happens..’ ok, so what, that’s it, you can’t take it anywhere.

“But then there are some jokes you can develop, and have another joke, and another one, and you can sort of pile on the jokes and you can stretch it out into an actual bit.”

Since his debut last October, Ignacio has gone on to perform at various bars, clubs and restaurants in Southern California. And not every gig is the same.

“People, especially newbies like me, like to show off, ‘Yeah, I’ve been to the Ice House, yeah I’ve been here,’ but what experienced comics respect is if you go to these little hole-in-the-walls, open mics at different bars where not everyone is there for the comedy night. But if you can go to these places and get somebody to laugh, you know you’re doing ok. If you have somebody that has their back to you, just drinking a beer, and suddenly they turn around like, ‘Oh wow, that was funny,’ that’s the goal.”

Does Ignacio get political in his stand-up?

“I wouldn’t get political for the sake of getting political, but if I can string together three, four, five jokes, then maybe. But it has to be funny. You can’t just get up there and spout off like your crazy uncle.”

Is Ignacio’s material for mature audiences?

“I try not to cuss too much because the advice is if you have to rely on a bad word, then you don’t really have the goods.”

Ignacio Gonzalez plays chess at Vazza Cafe in Downey. Photo by Michael Chirco

Ignacio Gonzalez plays chess at Vazza Cafe in Downey. Photo by Michael Chirco

What’s the ultimate goal?

Ignacio has taken scriptwriting classes and has developed a TV pilot, complete with character bios, story arcs, the whole package.

“I think if sometime I can bring the two together [comedy and TV] and can pitch the show, that would be a goal.”

Who are his favorite comedians?

Ignacio cites Rodney Dangerfield as an early favorite, but also draws heavily from Chris Rock.

“I think he’s brilliant,” Ignacio says of Rock. “I don’t know if people give him enough credit. Speaking of getting political, he talks politics without getting political. He talked about gun control, and Bill Clinton, and he did it going on 20 years, and it’s still pretty relevant.

“And of course all the Latino comics: Jeff Garcia, George Lopez and Gabriel Iglesias.”

The difference between a funny person and a comedian:

“We all know funny people but a joke lasts 10 seconds or five seconds even; most places you have to have at least a 5-minute set. You can’t just go up there and say, ‘Hey, I’m funny, let me spout off for five minutes. You’ll find out quickly that you’ll fall flat on your face if you don’t have something together. Because it’s pretty lonely up there.”

How much of his material is truly Ignacio, and how much is an act:

“You try to make it as close to a hundred percent you as possible --you want to be as close to yourself as possible. You want to make people feel like you’re just talking to them, like you’re talking to your friends.”

Ignacio Gonzalez will be performing this Friday night, Feb. 16, at Tacos n Miches in Downey. The show starts at 8 p.m.

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