I refused to watch the inauguration this afternoon,” Ricardo Gamboa said in the monologue of the very first episode of The Hoodoisie back on January 20, 2017. “Not to protest, but fear of lack of self-control. Donald Trump talks so much shit out of his puckered lips that look like a rectum, I was afraid I’d charge the television and try to fuck it.”
Like many artists, Gamboa, who is a performer and playwright, felt an increase in hatred and violence across the country when Trump was elected in 2016. They decided the best way to deal with the state of the world and figure out what to do next was to embrace transgressive humor and open dialogue. So they brought together a crew and began planning the debut of a semimonthly talk show on Inauguration Day 2017 at La Catrina Cafe in Pilsen. While the first episode came together in a moment of national fear and depression, especially for people of color and queer people, Gamboa still came onstage ready to make people laugh and feel a little less alone. This is how they engage with the world: they’re either making a vulgar joke or constructing an academic thesis.
Each episode travels to a different gentrifying neighborhood and tackles current news and cultural events from a radically political point of view. The aim is to break free from institutionalized party politics while still entertaining audiences and creating a platform for marginalized voices. Gamboa leads a rotating panel of comedians, professors, and activists, all of whom, more often than not, sip from red solo cups (or in some cases, straight from bottles of champagne). Those episodes are live streamed onto social media, and soon, thanks to a partnership with OpenTV, will be edited and distributed online in the hope of reaching more viewers.
“I always describe the show as, it’s like The Daily Show if radically politicized queers, POCs, and women were to hijack it and bring along a DJ and a bar,” Gamboa says.
Gamboa and their team took a break from the show this summer to reassess what topics to focus on in the future and to apply for funding to continue growing their vision. The Hoodoisie comes out of hiatus on August 18 with a show focusing on technology and autonomy (the location of that show has yet to be announced), a $25,000 grant from the Voqal Foundation to support future shows, and plans for a one-day anti-gentrification summit in September.
During the very first show, Gamboa’s monologue was followed by “tea time,” a panel discussion, featuring storyteller Lily Be, actor Steve Beaudion, and comedians Tribble and Jamie de Leon; interviews with Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa and Let Us Breathe founders Kristiana Rae Colón and Damon Williams; and a musical performances by Mykele Deville. In the 32 episodes since, Gamboa has maintained that structure and tone, though the collective, audience, and topics of discussion have allexpanded to challenge new developments in politics.
Audience engagement is built into the show in several ways. Gamboa always leaves an empty chair at the front of the stage for someone in the crowd to step up to, sit in, and contribute to the discussion. If someone onstage uses a word or phrase that is unclear, an audience member or panelist can ask for a definition. The person in question has the length of the Jeopardy! theme song to successfully clarify their point; if they can’t, they face shaming for be for using jargon and buzz words they don’t fully understand. The goal of these discussions isn’t to indoctrinate people into one way of thought, but to encourage a supportive environment for differing opinions.
“With The Hoodoisie, no one is obligated to agree,” Gamboa says. “I’m not necessarily trying to create a space where everyone is like-minded, and not because I’m against preaching to the choir—the choir needs a preacher. I’m interested in how we constantly force ourselves to expand, and not in these multiculturalist McDonald’s commercial kind of ways, in actual profound ways.”
Gamboa, who’s Mexican-American, grew up bouncing around the city, mostly between Mount Greenwood, Pilsen, and Little Village. They were drawn to late-night talk shows and watched a lot of David Letterman and Arsenio Hall, but became disenchanted when it became clear to them that the genre was basically built around straight, cis, mostly white men who were lauded as the authorities on the political and cultural happenings in the world. As an adult, through their work in theater, nonprofits, community activism, and higher education (they are currently working toward their doctorate in social and cultural analysis from NYU), Gamboa has tried to give more authority to people of color, queer people, and women. They realize they’ve had more access to educational resources than most members of their community, and they don’t take that responsibility lightly.
“I’m Mexican-American in a country where Mexican-Americans account for less than 2 percent of all PhD holders,” Gamboa says. “I’m finishing my doctorate right now, and it is unfair. I could cry right now thinking of all the smart people in my life who are just never going to get there. The obstacles for them to get there are so unfair. When I think about that stuff it’s like, because I got access to this specific knowledge in this course, it’s not like I got smarter. Part of what I do know is, if I’m one of the 2 percent, it’s my job to generalize that knowledge as much as possible.”
That was the intention behind hosting the show in communities such as Humboldt Park, Little Village, Englewood, Back of the Yards, and Bronzeville. And it’s that bringing together of the educational resources only afforded to certain people—the bourgeoisie—with the culture of people from the neighborhoods that inspired the show’s name. “In the hood,” Gamboa says, “we’re just desperate to have a good time.” Its logo, an indiscernible hooded face, is meant to represent the anonymity of Mexico’s Zapatistas, promoting the idea that “we could be anyone and we are everyone,” Gamboa says.
Gamboa chooses the topic for each show based on a pressing issue in the host neighborhood. Recent episodes have focused on the criminalization of black people, the politics surrounding access to fresh water, comics created for marginalized populations, and the importance of queer spaces. Shows planned throughout the rest of year include a pre-Labor Day look at sex work on September 1, a show on immigration in honor of Mexican Independence day on September 15, and a talk with members of the L.A.-based anti-gentrification collective Defend Boyle Heights on September 29, a lead-in to the anti-gentrification summit the next day.
Daniel Kisslinger, a local producer and activist first met Gamboa when he interviewed them for his WHPK radio show AirGo. Shortly after, on Inauguration Day, he went straight from a protest downtown to the very first Hoodoisie show. He felt a similar energy in that Pilsen cafe, he says, as he did in the crowded streets.
“All my work kind of focuses on dialogue as a radical craft: How can we use the act of dialogue and conversation to reimagine our world?” Kisslinger says. “I was watching this in front of this live audience in practice. So I went to the next two shows.”
Soon after, Kisslinger approached Gamboa to ask how he could get involved. He now serves as a producer on the show. Each of the 16 or so members of the collective who make up the rotating panel has a similar story: many started out as audience members or guests on the show and wanted to become even more involved. For some, that meant being given, perhaps for the first time, an opportunity to speak on issues that are important to them, For others, like frequent social justice speaker Xavier Ramey, it meant being given a platform to be more candid.
“There wasn’t the filter that’s normally applied when you work with some institutions here in the city given the politics, particularly for people in the nonprofit sector, the politics of their funding,” Ramey says. “The structure of The Hoodoisie was fundamentally set up to not deal with those politics, so the flexibility in the infrastructure of how it was set up allowed for an authenticity in the topics as well as what was being said.”
In the show, and in their other activism, Gamboa emphasizes the importance of existing outside the boundaries of traditional media and politics. They recognize that often the result of defeating one institution is creating another institution that people become trapped in. The ethos of The Hoodoisie is not to explicitly support or endorse any one candidate or movement, but to support people and allow them the space to speak about their own experiences without fear of judgment or condemnation.
That doesn’t mean Gamboa is against taking action. But they want to provide the space for people to take action on their own terms in the ways they consider most effective instead of subscribing to a singular form of activism. They believe that biggest call to action is a change in thought and perspective.
“Every time I come to The Hoodoisie, I think the big get that you get is the, ‘Huh, I never thought about that,'” Ramey says. “Not a ‘This has shattered me to my core’ or a ‘I feel fundamentally challenged.’ It’s for those of us who are really excited for living the questions. It provides a space where you’re not going to get all the answers, but you’ll get a heck of a prod in the right direction or at least a point of illumination.”
The “tea time” panels in particular provide an opportunity for people to discuss things beyond their formal area of expertise. Hoodoisie collective member Hilda Franco works with the Chicago Public Schools and other education programs. But she’s also been directly affected by gentrification. Franco was born and raised in Pilsen. As an adult, she saw her parents forced out of the neighborhood; they now live in Florida. Meanwhile Franco is still in Chicago doing her best to stay in Pilsen and maintain the culture of the neighborhood. She struggles with trying to figure out the best way to address the issue from the front lines.
“It’s really interesting to see people be like, ‘What did that feel like?’ Well, what do you think it would feel like? My parents aren’t here anymore. My whole family is scattered and, being Mexican, that’s a really weird adult experience,” Franco says. “I’m not the anti-gentrification person who is going to try to shut a business down, I’m the anti-gentrification person who is going to try to help the people in my neighborhood. I think it’s better for us to stay interpersonal and recognize people’s needs in that way.”
Former congressional candidate and comedian Sameena Mustafa, a guest on the March episode “Comedy and Revolution,” says she appreciated the discourse and immediate engagement. On the night she was there she met a teenager attending with her parents who was extremely excited about getting involved with her campaign.
“That’s what Ricardo is creating, is this community of engaged, passionate people,” Mustafa says. “Ricardo has a very strong point of view and grasp on issues that are not only national and international but they’re very versed in the political structures and individuals who are adversely impacting communities of color. We had some differences of opinion on the panel, but it was a lively conversation, and I appreciate that.”
For Gamboa, this format isn’t just for this one project, but a way of exploring how artistic and political communities can interact with and relate to each other moving forward. What they’ve learned throughout The Hoodoisie‘s run so far is that so-called safe spaces can manifest in several different ways.
“We’re working on creating alternative ecologies that don’t just allow us to survive but to really flourish, and we don’t know what they could look like,” Gamboa says. “People cry during the episodes, [but] we also get drunk during the episodes. We need to be experimental and playful with what they look like. Forcing each other to play also forces us to remind us of our own humanity. [When] you have a Puerto Rican political prisoner being able to make jokes, it changes the conversation.”
Moving forward, Gamboa has plans for more events sprouting from the main Hoodoisie shows, like a series dedicated just to comedy and entertainment, or workshops providing those who are interested with resources for public organizing. The upcoming anti-gentrification summit will facilitate some of those educational opportunities outside the walls of a Saturday-night show.
Even with a large amount of grant money, The Hoodoisie continues to rely on donations from both audiences and a GoFundMe page to keep itself alive and growing. For the entire first year of its existence, no one was getting paid. It’s important to Gamboa that, going forward, they are able to pay everyone who is involved enough so they can rely on The Hoodoisie as a part-time job.
As the show continues to grow, however, Gamboa recognizes that it won’t be theirs forever. They can continue writing jokes about Trump and creating their own work, but for The Hoodoisie to remain truly radical, the leadership and direction of the show need to evolve.
“Ultimately my goal is to develop the audience for this and develop it really robustly and hand it over,” Gamboa says. “I think our job needs to be to be to constantly make ourselves obsolete and then give ourselves the opportunity to be great and go forward and grow in new ways while giving everyone else the springboard to become stronger and better too.” v