In Marga Gomez’s twelfth — and, she says, final — solo show, the comedian reveals that both her prolific drive and her entertainment savvy are indebted to her father, Willy Chevalier, a Cuban immigrant polymath famous in the mid-century heydey of New York’s Latino variety shows. Staged as a “farewell concert,” Latin Standards uses Chevalier’s radio hits as a frame for Gomez to interweave her childhood memories with scenes from a comedy night she produced at the now-shuttered San Francisco Latino drag club Esta Noche. The Voice spoke to Gomez about the show in anticipation of its run at the Public’s Under The Radar festival from January 11-15.
Village Voice: Latin Standards sounds like a Republican’s nightmare: a show about a Latino immigrant variety performer and his lesbian daughter, who does stand-up in a drag club.
Marga Gomez: My whole career, I’ve done performance for the underrepresented — women, queer folks, people of color. When I started this show we didn’t think Trump would win. I thought it’d just be a story about queer people and drag queens, and Latinos in 1960s New York. Now, the overtones are pretty hard to miss; it’s a voice of resistance. Still, it’s not overtly political. It’s gentle family comedy about the greatest day in my father’s life, when he got a gig to be a spokesperson for a Latino coffee company.
Your father, Willy Chevalier, was a mainstay of the golden era of Latino variety shows in NYC. How does Latin Standards wrestle with that time and place, and with gentrification and the shifting flavor of New York?
In the 1950s and ‘60s my father played huge theaters for 500 to 1,000 people. Between gentrification, factories closing, and the advent of Spanish TV, we lost those teatros — Tri-Borough Theater in Harlem, Jefferson on 14th and 3rd, San Juan Theater in Washington Heights, Teatro Puerto Rico in the Bronx— his beautiful variety shows went out of business. There are parallels to my comedy night at a San Francisco drag club, Esta Noche. In NYC, Escuelita was the Latino drag club for decades; it closed about a year ago. Marginalized performers have to adapt. As our communities are pushed out, we have to find our audience. We need to create spaces for our joy.
What does the conversation look like between you and your father in the show?
The conceit of the show is that this is my “farewell concert” after 30 years as a performer. I do these elaborate introductions to songs my father wrote that hit the Latino charts. You hear them in the background with archival imagery from my father’s life and from Esta Noche, but I don’t sing. Each introduction leads into scenes from my childhood with my dad, or my adult life producing comedy in drag clubs.
It’s not a real farewell, though, you still plan to perform?
People don’t believe me, but this is my last solo show! That part is true. I’ve done twelve, and I’m superstitious, I don’t want to do a thirteenth. Nothing else happened to me, I’ve written everything! But I do stand-up; I might write a two-person show. Cast parties are lonely for a solo performer. I want a copilot when I perform. I’m not in a relationship so I can make one happen by writing for more performers. I’m a lesbian. Closure takes a while.