I had a difficult time writing this review. Honestly, I have never been much of a George Lopez fan. As a Chicano, originally from California, I get sick of the stereotypical East L.A. brand of humor with over-accented Pachuco flair. It was great back in the days of Cheech and Chong. Everything else seems to be a cheap carbon copy. So at the outset of this review, I was a little biased against Lopez, who definitely pushes the "L.A.-Chicano-accent" envelope. But after listening to Comedy Central's audio recording of Lopez's HBO special, Tall, Dark and Chicano, I came away with a new appreciation for his work.
First, although his gestures and Chicanoisms are still a little over the top, his material really does hit a chord with people who grew up in the 'hood or people who have a good knowledge of it. His humor is a bit raw if you are a bleeding-heart liberal who expects nice, quaint Hispanic humor. He makes fun of poverty in way that no one except poor people or family and friends of poor people can handle or perhaps even understand.
There are a few moments when his humor goes into dangerous territory. For example, he complains about bad weather being named after Latinos, e.g. El Niño, and claims that no one would ever call a storm system "El Negro (pronounced negg-grow)," the black one (guy),and then goes on to talk about the effects of El Negro, at one point saying that "El Negro stole my chain." For the uninitiated this sounds like straight racism, but it's a little more complicated than that. Having grown up in Southern California, I know that there are strange relationships among people of color. Among ourselves–especially on the street–there tends to be a good amount of raw humor directed at each other. Of course, there is also enormous racial tension and even violence, but when it comes to humor almost anything goes. I remember hanging out with friends as we went back and forth cracking jokes about each other–this used to be called bagging once upon a time. It didn't matter if one was Black, Latino, Filipino, Samoan, or White. Whatever your race or culture, there was sure to be a racially insensitive joke for you. And that was OK provided you were among friends and the beer was flowing. We always knew the difference between bagging on each other and coming out and calling someone a racial epithet out of anger or hatred.
I'm not romanticizing this–there were definitely horrible racial incidents and tension, but among friends the bagging culture was quite common. I think Lopez is one of the few people to demonstrate this type of humor in public which, judging from other reviews, has led many a blogger without this background to view him as a racist per se.
He does overdo the "white people accent" jokes. Such jokes were funny I suppose when they were fresh back in the Richard Pryor days or even when Chris Rock did them. But they are quite stale and unoriginal now. I especially think his joke about "tortillas vs. flatbread" is annoying. He thinks the term flatbread is used to Anglicize and sanitize the Mexican tortilla even though flatbread is really an ancient treat going as far back as Sumer and Ur! A little research on that one would have been nice. If it were just a joke, I wouldn't mind, but he recently used that joke to make a political point when he was interviewed for CNN's Latino in America.
Aside from the uncomfortable racial moments that Tall, Dark, & Chicano might induce among the uninitiated, the Chicano humor that Lopez highlights is definitely authentic and most of the time quite funny. If you can't handle raw, angry Chicano humor or if you are a fan of Erik Estrada, then this is not the CD for you. For nice, cute, Hispanic humor, I definitely recommend Lopez Tonight or reruns of The George Lopez Show.