Winner: GEORGE LOPEZ
“I’m from a place where nobody who made it big ever came back,” says George Lopez of his Mission Hills hometown, a suburb in LA’s San Fernando Valley. Well, not quite nobody. One day, a local athlete who’d made it as a professional baseball player came to an assembly at young George’s school. Lopez has long since forgotten the man’s name, although the message remains indelible: If you believe in yourself and work hard, you can become anything you want. “Nobody in my house had ever told me that,” says Lopez, a comedian whose career is filled with enough successes to prove he more than took the player’s advice to heart.
As a Mexican-American who first came to prominence in 1999 as the host of a morning radio program in LA, Lopez recalls his frustration with the show his had replaced: a broadcast that emulated the Latino voice in a way that was anything but authentic. He remembers thinking at the time: “We don’t need to be mimicked. We need to be hired.”
Between his radio show and his stand-up comedy career, Lopez made a name for himself as an entertainer who could pull from his ethnic background in a way that was fresh and approachable. Before long he’d landed his own sitcom, George Lopez, which ran on ABC for six seasons, and can be seen in reruns on Nick at Nite. The program often drew comparisons to The Cosby Show for its approach, which was to depict characters whose skin tone is mostly inconsequential to the storylines.
The same year that George Lopez went off the air, Lopez was the subject of the documentary Brown Is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream. That year he also did his first comedy special for HBO, America’s Mexican, and in 2009, followed up both with a second, Tall, Dark & Chicano. His late-night talk show, Lopez Tonight, debuted on TNT in 2009 and ran until this past August, nine months after losing its plum 11 p.m. time slot to Conan O’Brien.
Despite the cancellation of Lopez Tonight, Lopez looks forward, not backward. He’s particularly happy knowing that he’s helped pave the way for others. “When I began doing this, it was really just Paul Rodriguez and me,” he says. “Now, there are a thousand Latino comics—both male and female.” Along with actress and friend Eva Longoria, he’ll express plenty of Latino pride when the two celebrities co-host the ALMA Awards, which will be broadcast the very same weekend he accepts his AdColor All-Star award. “We are more together now than we’ve ever been,” Lopez says of his Latino peers. “It’s something we’ve often struggled with, but now we’re no longer looking at each other as competitors.”
And yet, when it comes to reflecting diversity, the media business has many miles to go, says Lopez. Although he cites banking and the auto business as industries that have done a particularly good job of including Latinos in their ads, he says that those sectors are the exceptions. “I give my money to companies that show faces besides just black and white ones,” he says, adding that any company that neglects the massive purchasing power of Hispanic Americans is missing a great opportunity. “Latinos love to buy things with cash,” he says. “You’d think that would ignite the advertising.
“There are football players in commercials who haven’t actually played the game for ten years,” he grouses, wondering why a retired sports star would be made a spokesperson before a Latino personality with far more current credentials. “This is a ship that’s been sailing since television was invented,” Lopez says of the lack of Hispanic faces on the airwaves. “It’s tough to make a change.”
But even at a less-than-ideal pace, change is coming, Lopez believes. “We’re heading toward a oneness that will eventually win over whatever divides people have. As a country we can always do better, but we are doing okay.”
As for his AdColor honor, Lopez is happy to be in such esteemed company. “I admire so many people who have received this award,” he says. What is particularly exciting for the actor is that the organization’s philosophy is so in sync with his own. “When I’m judged at the end of my life, I want to be remembered as someone who wanted other people to see what the world really looks like, how great it is that everybody is in the same rainbow, the same picture.
“That’s always been my vision,” says the performer. “And this award lets me know I’m on the right path.”