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ODDS AND ENDS

Big Man on Campus

Comedian Ernie G shares lessons
through laughter
How do you go from performing nightclub stand-up to inspiring kids
to go to college?
My comedy career was going well. I had over 30 national TV appearances and
was on tour with George Lopez. But a piece of me knew there was a purpose
for me, not just to make people laugh. ... One day I got a call from an ad agency.
They said they wanted a Latino comedian to get Latino high school students
excited about college. I said, “Oh my God! I’m your man.” In 2007 I taped three
English-language and two Spanish-language TV and radio commercials for West
Hills Community College [District] in California. They had a 16 percent increase in
Latino registrations where my commercials ran. ... Ninety percent of what I do
now is motivational speaking for students, but I still perform in clubs.
College seems like heavy material. How do you keep it light?

Ernesto Tomás Gritzewsky grew up in a

When high school kids walk in, I’m just another speaker they have to tolerate. I

Los Angeles neighborhood dominated

can see the resignation in their faces. After I tell a few jokes, their faces soften.

by street gangs, but his mother, wielding

I joke about the hood, the barrio, our families, the ways we stretch the dollar.

a yellow Wiffle-Ball bat, kept him out of

Then these kids see themselves and sit up. They’ve got these big, beautiful, bright

trouble. He enrolled in Loyola Marymount

faces. They’re listening. I can make them laugh, but I hope it’s because of my

University in California, and despite

authenticity that [they] can relate to me and hear my message: You can graduate

academic probation and a brief period

from college, like I did, and still “keep it real.” Be true to the hood and to yourself.

when he dropped out, he graduated in
1994. He’d likely be a youth director or
teacher, he says, but a mentor encouraged him to follow his passion to perform.
So Ernie G, the stand-up comic with a
bachelor’s degree, was born. Ernie G’s a

When do you know your message has made a difference?
I hear from many students directly. I also see them on campuses. There are literally
thousands of kids in college right now that I spoke to when they were sophomores
or juniors in high school. I’ll never claim I’m the reason they’re in college. They’re
the reason ... but to know I had an impact on many ... is absolutely amazing.

self-described Mexican, American, Puerto

How can colleges and universities better support Latino students?

Rican, Russian, French, Catholic Jew. He

Recruit them by reaching out where they are. The Hispanic community is tight.

honed his comedy sets in LA nightclubs

Salsa dances, Puerto Rican festivals, Latino comedy jams ... get your message in

and was a hit on the Latino comedy TV

those places, and you’ll reach them. Also, provide role models. In college I studied

circuit. Now Ernie G, a spokesperson for

the effect that minority faculty have as role models on students’ graduation rates. ...

the Hispanic College Fund, delivers jokes

It matters. And, of course, provide scholarships and other financial aid.

across the United States to inspire current
and prospective Latino college students.

What’s next for Ernie G?
I’m writing a book about the most famous Latinos you’ve never heard of. (laughs)
I meet extraordinary Latinos all over the country, and I ask, “Why don’t more
member of the Mickey Mouse Club. So, on black-and-white Mickey Mouse Club
with Annette Funicello is a Mexican named Mary Espinosa. There she was on
1950s television. Disney is finally recognizing her for her significance [as the first

Copyright ©2012 by the Council
for Advancement and Support of
Education; reprinted with permission
from the July/August 2012 issue of
CURRENTS. All rights reserved.

Hispanic female child on a U.S. television series]. There are so many good stories
like hers—many stories to tell.


64

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—Interview by COLLEEN NIELSEN

RICK TULKA for CASE

people know about you?” ... For instance, one of my friends is an original cast


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