“If we want to compete at another level, then we have to behave at that other level.”
“Chicago is an awesome place for standup, it’s an awesome place for comedy. The audiences here are amazing,” said Mike Oquendo, the man behind Mikey O Comedy Productions. The son of Puerto Rican parents and Chicago native, Oquendo has managed to maintain a solid comedic reputation for 10 years, has given back to the community and has made people of all different backgrounds laugh.
For the last five years, Oquendo’s production company has done no less than 80 shows in a year. Last year, they finished off with 114 shows. Catering to a predominantly Latino audience, Oquendo said that when he first began hosting these comedy nights, there was a thirst for it. “When people heard ‘Latino comedy’ they said, ‘What’s that?’ When people come to a show, I ask how many people have been to a comedy show. About half of them raise their hands,” he explained. Oquendo owes his comedic passion to the Freddie Prinze comedy album.
“I remember being fascinated by the fact that this guy was a Puerto Rican comedian and there was an album out in which this guy was telling the Puerto Rican story,” he said. “There was a part of me that learned at that moment that that was ok; that talking about that experience was nothing to be ashamed about.”
From high school he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he was a medic. Oquendo used his experience and worked in hospitals in Chicago. Eventually, he went on to become a dispatcher for the Chicago Fire Department getting jobs where he could, with comedy in the back of his head.
It was Pepe Vargas, executive director of the International Latino Cultural Center, who Oquendo says, gave him his big break and first real job with being a member of the gala production team. After, he went on to work at museums and eventually the Adler Planetarium where he was in charge of special events, still having an incredible passion for comedy.
“Taking that combination for production experience and my love for comedy gave birth to what I do today,” he explained. “I’ve done every single job in this business: I’ve been the box office guy, I’ve been the coat check, I’ve been the janitor, I’ve been the guy that delivers the sound equipment, I’ve been the host, I’ve been the usher. I wanted to be in it so badly, that I took any job to be in the mix.”
Fourteen years later, Oquendo has left a lasting impression on the community he decided to stick to. Dedicating funds to particular charities and organizations that support the arts, among others, Oquendo says that his team raised just under $90,000 in 2011, 70 percent of that, arts related. Inclusive of production, Oquendo says his biggest job is motivating his comedians to be professional and authentic in their performances. Taking experiences from his youth to create standards and upholding them, Oquendo believes that if he demands more, the performers will deliver at a higher quality.
Read More: Extra News
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