Comedian Santiago mixes English and Spanish in his "Pardon my Spanglish" routine

Puerto Rican comedian Bill Santiago performed at Bengal Lair on Thursday night.

Bill Santiago is a Puerto Rican comedian whose jokes cross between the English and Spanish language to create the central theme of his show: Spanglish.

Santiago brought his stand-up routine to campus Thursday with the efforts of the former and current presidents of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization, senior Elizabeth Reed and junior Ana Gutierrez-Gamez, respectively.

“We have brought in speakers before, but we wanted someone that had more mass appeal,” Reed said. “People love to laugh and have fun, so we thought about bringing in a comedian and that’s how we found Bill.”

Santiago’s Spanglish comedy show began in San Francisco with inspiration from a Cuban friend who had a Latino-themed show. From this experience, Santiago started using the term “Spanglish” as a comedic device.

“(‘Spanglish’) had a certain reaction and it allowed me to connect with Latino audiences, because they know both languages,” Santiago said.

There is an emotional appreciation during Santiago’s routines so that the audience feels like he is a part of their family, Santiago said.

Santiago tailors his comedy act to fit the audience. For the non-Latino audience, he creates a more clever way of telling a joke by focusing less on Spanish.

“There are certain things that you can say if you frame it right,” he said. “The context communicates why it was funny even if you don't understand the particular words. You will understand just enough.”

Gutierrez-Gamez said Santiago’s appearance is also a part of HALO’s mission statement.

“Our responsibility is to spread cultural awareness through different events and we do little things like that to show the Mizzou community that we are Latinos and we are here,” Gutierrez-Gamez said.

To create his routine, Santiago used his talents as a former journalist and humor columnist to help create witty and funny jokes. Although reporting never interested him, writing taught him a valuable lesson.

“(Journalism) teaches you to let go, and I used my creative skills to write my stand-up,” he said. “I got comfortable with human interaction, not just because of my personality but also because of talking to people as a journalist.”

Jokes can be sensitive and offending. For Santiago, it is just a matter of experimentation, but the line drawn between a good joke and sensitive joke is language choice.

“I try not to use vulgarity in my shows, because if you curse, people laugh because of the curse and not the cleverness of the language,” he said. “You can offend without using any vulgar language, and it just depends on what your goal is. I’m trying to show that not all comedy is vulgar language, but instead from the heart.”

For aspiring comedians, Santiago said the first step is to start performing and also watch inspiring comedians and write down their routines word for word to see the structure of a joke.

“It’s a lifetime commitment,” Santiago said. “You either want to or don’t want to (perform). There is no fallback plan.”

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