Name: Andrew Santiago, the kids called me Drew, the block called me Pito, some called me Puerto Rican Leather Jacket kid, abuela called me ‘Pollito’
Age You Feel: I think I feel my age most of the time, 32, but I’ve got a young face, and I’m short, so people think I’m younger. But the majority of the time, I legit feel four years old inside.
Where you grew up: Brooklyn, NYC , where Park Slope and Sunset Park lines start to blur
Hobbies: Making fun of people. Being in the sun. Swimming in any body of water I can fit in. Sci-fi movies. Sneakers. Nerd stuff. Tech stuff. Cycling. I skateboarded for a good four years. Overall I think my biggest hobby might be getting completely into hobbies
Tell us your earliest memory as child
I remember throwing a Zebra print pillow at my grandmother from my crib, I remember being really thirsty and didn’t know how to get her attention. I could’ve been two maybe? One of my other earliest memories was at three years old, I walked in on some folks getting it ON. They didn’t see me, and I quickly got out of there, but it opened my mind up immediately. I feel like it’s been open ever since. It was the first time I probably said “oh shit,” in my head.
How was it growing up in Brooklyn and making the move to LA
It really felt like the right time. I had just turned 30. I was mad in love with a woman who was already out in LA and killing it and inspiring me to make changes in my life and take risks for the sake of my career. Then a dope gig popped up for me, that my lady actually sent my way, to write for the first time for a digital publication. The weather was 75 and sunny in LA and I was slipping and sliding in snow in NYC. It was also right after fuck-face got elected and the same year the MTA was in a literal state of emergency, so it felt like it was a good time to make a big move.
When did you first realize that you were funny
Kindergarten. I told Ms. Kennedy a joke. It was more an impression than a joke, but she laughed and laughed. She grabbed me by the wrist and brought me out into the hallway, calling all the other kindergarten teachers out to look at this kid who could do silly faces, on command, at four years old. I was in a circle of older women all busting at the seams with laughter as their classrooms of 40 children a piece descended into chaos. It was more power than I knew what to do with. I’ve been trying to make old ladies laugh ever since.
What propelled you to pursue comedy
Lots of things. My girlfriend pushed me to do stand up when we started dating. I had given it a shot a couple times, but never found my footing. She let me rehearse to her, and when I heard her laugh, I knew what would stick. Being at Comedy Central as an intern was huge, too. They all talked about UCB, I’d had no exposure to improv comedy, so I took myself to a show. That night I saw Ben Shwartz, (Jean Ralfio from Parks and Rec) perform and he blew me the fuck away. I’d never laughed so hard, been so surprised and been literally giddy at a comedy show the way I had been that night. As soon as I graduated from Emerson College in the summer of 2011, I went right back to NYC and started taking improv classes at UCB. One of my biggest comedy propellants was my aunt Margarita. When she passed away I made a promise to her memory to make something of myself. I had to drop out of high school, spend a year chasing girls around and making poor decisions before I woke up from a dream one night where she confronted me and asked me what I was doing with my life before I figured out that I had to make that promise, but I made it and I haven’t looked back. She and I used to stay up late and watch all the comedy shows that influenced me. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old. She’d fall asleep on the sofa, mouth ajar, a Newport in her hand leaving cigarette burns deep enough in the vinyl flooring to see the hardwood underneath. I’d stay up for hours, even on school nights, sucking down second hand smoke, while simultaneously inhaling comedy from shows like Cheers, The Honeymooners, Seinfeld, Frasier, In Living Color, SNL, The Wayans Brothers and Mad TV. I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t hurt that my aunt Margie laughed at anything I said. She always encouraged me without ever having to wrap it in a lecture the way every other adult felt so compelled to. She laughed, smiled, and let me joke at her and to her and with her. I think I do comedy in large part for her.
If you could collaborate with one comedian, who would it be
Chris Rock. When I dropped out of high school and signed up for the GED there was a section of the study book that had a list of successful people who had taken the GED. It was a pat on the back and a “it’s okay, you’re not that bad,” section of the book for most students, but for me it felt like “oh shit, I’m following in the tracks of this comedy genius, if he can be here, and go where he has, why can’t I?” One time I saw him in the Barnes and Noble on 7th ave in Park Slope and forgot how to breath. I don’t get starstruck much, but Chris Rock almost killed me by just saying “excuse me.” I must have been taking up the whole aisle or something, I don’t remember much. But when I saw it was him, I couldn’t even make words.
It must be hard to be 'on' at all times, how do you decompress
I like being on. It’s when I feel most myself. I like to do it on my own terms though and with people I like, unless it’s a gig, or a show, or I’m on set - all things I love to do anyway - but if it’s for work, then I’m 110% in. If I’m around someone I think is corny, I’ll turn off. I’ll also turn off around someone I think is hilarious, because I just want to watch them be on too and I’m not interested in competing, I’ve seen that and it’s wack. I decompress I think the way most people do, I’ll stream something. I won’t watch comedy though, because it feels like work. I’m thinking of punchlines. Or I’m thinking about the writing. Or I’m tight because “damn that was a good fucking joke.” So I watch sci-fi, or adventure, or mysteries, or thrillers, stuff I can lose myself in and don’t have to worry about the comedy of. I also end up gnawing my nails for the same reason though, so I don’t know how much I actually decompress watching those suspenseful ass movies, but at least I’m not worrying about the jokes. Cycling releases a lot of endorphins for me. I feel really decompressed when I do something physically active that exhausts me and gets my blood and sweat pumping and I don’t have to think about work, or my auditions, or my next gig, or any of that other stuff. I did a 27 mile bike ride a couple weekends ago, I was fucked up for days, but it’s the lightest I’ve felt in weeks. Therapy every other week is good, too. Been with the same therapist going on almost 6 years now. We have phone sessions now since I’m in LA, it’s taken some adjustment, but it works. I recommend everyone who can do therapy, go do therapy. Life changer.
What are three things you've learned since moving to LA
1. Making and keeping friends as an adult is work, it’s not impossible the way people make it sound, because we’re all really looking for that, but it does take work, and ultimately it’s worth it.
2. The “LA chill vibe” or whatever, is dope, but it also means that if I bring my New York ‘hustle and grind’ mentality to everything I do, I can make shit happen faster here than in NYC where everyone is a hustler and there’s less work and less opportunity. I’d been taking UCB classes in NYC for almost 6 years and couldn’t really figure my way onto the stage there. In LA, I’ve been here for two, wrote a show with some comedy friends that got two 3-month long runs on the main stage at UCB and now I’m on Moon Goon - a Maude Team (UCB’s house sketch team) performing with 10 other amazing comedians, and all that just because I’m working and hustling at an NYC pace in an LA paced environment.
3. Taking naps on the subway is a daily vacation, and having to drive everywhere here is draining on the soul. I’ve come home furious from long drives home, in traffic with other people speeding and fighting to get home, too. You feel alone in your car against an army of individual people in their cars. But on the subway in NYC, we all got to smile at each other in the face the day after Obama got elected the first time. I can’t imagine what that day was probably like in LA.
What would you tell anyone pursuing comedy
Pursue it, for sure, but have a hard skill to keep you going. Learn how to edit, or produce, or sound engineer, that way you’re adding value and networking in the industry, and you can support yourself while you hit the comedy clubs at night. You don’t have to be a starving artist. Anyone who is talking about “pursuing comedy,” or just thinking about a career in comedy, or just talking about their next comedy moves isn’t actually DOING comedy— they aren’t putting anything into motion. You need to find where the comedians are and go. There’s no substitute in comedy, the only way is to actually do it.
What makes you laugh
Surprises. Like actual surprises. Shit I don’t expect. Farts. Pratfalls. High energy. I’m always shocked, and sometimes annoyed at what makes me laugh until I cry. Like recently, I was watching some Adam Sandler movie, while I recognize the man is a legend, I wouldn’t really go out of my way to watch his comedy or movies. It’s date night at home, we crank up that movie he did recently with Jennifer Anniston [on Netflix], and you know, it’s interesting because it’s a murder mystery, and it’s fine for the most part, and then near the end of the movie they’re in a car chase and a goat appears on the road in Italy, I think, they swerve to get around it, they make it, look at each other as if to say “phew, that was a close one,” in that one moment you forget the danger of what’s happening, and they do a quick cut back because “another goat!” —I spit soda out of my mouth! I laughed so damn hard at that stupid fucking moment. I wasn’t expecting another goat, and there was another goat, and damn it, they got me.
What makes you cry
Just being asked what makes me cry, makes me cry. I immediately think of all the times I’ve cried. There have been hard times. I mean shit, I’m a comedian. You don’t really do comedy unless you’re fucked up. I’ve seen it all. Death. Shootings. Violence. Drugs. Maybe that’s all common shit if you grow up Puerto Rican and in Brooklyn. But it doesn’t make it any less hard. I think of my friends who have become my family and who I confide in and trust. I think of my mentors all of whom are women and who have taught me how to be a better person, and have always been there for me. I’m fortunate to now, as an adult, be there for them, too. Music that my aunt Margarita loved makes me cry. Sometimes I listen to it just for that purpose, to feel connected to her. To show her love. To cry for her. To imagine she’s still with me. To try and force myself to dream of her. Those are my favorite and least favorite dreams. Where she appears, and we all have a good laugh because, you know what? She never really passed. “Isn’t that funny?” We all laugh as I hug her tight and try to hold her and myself in that dream state forever. I always wake up from those and cry hard. I think of my grandmother, who sacrificed her whole grown ass life raising me. She didn’t have to, but she did. I think of all the times I snuck a peek through a keyhole at my grandmother reading the bible every morning, crying tears into those thin pages, hoping and praying for my many family members in jail and for the salvation of our souls, and although I don’t believe in souls, knowing that she does and praying her hardest for us all, putting her life force into willing our safety, that’s powerful shit. One time I cried in Miami because I was at a restaurant where the white rice tasted so much like my grandma’s rice, that I lost it and sobbed. Grandma had two strokes within that last couple of years that left her unable to really do much, so I haven’t had her food in years, and the way it’s looking I may never get to again. It makes me think of all the times I begged for McDonald’s or pizza or anything but her home cooking as a kid and how I’d yell at my younger self now if I could to savor it. The fool. I think of the fact that the last bite I ever had of her food, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never remember what it was.
How do you bring your culture/heritage into the work that you do
I talk about all of it in my comedy. In my characters. In the voices I do. I bring the hood alive in my comedy. I talk about my confusion when I realized that not everyone spoke Spanish and that Brooklyn, unbeknownst to me, was not a part of Puerto Rico. I speak lovingly about the junkies and hustlers and criminals in my neighborhood and in my family. I goof on them the way family would, through a gentle lens, through a level of understanding. A lot of what I’ve learned about life is about putting myself in the shoes of others. It’s allowed me to forgive many people I gnashed my teeth at in my adolescence for having wronged me— which is what I thought at the time was happening. My mother for not being around, my brother for being abusive, and my uncles for their addictions. Now I have an understanding that they too were all a product of their environment and had limited options and were trying their best to survive. I’ve been able to let that hurt go, and replace it with love. So I talk about my family’s struggles, but I bring that goofball perspective of a family member making fun of them from a warm place. I continue exploring how I can find the light in all of that dark.
Your partner is also in comedy, how has being with someone who is in the same field shaped your relationship
People warn you about being with someone who does what you do, and I’ve got to disagree, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. All we do is push and support each other. We laugh together so much. We make fun of each other. Bust each other’s chops. And have each other’s backs. It’s too special to really give it all away, but it really and truly is the shit.
Tell us the plot to a movie where you both are lead characters
Nah. Lol. You’ve got to pay for that. We’re both writers and comedians. No one’s giving that out for free. That’s the gold. Ha. Good try, though.
Finish these sentences:
My favorite show is The Wonder Years.
Brooklyn is a fire hydrant at full blast on a hot summer evening with your friends and no one calling the cops because you’re sitting on the stoop bumping “Heads High” and doing the bruk-up.
My favorite scent is my grandma’s apartment.
If I could only eat one thing forever it’s the pernil my girlfriend and I made one Thanksgiving.
Revenge is overrated.
Being a man of color makes me feel equal parts stressed and fortunate.
The women of my life are the inspiration, strength, source, power, and the essence of anything I’ve ever done, will do and am.
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