emergency discussion

The Refreshing Profanity of This Fool

Photo: Hulu

Occasionally, it is necessary to convene a conversation between Vulture writers to discuss an important and timely issue in culture. This time, writer Alejandra Gularte and editor Savannah Salazar discuss the refreshing use of language in Chris Estrada’s new Hulu comedy series This Fool.

You may have noticed a new show in your Hulu queue recently, and if you’ve watched it, you probably know it’s shaping up to be one of the year’s funniest new comedies. If you haven’t seen it, boo. Executive-produced by Fred Armisen and created by comedian Chris Estrada, This Fool stars Estrada as Julio Lopez, a self-proclaimed “punk-ass bitch” and nonprofit worker at an L.A. gang-rehabilitation center called Hugs Not Thugs. The series really kicks into gear when it pairs Julio with his fresh-out-of-prison and chaotically charming cousin Luis (Frankie Quinones). The two primos bicker and fight even if they love and occasionally can’t even live without each other’s codependent asses. It’s all so golden. Especially when the barbed insults and conversation are actual Mexican slang. “No mames,” “puto,” “pendejo,” “manuelas” (don’t repeat to your moms) roll off their tongues with no fanfare, no second thought, and boy, did it make This Fool all the more hilarious.

A lot of the language in This Fool made us inexplicably excited, so Alejandra and I thought it’d be best to try to untangle why. Órale!

Savannah Salazar: So, Alejandra, we’re here today to talk about This Fool because we’re the only fools to say yes. Okay, kidding, pero we have been the ones raising the flag for the new Hulu series by comedian Chris Estrada because first, it’s hilarious, and two, it’s probably the most refreshingly authentic Latinx series I’ve seen in a hot second. You’ve got the main cast seamlessly flowing from Spanish to English and speaking in Mexican American slang without having to explain it for the audience. But before we jump into all of that, what do you prefer: “foo” or “fool”?

Alejandra Gularte: [Laughs.] The age-old question that divides the Latinx community! While I didn’t grow up using “foo” or “fool” (I come from a Guatemalan Salvadoran family living in the Bay Area), “fool” feels more natural to me than “foo.” But I am a big fan of the Foos Gone Wild Instagram page, the same one also featured on a sweatshirt in the first episode of This Fool.

One thing that I loved about the show is how clearly it showed how young Latino people, like Julio (Estrada) and Luis (Quinones), speak to each other versus how they speak with their elders. When Julio and Luis are arguing, they use specific Spanish phrases when expressing their emotions but stick to mostly English conversations. But when they’re talking to their mother, aunt, or grandmother, they speak exclusively in Spanish. They’re not mixing Spanglish just to show off that they’re Mexican to the audience; they’re sticking with what feels natural to them. When Julio calls Luis a “fucking grandpa” in episode two (“Putazos”), it would’ve been a perfect opportunity to include an “abuelo,” but thankfully, the writers didn’t. It was also just absolutely hilarious, as someone whose grandpa always falls asleep in the car. How did you first react when you heard them speaking Spanish?

SS: They could be saying the raunchiest shit in Spanish, and it’ll still be comforting. (Sorry, Mom!) I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, so a lot of the dialogue in This Fool felt like second nature to me even if I’m more of a “no sabo” kid and didn’t have to code-switch nearly as much as Julio and Luis. What makes the show work is how detailed and normalized the Mexican American culture and language is. People tend to think all Spanish speakers speak the same language, but there are broad differences. A Mexican Spanish speaker has different tics, like “guey” for dude and “yeah, no mames” (which means “fuck no,” “fuck off” — you get the point), and This Fool weaves those details into the script with such ease. It’s like, Yeah, this should be normal. Why are we talking about this? Hollywood has a hard time realizing that.

I’m not a Better Call Saul watcher, but Fidel Martinez, L.A. Times and Latinx Files writer, made a great observation about why the Spanish in that show is so, in his words, “cringe and borderline hilarious.” It’s because the actors aren’t Mexican — though some are Latino — and the writers aren’t writing specifically Mexican Spanish for their Mexican cartel plotlines. It doesn’t mean Better Call Saul is bad by any means; it’s just that the language doesn’t match the story they’re trying to tell. That said, I’m not sure if the This Fool writers are thinking about how important their sprinkling of “no mames,” “culos,” “pendejos,” and Luis’s tongue-popping “ahhhhs” are within the context of the show. But see, Hollywood, this is what happens when you let Latinos have control over their stories. We notice! Other than the language, what else stood out to you about This Fool?

AG: Luis’s mannerisms definitely stood out to me. It made me feel like I was back in high school. Luis reminded me of a lot of my classmates: the tongue popping, the inappropriate jokes when you’re trying to be serious, but also learning to adapt to new information and environments, like when Luis learned about therapy and actually enjoyed his sessions. He still found a way to learn more about himself and bug his cousin in order to become liked by his group-therapy peers. The show explores the many different sides of someone who has just been released from prison, and it doesn’t fall into the stereotypes of gang members that often plague shows about Latino people. Savannah, was there a moment or character that reminded you of where you grew up?

SS: That fifth episode, “Sandy Says,” cracked me up — Luis’s need to deflect his emotions through humor is spot-on. We Latinos love to avoid shit! Why say “sorry” when we can say, “Are you feeling randy, baby?”

But my absolute favorite moment of the series was with Luis — Frankie Quinones really kills it in this series — and his abuelita Maria (Julia Vera, a Laredo native — puro 956!) in the “Los Botes” episode. It holds a sweet spot in my heart because of my relationship with my grandma. Seeing Maria and Luis get into some high jinks and making secret deals behind Luis’s tia’s back brought back memories of my grandma, who lived with me until she died. We were as thick as thieves. Funny enough, the two matriarchs in This Fool are named Maria and Esperanza, which were my own grandmas’ names. Great Mexican names for the win. How about you, Alejandra? What episode stood out to you?

AG: I loved seeing Luis and Doña Maria get paired up together. It reminded me of my grandpa taking my brother and me to Jack in the Box after school for milkshakes against my mother’s wishes. My personal favorite episode was “The Devil Made Me Do It,” where the family struggles with who deserves to be the godparent to the youngest Aiden. I really loved how they showed so much Latinx culture in one episode — again, without having to explain anything. Even Minister Payne hanging out at the party, enjoying the food and being made fun of, felt very accurate to any family party I go to. And I loved seeing Luis grow and accept accountability for his actions while teaching his nephews to do the same. The scene at the end where Luis just starts listing off his ridiculous apologies was so funny! I can’t wait to watch this show with my family so we can discuss which character is which member of our family. Before our chat, you mentioned that you watched the show with your dad. What was it like experiencing it with him?

SS: As soon as I watched the first two episodes, I knew I had to rewatch with him. We got to watch the first half of the season together, and I haven’t heard my dad laugh that hard or get that excited about a show in a while. (Okay, maybe since Schitt’s Creek. That man’s taste always surprises me.) The second episode, “Putazos,” is his favorite so far. He had to tell me what the word meant. I know (Mom, close your eyes) what “puta” means but never heard “putasos” — which he told me means “throwing punches,” basically — but you know, it’s not like I ever got in a fight growing up. I lean more “punk-ass bitch.” Growing up, my dad was the one to show me all the raunchier comedies that This Fool is kind of in the vein of — like Anchorman, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Superbad, and Austin Powers so watching a show we can both really connect on and that gives him a pathway to tell me more stories from his life is the cherry on top. It’s also prompting him to send me more texts in Spanish, so that’s cute. Actual text he sent me recently: “Estoy poco nervioso, pero ay que dale putazos!!” Thanks, This Fool.

AG: Aw! I love that you’ve been able to get closer to your family through the show. I also leaned “punk-ass bitch” (also sorry to my mom). I asked my mother as well what “putasos” means, and she hadn’t heard that word in years. (The Gularte family is full of nerds!) It was refreshing to start conversations about language and slang with the people I know and see how much similarities the series has with how I grew up. I was so happy to see Julio slam his own face into the birthday cake. I did that when I celebrated my seventh birthday in Guatemala to avoid my dad pushing my face for me.

One thing that surprised me the most (and surprised my friends) was the inclusion of Ronald Reagan in the show. Reagan granted amnesty to many undocumented people, and there’s a certain level of respect and admiration for him from even the most liberal Latinos who were able to stay in the U.S. because of him. It’s definitely a part of the conversation I have with people when explaining why Latinos seem like they worship Reagan. But it also shows how the younger generation, Julio, can fight back against this admiration and remind people of all of the horrible stuff Reagan did. I’ve definitely gotten a few confused texts from friends asking why there was a framed photo of him in the Lopez family’s living room. There’s also a very raunchy moment between Julio’s mother and Reagan in her dreams. Were you surprised by how raunchy the show was?

SS: Truly, we’ve been cursing all over this conversation in Spanish. I wasn’t necessarily surprised, but I was so pleased. It’s not incredibly common to get a lot of Latinx-made and -led media, but when we do get it, I’ve noticed it’s usually family comedies made very palatable for the widest audience possible for the show to land, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I want more variety. I want something that’s going to make my ribs hurt from laughing like I did the first time watching Anchorman. And I can only speak from my experiences, but damn, Mexicans can be mean! You see it in the way Luis and Julio talk to each other. Our humor can slice in hilarious or even harmful ways, so it’s refreshing to see that reflected and occasionally unpacked in a comedy series for once. I’m definitely not saying This Fool is the first of its kind — I grew up watching George Lopez — but it’s rough out here for even the friendliest Latin-led media. Shows like the Gordita Chronicles, Gentefied, One Day at a Time, and hell, even the unreleased Batgirl movie starring Leslie Grace get canceled all the time. When a Latinx show does come out swinging, a lot is riding on it to be universal, but that’s impossible. We’re setting it up for failure right from the start.

What makes This Fool pop is its commitment to specificity and willingness to go there. While I was inhaling the show, it brought me back to when I first watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. That made me emo, because Julio, Luis, Maggie & Co. are characters I can actually laugh with instead of at. But I can still laugh at them when they’re being pendejos. That’s fun!

The Refreshing Profanity of This Fool