Hollywood, CALIFORNIA — Step right up and get your red Hot Tamales! But wait a minute… In all fairness and, lest we forget in the name of being politically correct, which, of course, is always uppermost in my mind, this comedy show way exceeds the title of just Hot Tamales Live, and it also exceeds the comedy speed limit for laughs.
Hot Tamales Live, featuring female comedians, does indeed have “hot tamales,” but also includes other nationalities: Ukrainian/Jewish knishes, Korean bimpops, Persian boreks, African-American buttermilk biscuits, and that famous nationality “Male” featuring a hot dog bun. So what we got here, thanks to creator Kiki Melendez’s vision, could also be known as Hot Crossed Buns. A United Nations of comedy (isn’t that an oxymoron?) with a taste treat of humor for almost every nationality.
Hot Tamales Live! is a sisterhood (is that still politically correct?) of more than 100 incredibly talented female comedians from across the country; each with her own point of view on the foibles of her respective culture, race, and gender. This upcoming show on Sunday, January 18th here at the El Rey being filmed by Showtime, will showcase five of these top female comics from America’s multi-cultural society. There will be one token “hot dog bun” besides the Hot Tamales.
Before meeting with the creator Kiki Melendez and fellow comic and Hot Tamale Kira Soltanovich, I was ready for a bunch of griping, bad one-liners from aggressive broads. The only bad one-liners were my own. It couldn’t have been a more relaxed, insightful, and interesting morning with them.
As Kiki, Kira, and I sat there chatting, we discussed the evolution of what are now termed as racial slurs and stereotypes — after all, these had to start somewhere. The humor available in these, when dealt with in the right way, was reinforced when Kira, who was born in the Ukraine and came to this country she was four, told me she’s also Jewish and her husband is Irish Catholic. Race and religion — always grist for the mill when you’re part of the grist. I waited a beat. Then she told me, because of their mixed marriage, she was converting…to alcoholism. No rim shot necessary. Perfect timing even while sitting at the dining room table in workout clothes. And this from the woman who started her career and got her first paycheck at the age of seven by appearing with the San Francisco Ballet’s annual Christmas production of The Nutcracker. I guess she’s another kind of nut cracker now.
Kiki credits her sense of humor to her childhood. She spent her early years in New York City watching mainstream television shows such as The Brady Bunch and Bewitched during the day, and telenovelas in the evening. Being of Dominican Republic heritage, she laughingly told me about her first brush with racial slang. It was the first day of school and when she walked into class and some kid called her a “spic” (he probably was too). She purposefully strode to the chalkboard and wrote the letters “SPIC” vertically. She then proceeded to define it for this knucklehead: “S”panish “P”eople “I”n “C”harge! And that was that. When she told me this story, I thought “WWID” (What Would I Do?) if someone called me “WASP.” I guess it would be “W”hite “A”ss “S”eeks “P”rotection, and then I’d run away.
During her adolescence, Melendez’s family moved to a predominately Jewish community in North Miami. She jokes about her being the only kid required to go to school on Jewish holidays. After college, she returned to New York where she studied at Lee Strasberg Theater and Film institute and HB Studios. She started her entertainment career with a bang…make that a yawn. Her first job was as an early morning host for radio station La Nueva FM, 105.9. Since that time, she’s been and still is an actress, writer, producer, host, and creator of numerous and varied projects involving comedy and/or Latino talent. With her extensive theater background both as an actress and producer, she went on to produce a groundbreaking theatrical presentation, Latin City, which was critically acclaimed in NYC. Coming to Los Angeles, Kiki had her own radio show on KRLA, Groove 103.1 Los Angeles. In 1998, Melendez successfully transitioned from a career in radio to one in television, including guest appearances on The Tracy Ullman Show on HBO, and The Steve Harvey Show.
The concept for Hot Tamales Live! didn’t just spring from the head of Kiki Melendez. It fully developed like Athene springing full-blown from the head of Zeus fully clad and fully armed, and beautiful. Under Melendez’s guidance, this talent showcase that celebrates diversity in America through performances by comediennes, sketch artists, and dancers has enjoyed a sold-out debut, appeared at the famous Hollywood Improv and, for the past two years, has been enjoying a critically acclaimed run at the world-renowned Comedy Store. Hot Tamales Live! often travels New York for limited engagements at The Laugh Factory in Times Square and Comix Comedy Nightclub. Melendez has skillfully expanded widespread interest in Hot Tamales Live! including a distribution deal for the development of television, motion picture, and pay-per-view adaptations, and will be releasing a series on DVD.
Kiki insists her goal with the Hot Tamales Live! show is to unite all races through entertainment and laughter. She’s accomplishing just this with her sisterhood of the travelling “skirts” she’s created, while circumventing that “you can’t join a club” of the brotherhood of travelling pants. Who wants just hot dogs when they can also have homemade hot tamales?