Angelo Colina: In Spanglish, Por Favor

Angelo Colina is a Maracucho comedian making his way into the New York City comedy scene. Write his name down, he's going places (or just follow him on social media)

Photo: Carlos Montano

I never thought that the Venezuelan prince of Spanglish would come from Maracaibo. Perhaps because of a regional bias, I’ve always associated Spanglish with the bubblegummy accent of eastern Caracas. 

Angelo Colina is killing it in the bilingual circuit of comedy in New York City. If such a thing exists—if it doesn’t, it’s on its way to being created. In just a couple of years, he’s been able to polish an English language comedy act that he has performed at key East Coast venues, such as the Improv in DC and the New York Comedy Club, and co-founded the first Spanish recurring comedy circuit in NYC. I believe, however, that he’s close to striking gold through his comedy sketches alongside actor Stefano Fossa.  

There’s something in the texture and the effortlessness—the chemistry between them—that makes it feel like a clip from a Netflix show. And they seamlessly do something that’s impossibly hard: bilingual comedy that can be understood and enjoyed by Spanish and English speakers alike. You can support their work here.

Angelo says that the help of friends has been key in this process. People that he reached out to for help and others he simply met online have become his closest collaborators and friends. He names several of the usual suspects of the Venezuela comedy scene, with special emphasis on the friendship and partnerships he has built with Nacho Redondo from Escuela de Nada and  Pepe Álvarez Gales, the Venezuelan editor of Tiger King.

Among these friends and collaborators is the actual queen of Spanglish, Johanna Hausmann. Queen, or empress, perhaps, Haussmann has been both inspiration and co-conspirator to Angelo.

Although his audience and themes are very much Venezuelan, he says his relationship with the country is… strange. He pauses, and corrects himself: I have a strange relationship with Venezuelan nostalgia. 

“When I left I just wanted to escape the country. I’m 27 years old, I didn’t get to live the… let’s say, the cool years of Venezuela. I was born in 1994.” He was four years old when Hugo Chávez won the presidential elections in 1998, and this fact makes me feel Jurassic. “There were a lot of people around me that never felt at home in Venezuela. Like they didn’t fit in. This is something that happens a lot in my generation. We didn’t live something different, we didn’t understand what had been there that had to be rescued. Yet I was attending violently repressed protests when I was 17. 17!? I was fighting to recover something I never had. It’s hard to grasp, I guess. There’s a lot I feel I missed.” 

He left Maracaibo for the first time in 2015. No matter how passionate your reasons for leaving may be, migrating is usually not like quickly ripping off a bandaid. It’s more like slowly taking it off, trying to avoid peeling semi-infected flesh off. But he had to leave. See, Angelo left in 2017 during the shit years. A complicated time when food was scarce and many young Venezuelans like Angelo started migrating to help their families. In our crushed economy of the time, 50 bucks sent from abroad would go a long way.

He lived for a few months in Bogotá with a teaching job under his arm. “I was an English teacher, that’s what I’ve done all my life. I’ve been teaching English since I was 17.” He learned the language back home, in Maracaibo. While he didn’t attend a posh bilingual school, he says he had excellent teachers, read a lot, listened to music, and watched TV. He then studied at the Venezuelan American Center of Zulia (CEVAZ) and eventually started teaching there. 

After his first exploratory trip to Bogotá, he returned to Maracaibo to finish his communications degree at URBE, where he had his first brush with comedy. He wrote a drama script and one of his professors told him it sucked. She recommended that he should try comedy instead. And he did, and she loved it, and the short went “2017 viral.” “I enjoyed it like nothing else. It combined two of the things I love the most: filmmaking and comedy.”

The Español Please crew against the brick wall.

Photo: Carlos Montano

As soon as he graduated he went back to Colombia. It went well for him. He started making a little money and, for the first time, he says he started living the life of someone young. Something he never had in Venezuela. Partying, basically. Enjoying life. Looking into things he was passionate about. And there was comedy. 

He looked for open mics to tap into that thing he thought he had with comedy, but the Colombian comedy scene was tough. Very… local. He found no spots to try his material.

“But the origin story of the Angelo comedian starts in Utah,” he says. A Maracucho comedian launching his comedy career in English in Utah, in itself, is either the beginning of a joke or a pitch for a show. 

While he was starting to thrive professionally in Colombia, he was needed in Salt Lake City—where part of his family had migrated to. He had no choice. He describes the move as hard, but also as a blessing.

In Utah, his main driver was finding something that had to do with what he loved. He was working his butt off at soul-sucking jobs, those that are very common amongst newly arrived migrants. He started showing up so they could see his face, and eventually, he got a spot after he sent them a bilingual mockumentary he made for Twitter, in which he parodies Miami comedians. A very particular kind of Miami comedian.

There’s something beautiful about how the different things that he has done have come together to provide the groundwork for his comedy career. Of course, this is the kind of stuff you can only see with a little perspective that can only be provided by time: “I was talking to a friend who’s also an English teacher and is doing stand-up in Madrid, and many of my former students write saying: qué bolas that you always did stand-up. And it’s true, I always approached my teaching thinking that I had to make my students laugh. It was fun and it never felt like work.”

Today, he works at an Irish pub from Thursdays to Sundays to pay the bills, and the rest of the week he “hustles” and focuses on building a solid comedy career. But it’s a little bit more than hustling. He co-founded the Español Please comedy circuit with Andrés Sereno (Mariel Lozada wrote a great piece about this) and has worked editing and producing podcasts like Eglantina Zingg’s The Zingg and Wait, Qué?, but most of his time is spent on his own projects, including a podcast with his best friend in which two men talk about their feelings. Although it’s not his main source of income, his growth in the comedy scene has been fast and steady.

“I left and never looked back,” he says, pausing for effect, “until now.” He tells me that he wants to return for a while. Go to Maracaibo, see the Caracas that his friends talk about (or the current version of it).

What does returning for a while mean? 

“Just go there for a few months. I feel like I’m in a strange phase. Much of what I miss is stuff that I see in my friends here who are eight or ten years older than me. And the way they are, how Venezuelan they are, makes me want to understand that better. Because that’s not what I remember. In the end, I left because we were struggling to buy ham and cheese. For me that year was muy heavy. You know, 2017.”

Can you feel FOMO for something you already missed? I don’t know. It’s as if he were looking for an inheritance he was cheated out of. For me, it’s hard to understand the sense of betrayal he must feel. My generation perhaps spent that inheritance and built a castle of toxic nostalgia. Or maybe it’s something purer on his part. More like searching for a connection with a long-lost relative. Again, I don’t know. But whatever it is that he’s looking for, I hope he finds it.

What’s of the cure will go to the Church.