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George Lopez: Putting On a Happy Face

How humor saved his life

En español | Congenital kidney disease is no joke. But two years after receiving a life-saving kidney transplant from his wife, comedian George Lopez can kid about it in his trademark acerbic style.

To a friend’s comment that Lopez had to be nice to his wife, Ann Serrano Lopez, after the transplant, another friend replied, “Not as nice as he had to be before it.” Recognizing good material, Lopez claimed the line as his own. “Really, what’s she going to do? Take it back?” he quips.

All his life, Lopez, 46, has laughed at his tough breaks: an abusive childhood, an uphill climb in the comedy world, and the kidney disease he had unknowingly carried since he was young. In a way, humor saved his life.

“My humor was derived from a dark place, from negativity, from everyone in my family not being very nice people,” he says. “Instead of having [this negativity] destroy me, I made light of it.” And that perspective, he says, has earned him his success. “Making these people seem funny, with their ideas as ridiculous as they are, relates to people who come see me perform.”

And people do relate to Lopez. He sells out as an arena headliner, has major roles in two movie comedies this year, and just signed a deal with Warner Bros. to produce Latino-themed projects.

His ABC sitcom, George Lopez, which just completed its sixth and final season, has gone into syndication. No other Latino-led family show has reached this important milestone.

At the end of August, Lopez will hit the big screen in a comedy about professional ping-pong, Balls of Fury. Co-star Dan Fogler says being on the set with the comic brought back childhood memories: “It was like hanging out with that high school buddy of yours who, when the teacher had her back turned, would make the whole class laugh. But when she turned back around, he’d shrug and point at you.”

“A sense of humor has been a constant in my life and helped me become free.”
—George Lopez

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, Lopez never knew his father and was left in the care of his grandparents after his mother abandoned him. Lopez says his grandmother never offered a kind word when an insult would do. “She was impatient, not very happy with her own life, and trying to tell me how to live mine,” he says. Comedy became a defense mechanism. He credits her with unwittingly teaching him how to use humor to survive. He even made one of her frequent expressions the title of his bestselling 2004 autobiography, Why You Crying?, and used her as the model and namesake for his acid-tongued TV mom.

And while some complain the humor is too “mean” for a family show, Constance Marie, who plays Lopez’s TV wife, Angie, finds the humor true to the experience of many families. “There’s something to turning around the most horrible things you have to deal with and making them funny,” she says. “That’s what George has done with all of his life. We can all relate.”

Next: Lopez's instincts put to the test >>


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