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Laughter Changes Lives

Oscar Nuñez of The Office, Felipe Esparza of Last Comic Standing and Monique Marvez tell how

A matter of taste

Oscar Nuñez, who plays Oscar Martinez, a gay accountant on The Office, knows about transcending categories and using what life throws you.

His family left Cuba when he was 2, and he’s lived in South America and Boston, grew up in Union City, New Jersey, spent time in Washington, D.C. and now lives in Los Angeles. And he’s studied fashion, writing and dental technology. “Yes, I’m a certified dental technician and worked at that for about six months to a year,” he admits. “But I couldn’t stand it.”

So he turned to what he loved: comedy.

“That’s the best job in the world for me,” he says. “I guess subconsciously I had something for smiles already,” he jokes, then turns more serious. “But what I wanted to do was to create those smiles from inside the person’s feelings. I don’t think you wake up and say, ‘I want to be a comedian.’”

Nuñez’s first audition — in his early 20s — was for Shock of the Funny, an improv group in New York’s East Village. He got a callback and spent two years with the troupe. “When you’re small, you start saying things you think are funny and people laugh,” he says. “Then you figure out, ‘Well, I guess I’m kind of a funny person.’ Then there’s nothing else you can do.”

While he plays a gay accountant in The Office, he’s also played a male prostitute in Halfway Home, a series he wrote and sold to Comedy Central, and a stripper in The Proposal, which starred Sandra Bullock. “It’s a lot easier to play Oscar. I get to be funny in a different way,” he says. “I think if it’s funny I’ll do it, but sometimes you walk that fine line between funny and bad taste.”

Nuñez’s ideas about what Latinos find funny? “I think cultures have different senses of humor, but there might not be only cultural differences but economic [ones]. A Mexican professor, an American professor and a British professor have more in common than the Mexican professor has with someone who’s illiterate in his or her same country. Your education has a lot to do with what you find funny.”

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