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Comedian Jesus Trejo Talks Caring for Older Parents and How It Affected His Career

‘Care to Laugh’ star hosted AARP’s family caregiving/comedy event from Las Vegas

Video: Comedian Finds Humor, Purpose in Caring for His Parents

Almost without noticing, America has become a nation of caregivers as aging baby boomers cope with even more aged parents while worrying about who’s going to take care of them someday. With 48 million individuals providing unpaid care for family members and friends, there’s not much that’s comical about it.

California comedian and up-and-coming TV comic Jesus Trejo, 37, knows this better than most: He is a full-time caregiver for his father, as he was for his mother, while building a promising comedy career doing stand-up, comedy specials (Stay at Home Son on Showtime; Practicing? on YouTube), and TV acting and writing (Mr. Iglesias on Netflix, This Fool on Hulu).

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He and his parents — his “two kids at home,” as he lovingly joked onstage about his mom and dad, then in their 70s — were even the subject of a 2020 AARP-produced documentary, Care to Laugh. The film followed him and his family for a year as he pursued his dreams while also taking care of his mother, Adelaida, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer and diabetes, and later his father, Antonio, who was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer.

“It focused on me juggling life, career, family, all of it,” Trejo told the Long Beach Press-Telegram in a 2020 interview with his hometown paper. “Where I was in my career, I didn’t have the means to hire a caregiver, so everything falls on me.”

Since then, his mother has passed. But he’s still actively involved with caring for his father, and he’s learned a lot. He passed on some of the benefits of his experience — plus some jokes — when he hosted a live AARP Town Hall, “Care to Laugh: Juggling Caregiving With Humor and Help,” on Nov. 30 at The Space, the edgy new events-and-arts venue in Las Vegas.

The hour-long comedy/caregiving special also featured a panel of experts marshaled to discuss the increasingly pressing problem of what to do about long-term care for older adults in America. The panel featured clinical psychologist Dr. Sherry Blake, AARP financial ambassador Jean Chatzky, clinical social worker Lori Nisson and a virtual appearance by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra

Prior to the special, Trejo sat down with AARP for an interview about how he started caregiving, the lessons he’s learned, his top three tips and how a sense of humor is crucial.

When did he become a caregiver?

Like many American-born children of immigrants (Trejo’s parents came from Mexico), he started young as chief translator for his parents, even though his own first language was Spanish, too.

“Ever since I started getting full command of the English language, which for me wasn’t until the fifth grade, and right around that time was when I started to translate paperwork for my parents as best as I could, and that was the start of my caregiving journey.”

An only child, he accompanied his parents to doctor appointments and helped them fill out paperwork for health insurance and Medi-Cal. “I mean, it’s hard for me now; I don’t know how I did it back then. … There was a lot of pantomiming. I kind of had to hit the ground running and figure it out quick for the sake of my parents’ health, really.”

How did he feel about becoming a caregiver?

Trejo acquired a sense of responsibility early on but didn’t really talk about it.

“I guess looking back, I don’t think that many kids my age were doing what I was doing. … It’s not something that I talked about with my friends. ‘Hey, you know what I did? I went to the doctor with my mom or with my dad.’ It’s like you just kind of keep that one to yourself.”

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How has his caregiving role changed over time?

He says the role is very dynamic, never just one thing.

“There’s been a lot of changes since my early years. Now it’s managing other caregivers [who worked with my mother] and kind of delegating responsibilities to them and making sure that they were on top of the medical needs that my mom [had] at the time.

“I’m still fulfilling this role as a caregiver but just specifically now to my father. My mother passed away [in August 2023], and I don’t have that side of the responsibility, but I do have to make sure now that my dad is OK.”

What are the top three lessons he’s learned from caregiving?

“The bullet points are time, resting and humor. You’ve got to have a lot of patience. You’ve got to rest — you’ve got to take time to make sure that you’re resting to be ready for what the day brings. And you have to take everything with some humor. If you can master those three, I think everything else becomes … easier.

“You’ve got to have a good sense of humor, because things tend not to go how you planned, and sometimes you just have to laugh. There’s no other emotion that you can tap into other than just a laugh, a smile.

“The hard thing about caregiving is that you’re juggling so many things: You’re juggling life; you’re juggling career; you’re juggling caregiving; you’re juggling the caregivers.”

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How does his career inform his caregiving?

Trejo is working on his third one-hour comedy special, playing around with some of the stories audience members have told him after his stand-up shows about their dawning caregiving awareness.

“There’s a saying in comedy that pain is funny and funny is pain. … I think being a caregiver does make you look at life in a very different way.

“Being a stand-up comedian and being a caregiver, they kind of go hand in hand. I’m able to be a good caregiver because I do have that creative outlet. … And I’m able to be a good comedian because I have this part of my life that’s very different than most of my peers.

“I learned a lot about myself as a person and as an artist, and it’s that the only constant thing in life is change. And that goes for both as a comic and as a person.”

How does his relative youth affect his caregiving?

“I’m a millennial caregiver, and I have all these lived experiences that I think most of my peers don’t have. But also, when I go and perform [for] an audience, the millennial caregivers are now a common story as the baby boomer generation ages. A lot of people my age are falling into roles of caregivers. … As I speak about my experience, one or two things happen: [Audience members] either relate to it or they’re drawn to this story that is starting to be familiar to them — either their friends or their loved ones are kind of going through it.”

What’s the message he most wants to pass on?

“I do think it’s special that sometimes, through my humor and through my comedy, I’m able to make people reflect on what’s on the horizon, because aging is a part of life. You can’t escape it. It’s just everyone’s going to deal with it. Either you’re going to need a caregiver or somebody to take care of you, or you’re going to care for somebody. It’s just how it goes. That’s the duality of life.

“I will say that caregiving is a privilege. I know it’s hard to see when you’re in the midst of changing a diaper, being in a tough situation when you see your parents not feeling well. … It’s time spent with your parents, as tough as it is sometimes. … You’re going to look back and laugh at those moments.

“Yeah, it’s a privilege, remember that.”

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