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Though his movies have grossed over $2 billion, Emmy and Obie-winning Columbian/Puerto Rican-American actor/playwright John Leguizamo, 54, is more renowned as a one-man stage phenomenon whose specialty is popularizing his people’s culture — and this week his magnum opus, John Leguizamo's Latin History for Morons, hits TV (streaming on Netflix starting Nov. 5). He inspired the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), who wrote in Vanity Fair, “For our Spanglish generation, Leguizamo was our Man on the Inside,” stealing scenes from Pacino in Carlito’s Way, DiCaprio in Romeo+Juliet, and Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge! and conquering the theater world with partly autobiographical shows that won top awards and aired on HBO: Mambo Mouth, Freak, Spic-O-Rama, Ghetto Klown.
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But Leguizamo, who moved to the Bronx ghetto at 4, is also, as he says all Latinos are, “so American it hurts,” and his irresistibly amusing, massively informative, kinetically performative 90-minute monologue play is meant for all audiences. It’s light on its feet (complete with his antic demonstration of all major sexy Latin dance steps) and lighthearted, even when discussing the 95 percent of America’s 73 million residents who died thanks to Columbus and company. Leguizamo does Columbus as a Mafioso, and his 3 million native Caribbean victims as potheads who overlook the colonialist menace as they muse, “Did you ever wonder what the speed of lightning would be if it didn’t” zigzag?
In the show, which zigzags lightning fast, he explains why he wrote it: his son at a fancy school was bullied by racist classmates and soon after got an assignment to write about historical heroes. So Leguizamo paged through his son’s history textbook and found his people nowhere. “I’m looking for Latin heroes, and there’s nothing about us, nada,” he complains, ripping pages out of said textbook and strewing them contemptuously onstage.