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Comedian Jesus Trejo Tells His Family Caregiving Story

His dedication to his parents and craft is what inspired AARP Studios' documentary, 'Care to Laugh'

Comedian Jesus Trejo performs

Shawn Corrigan

Bob Edwards: Hello. I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP Take on Today.

Jesus Trejo: I'm excited to be here. I got two kids, ages 70 and 71.

Russell Peters: I met Jesus when he was parking cars at The Comedy Store. Little did I know that A, he was an extremely nice kid, but he was also a very funny guy, and he was a great comic.

Bob Edwards: Jesus Trejo is a hard-working comedian on the cusp of stardom. He's also a hard-working caregiver for both his parents. Some say caregiving duties will hold him back, while others believe it inspires his comedy. Either way, he has clearly earned the respect of fellow comedians and audiences alike.

Jesus's dedication to his parents and craft is what inspired AARP Studios to capture his story in a new documentary, Care to Laugh.

Owen Smith: Every time he performed, you could not tell that he had all that going on.

Jesus Trejo: I take care of my parents, which I love. You know why? Because everything my parents told me as a kid not to do, as they're getting older they're doing it now.

Bob Edwards: The documentary, which debuted on the film festival circuit and will now reach wider audiences, has already chalked up laurels and critical acclaim. Here to talk about it is the star himself, Jesus Trejo.

Thank you for joining us, Jesus.

Jesus Trejo: Thank you so much for having me. This is great.

Bob Edwards: Care to Laugh, a documentary about your life, has been making the rounds at film festivals across the country. What do you think of the film?

Jesus Trejo: I think it's a snapshot in time of me, where I was during that time as a caregiver, as a standup comic trying to pursue my dream and also caregiving for my aging parents.

Bob Edwards: How do they feel about the film?

Jesus Trejo: It took some warming up when they saw it, and in Hermosa Beach, they saw the screening. My mom was quite excited. She wore every ring she owned to it. My dad was excited to be there. My dad insisted on sitting in the back of the theater space because he wanted to see how many people walked out. He said, "I don't understand why people want to come see just footage of us hanging out, doing everyday stuff."

At the end of it, I remember asking my father, I said, "How many people walked out?" He said, "Two." I said, "Maybe they went to the restroom." He's like, "Oh, that's right. I didn't think of that."

Bob Edwards: How are they doing?

Jesus Trejo: They're doing all right. Some days are better than others. My father's doing great. Might be a thing or two here and there. But my mom is kind of a different story. Our new 100 is maybe like a 60, 70%, and that's our new 100, and we just take it a day at a time.

Bob Edwards: They both have problems, and they're both serious.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah. Yeah, very serious. My mom recovering from cancer, tumor. It was meningioma kind of thing. They extracted it and there's a lot of complications thereof. My father, stage II colon cancer. They found it right in time. It could have been a lot worse.

Bob Edwards: How did this film come about?

Jesus Trejo: It was 2016, December if I remember correctly. AARP was putting on an event called Care to Laugh at the Hollywood Improv, and they were bringing out caregivers down at the Hollywood Improv. They had a few comics. Headlining the event was Jim Breuer. I was one of the comics on the bill. I think they wanted to have the comics be caregivers or somewhere in that world, and I got to meet them. They got to hear a little bit about my story, and that's where I met Jeffrey Eagle and the team there.

Bob Edwards: Why did you want to do a film?

Jesus Trejo: They pitched the idea to kind of follow me and show this journey of being a caregiver, and I agreed to the idea of having this film be done because I wanted to show anyone who was in this journey of their own, of being a caregiver, that they weren't alone, because oftentimes I did feel like I was alone in this journey.

Bob Edwards: Be awkward enough to have cameras following you around on stage, but here they're chasing after your parents, they're in the home. It's got to be awkward.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah, it was a hard sell for my parents, and my dad was, "So cameras are going to be here all the time?" I said, "All the time." He said, "Everywhere?" "Everywhere." I said, "But don't mind them. They're just a fly on the wall. Don't look at them." He's like, "No, but they're right there. I'm definitely going to look," and he did, many times, right into the camera. I was like, "Dad, over here." He's like, "Oh, no, the guy's following me around with the camera." It was definitely a learning curve there.

Julie Getz, the director, was very sweet, and my parents felt very much at home. It took some time, but in the end, you see in the film that they were just so comfortable, and Julie Getz and Jeffrey Eagle and the whole team were very kind in making my parents feel at home.

Bob Edwards: In the film, you mention aging gracefully.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah.

Bob Edwards: Tell me about that.

Jesus Trejo: Aging gracefully, it's something that I think we're all ... Hope to do. You live a full life, and sometimes you work so hard for ... At least in the case of my parents, you work so hard for the American dream, and sometimes you don't attain everything you work towards. You still have the right to age gracefully, and be taken care of, and have the things that you need be at your disposal kind of thing.

That's what I'm here for, to make sure that my parents get to experience the second half of life in a graceful way.

Bob Edwards: Who's taking care of you?

Jesus Trejo: Good question. Yeah.

Bob Edwards: Yeah, you've got a right to look out for yourself.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah, and that time will come, I think, and I have to take advantage of my good health and my energies that I have at the moment to take care of my parents, but yeah. My time will come. I just want to make sure that my parents' sacrifice isn't in vain.

Bob Edwards: What do you want people to get out of this film?

Jesus Trejo: I want them to see the power of family, how you transcend, and it'll help you ... What you think might be a unsettling aspect of life, it's a blessing in disguise. That's what propels you forward, that drive. If you really want something, family would be there. I enjoy coming home late at night and showing my parents what I did in comedy, "Hey, look at this picture I took with this actor or this comic," or, "Hey, this is a recording of my set."

Even though they can't understand it, they hear laughs, and having my dad point out, he's like, "That's only one person laughing." I'm like, "That's right. It's only one person." I mean, you get that feeling in this film, and it's life, liberty, and the pursuit of funny.

Bob Edwards: This is a hard life. What you do is tough, and to have these other burdens.

Jesus Trejo: I mean, everyone has it tough. Everyone carries a cross. Some crosses weigh more than others. You don't know what they're made out of. My father used to say that. Some crosses are made out of iron. Some are made out of foam. But the inconvenience of carrying the cross is the same across. It's all how you look at it. Yeah, tough life. Yeah, I guess. It's how you look at it. I mean, there's guys who are putting their life on the line, first responders, military, who put their life on the line to make sure that we live a good life, so I don't have it so bad.

Bob Edwards: You could spend your whole time just taking them to the doctors for visits and here you're trying to have a career.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah. I'm trying to have this career of being a comic. That's, I feel like, my calling and what I'm here to do in life. Family first, though. Above all, family first. No question about it, there's no conversation need to be had about that. Family first. But sometimes your dreams and aspirations get put on back burners. I think that's okay, because I know I'll achieve my dream at some point.

Bob Edwards: You're finding material in this.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah. Yeah, of course. That's what's so great about standup. Pain is funny and funny is pain. It's a nice cycle.

Bob Edwards: It's why the film works on so many levels. It's an immigration story, your parents, a totally American story there. It's you trying to find yourself as a young comic. It's the dynamic of generations. It works on so many levels.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah. I think it transcends any type of background one can give, and at its core, it's a human experience. It's the role reversals that happen over time, the power struggle that exists between a father and a son, a mother and a son, a mother, a daughter. It's that experience that you see all over the world. We all get to be born and we all get to die.

Bob Edwards: Does the comedy help relieve the stress?

Jesus Trejo: Oh, of course. It's cheaper than a therapist. I get to go up there and talk about what's on my mind, what's bothering me. I get to go on stage and there's people listening, usually. I mean, sometimes they're drunk and sleeping, but that's fine. But I do get a chance ... I mean, that's my light at the end of the tunnel.

I spend all day sometimes with my folks, and it's a tough, grueling day, but once I tuck them in, I know I could go to The Comedy Store in L.A. and get up at 1:00 in the morning in front of a handful of people who are willing to listen and just try out material of what happened that day. Yeah, it's a true blessing. That's what keeps me going through the day.

Bob Edwards: What do your parents think of your work?

Jesus Trejo: They wish I would find a job. They don't quite understand what I do yet. I mean, they're understanding it more and more, but I mean, they just ... At the end of the day, I think my dad just wants me to wear a tie. I'm wearing one today, so I guess I'm meeting him halfway.

Bob Edwards: You had a gig in Nashville, and they said, "Why do they need you?"

Jesus Trejo: Yeah, I remember going down there. I was opening for Pauly Shore in Nashville. It was Zanies Comedy Club. I remember running home, telling my father. I was like, "Hey, you know, I'm going to open up for Pauly Shore. Pretty excited. I met him at the parking lot there parking cars at The Store." First thing he said was that. He was like, "There's no comedians in Nashville? There's nobody? There's nobody in Tennessee?"

Bob Edwards: He didn't mean to be mean.

Jesus Trejo: No, he was just curious.

Bob Edwards: Yeah.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah. "Nobody tells jokes in Tennessee? In Nashville particularly." Yeah, I'm like, "All right." At that point, you realize that it's your dream. I think we all have dreams and aspirations. It's nobody's business to understand it. It's for us. It's all intrinsic.

I have a friend, Ian Edwards, very funny comic. He oftentimes tells me, he's like, "To look for happiness outside, I'd say you're doing yourself a disservice because everything you need to make you happy is in here." It's all intrinsic. It's inside. It starts there, and then the rest is just a cherry on top, per se.

Bob Edwards: How do you balance the career and caregiving?

Jesus Trejo: I balance it with patience, knowing that it's going to toggle between being able to do one and the other more if that makes sense. Finding a balance is just being around and taking care of what I can take care of while I'm there, and understanding that I'm not going to be able to do everything.

But again, family first, so that takes precedence over anything. If there's a pressing issue, I have no problem dropping a gig. Some of my peers were like, "You still have to work to help your parents." That's fine. That's how they would do it. But I do it a little different.

Bob Edwards: You've got to be really worried when you're on the road and away.

Jesus Trejo: Absolutely. Just last night, I think, was a tough one for me. I had to get in contact with my mother's neurologist. He reached out to me, which is very awesome. Usually, doctors don't take the time to do that. He reached out personally to get some clarity on a situation that my mom was going through.

I'm dealing with the pharmacist. I'm dealing with the doctor. I'm making sure that my mom's taking the pill. My mom's like, "I don't want to take the pill today," and I'm on the phone, "No, please take the pill." I'm just kind of ... Lot of negotiations over the phone. I was like, "Please take it because if not, I'm going to have to go home early."

Bob Edwards: But you can't sustain a road trip. You can't go to Europe for a summer. You can't work a cruise ship.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah. Just certain things that I'm not able to do. I mean, there'll be a time and place. I mean, I've taken my parents on the road. In this documentary, Care to Laugh, I mean, it shows me taking my parents on the road.

Bob Edwards: That's pretty funny in itself.

Jesus Trejo: Oh, it's great. Yeah. They're in the back fighting over the iPad. It's great. It's beautiful. But yeah, certain things I just know that I can't do at the moment. I work hard to one day be able to afford to get some help because I am a only child. I don't have siblings to kind of spread out the responsibilities with. It's all me.

Bob Edwards: Any advice for others in this situation?

Jesus Trejo: Laugh and laugh often. Yeah, just take everything with humor. I mean, what can you do? It's already a challenging place. Why feed into the negative aspect of it? Just laugh and make jokes along the way.

Bob Edwards: How can we keep up with your work?

Jesus Trejo: You can follow me at JesusTrejo.com, J-E-S-U-S-T-R-E-J-O dot com. Also on Twitter and Instagram, @JesusTrejo, but you can also follow the documentary on AARP.org/CaretoLaugh, on social media @CaretoLaugh, on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Bob Edwards: How old are you now?

Jesus Trejo: 32.

Bob Edwards: Wow.

Jesus Trejo: Yeah. Feels like 87. But 32's what we're going with. Legally, that's what it is. Yeah, 32 years old.

Bob Edwards: It's amazing. It's an amazing story, and I just think what you're doing is fabulous. Thanks so much.

Jesus Trejo: Thank you.

Bob Edwards: Jesus Trejo, the millennial comedian and caregiver and star of Care to Laugh.

Of the estimated 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S., about one in four is a millennial. But caregiving isn't their only job. About three in four work. To watch the documentary's trailer, visit AARP.org/CaretoLaugh, where you'll also find links to caregiving resources.

Ever since President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976, the recognition of the accomplishments and sacrifices of black Americans has prompted nationwide celebration. However, it's not just how to celebrate, but also where. Cities around the country are celebrating Black History Month with activities and exhibitions that touch on everything from arts and aviation to sports and civil rights. One can spend an entire day at museums dedicated to black history and culture, like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

On February 23rd, Detroit hosts its annual African American History Day at the Detroit Historical Museum. Aside from local vendor and artist markets, visitors can take in the museum's exhibits that cover Motor City history from the Underground Railroad to the rise of Motown. If you happen to be in New York City on the 24th, find your way to Seneca Village where conservancy guides will lead a walking tour of a 19th-century community established by black landowners on land that is now part of Central Park.

For commemorative happenings closer to home, check in with your local or state AARP office, who just may be holding events of their own.

For more, visit AARP.org/podcast. Become a subscriber and be sure to rate our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and other podcast apps. Thanks for listening. I'm Bob Edwards.

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Jesus Trejo is a hardworking caregiver for his parents and a comedian on the cusp of stardom. His dedication to his parents and craft is what inspired AARP Studios to capture his story in a new documentary, Care to Laugh.

Watch the documentary’s trailer at aarp.org/caretolaugh. For more resources and tools, visit aarp.org/caregiving.

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