Cristela Alonzo has come a long way from her childhood, eight years of which she spent living with her family in an abandoned diner in South Texas. It wasn’t exactly the townhouse from her favorite childhood sitcom, The Cosby Show. Which is why it’s funny that years later, the 35-year-old comedian now has her own semi-autobiographical show, about a law student-turned-intern who tries to balance her career with the concerns of family life.
“I think I got here because I grew up really poor,” Alonzo says of her piecemeal-to-primetime story. “My family didn’t have money and I think it made me fearless. I’m willing to try everything and not be afraid because what’s the worst that can be happen? It might not work out but I can’t be worse off than when I was a kid.”
Like other stand up comedians-turned-sitcom stars—including Tim Robbins, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Whitney Cummings and Ray Romano—Alonzo got her start on stage, touring the comedy circuit and feeding crowds one-liners about her family life, love for the Dallas Cowboys, and her concerns about breaking the glass ceiling as a Latina. She never thought of doing a TV show, but a new agent convinced her that her story was fodder for primetime. A few pitch meetings and a pilot later, Cristela fits neatly in ABC’s lineup of new diverse comedies that includes black-ish and mid-season offering Fresh off the Boat. And well aware that her Hispanic heritage holds value to network execs and the growing number of Latino audiences, Alonzo is more than ready to infuse the show with the flavor of the cultural traditions she grew up with.
“In the Christmas episode I’m writing, there’s this thing my family does where we wake up at three in the morning to make tamales,” Alozo says. “We get everything ready and we make tamales and we do it out of tradition. It’s the thing we do and what other show can do that for a Christmas show but ours?”
For more on Alonzo—including her not-so-secret obsession with the Golden Girls—watch her take EW’s Pop-Culture Personality Test in the video below.
Cristela airs Fridays at 8:30 ET on ABC.