Comedy with a potent message

Comedian's performance raises money for Hispanic scholarships

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter



Latino students benefit

HopeHeart Institute of Bellevue has sponsored Mike Robles' performance to help support education and make their advocacy pitch for heart health, said Laurie Sween, the institute's Kids Take Heart program manager.

The theme of the performance is "Laughter is the best medicine." In fact, multiple studies, including one in 2005 by the University of Maryland, found that laughter is as good as aerobic activity for the arteries.

Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens' goal is to raise $10,000 at Robles' show, said Diana Perez, the league's president.

National LULAC will double the scholarship money raised at the show, said Gale Castillo, president of the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber. (The chamber will administer and award the scholarship money on behalf of LULAC.) That is to say, if the local LULAC accomplishes its goal of $10,000, the national LULAC will donate another $10,000 toward the scholarship fund for Latino students in Southwest Washington.

On top of the national LULAC's match, 10 universities that partner with the Hispanic chamber will offer to match each scholarship amount of recipients who choose to attend their institutions, Castillo said.

Only Latino students from Southwest Washington with a 3.0 GPA or greater are eligible for that pot of scholarship money, Castillo said. Scholarship candidates also are required to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, she said.

Applications will be available in December on the chamber's website. The scholarships, which range from $2,000 to $6,000, will be awarded in May for the fall 2013 school year.

If you go

• What: Comedian Mike Robles will perform to raise money for scholarships for Latino students; music by Portland Latino Indie band No Passengers.

• When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.

• Where: Cinetopia Vancouver Mall 23, 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, Vancouver.

• Cost: $40 at Eventbrite.

As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Emmy Award-winning comedian Mike Robles dreamt of becoming a pilot. Little did he know, his sense of humor would be his ticket to destinations around the world.

Despite his global travels, Robles' performance Oct. 13 at Cinetopia Vancouver Mall 23 to raise scholarship money for Southwest Washington's Latino students will be his debut in the Pacific Northwest.

"I've never been to the Pacific Northwest, but I heard beautiful things about it," Robles said in a phone interview with The Columbian.

"Maybe it's a Latino thing," he quipped. "We don't travel north of California or Buffalo, N.Y. After that, it's foreign territory; I'm leaving my comfort zone."

Robles was selected as the main attraction for Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens' scholarship fundraiser, and keynote speaker at the Latino Youth Conference earlier in the day at Clark College, because he's a supporter of LULAC and an quintessential example of the American Dream.

"By having an Emmy Award-winning comedian … we are sending the message, loud and clear, that we mean business and that education is the most important accomplishment in order to give back and/or to seek a higher education," said Diana Perez, president of the local LULAC chapter.

Before his stand-up performance at Cinetopia, Robles will speak to high school students at the second annual Latino/a Youth Conference on the same day at Clark College.

Of Puerto Rican parentage, Robles rose to fame as a stand-up comedian from a job as an airlines customer service representative.

"It was complaint after complaint," Robles recalled. "The humor comes out just to release all that stress. That's what led me to do stand-up comedy."

Robles picked up a how-to-do-comedy book for $55.

"It was one of those little things to read on the train," he said. "I took that course (associated with the book) from another comedian. The class could be at someone's house, a club when no one was there."

Robles' big break came after he observed that there was no Latino-flavored comedy on TV, and he decided to do something about it.

"That's when the wheels started turning," he said. "I wrote an idea for a half-hour show with sketches. I took it to the public access TV channel in the Bronx. People loved it. It became a cult following."

Robles' next break after public access TV came when someone from Galavision saw Robles' show on public access television. A Galavision executive showed up on the set of Robles' show and set up a meeting for the next Monday.

"The next thing I'm doing is 'Que Locos,' and it took over the whole country," Robles said. "It put Latino comedy on the map."

Such programming is important in the face of persistent racism against Latinos in the United States, where they're often not portrayed in a positive light in the media, Robles said.

"If people saw 100 Hispanics and all of them went to Harvard, people will still say they're illegal immigrants," he said. "It's another battle for Hispanics to get over the same (racism) that happened to blacks. Blacks created their own shows. Leaders got involved, and they kind of put their own image out there. … I think that's what Hispanics need to do to take control of the message and have their own platform."

Robles said "Que Locos" also illustrates another important point: "You can sit back and say, 'Why don't we have this or that?' Do it yourself. This is what I did … Information and knowledge are very good, but taking action is the most important thing."

That's a message he plans to share with students at Clark College on Oct. 13.

After "Que Locos," Robles went on to host other comedy variety shows and perform around the world. In 2001, he won the Emmy for Galavision's "Video Mix with Mike Robles," a weekly exposition of people videos peppered with comic characters and identities Robles created.

His comedy incorporates politics, sex, religion and race.

"In my travels around the country, I am starting to notice less and less white people," Robles joked. "It concerns me because I like white people. What is going on? I'm convinced that 20 years from now, I'm going to turn on the Discovery Channel, and it'll say, 'Where did the white people go?' The face of this country has changed. I like comedy with insight."

Robles will get his fill of white people during his visit to Vancouver. More than 86 percent of Clark County residents are white of unmixed race.

He also plans to visit Mount St. Helens and see a Seahawks game in Seattle during his three-day stay in the Pacific Northwest.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551 or