Their stage is a simple platform with a hand-painted sign that identifies “The Illegal Interns,” a public-access cable show that has been televised for the last three years. It airs for two hours on Tuesday afternoons.
Flavio Morales and Richard Estrada bounce one-liners and running jokes off each other between videos of local poets, musicians and public-service warnings on the dangers of smoking drawn by local high school students. Last week, the duo broadcast cooking segments, with Morales microwaving a Jenny Craig frozen fish dinner and Estrada explaining the fine art of heating a tortilla.
With few Chicanos on mainstream television today, they believe they are helping to fill a wide gap with their brand of bilingual humor and an approach to the arts that spotlights other young Chicanos.
And they are getting a response.
“There’s one guy who lives in Whittier, and he comes to his grandmother’s house to tape the show and then takes the tape back to Whittier and watches it there,” Morales said.
The show is broadcast live from the Buena Vision Cable Co. studio and can be seen in 7,000 homes in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, City Terrace and the Downtown loft district. They have also begun showing parts of their East Los Angeles show on a public-access spot on Crown Cable, seen in the San Gabriel Valley.
Morales, 21, and Estrada, 27, met at the studio while doing non-technical jobs on other productions. They have been joined by Morales’ brothers, Oscar, 20, and Efrain, 17, who run the videos and type captions, such as “Is anyone watching?” and “Act like you care,” on the screen. Friends Manny Guzman and Carlos Virgen help out by writing some of their material and producing ads to promote the show.
Although Flavio Morales is taking theater arts classes at East Los Angeles College, none of the “Illegal Interns” has any formal training in producing videos or running a show. Estrada works part time at the cable company and as a classroom aide at Utah Street Elementary; the others are students. But they have learned about TV production along the way.
“This used to be just a visual board with words and just their voices over it,” Oscar Morales said. “We got so excited when Richard figured out how to turn the cameras on.”
They learned to videotape and play segments with background music. The first year’s subjects included drives down Whittier Boulevard, East L.A. weather reports and a video of a trip to Arizona.
But then they began to see their show as an opportunity to support the creative efforts of Eastside residents. They began announcing poetry readings, rave parties and other events, and eventually started taping some of the performances for their show.
About a year ago, Buena Vision officials told them that their promotion of the rave--or underground party--scene was not appreciated by Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Buena Vision told them they could not use the word underground.
In response, they broadcast Molina’s personal office phone number on their show and asked viewers to voice their displeasure at the attempt to censor them. Molina’s press deputy, Robert Alaniz, said the supervisor disapproved of the show’s use of a public channel to promote parties where underage students ditched school and drank alcohol.
The years have brought some disappointments and difficulties. Flavio Morales was robbed at gunpoint of his video camera on his way to film an event. And Estrada suffered an electric shock when he touched a faulty microphone on the set; a fast-thinking friend pushed him away, saving him from serious injury.
They have made sacrifices in their personal lives to devote long hours to the show: videotaping events, contacting bands to donate music videos, lining up guests and, this year, hosting high school dances. “This is my true love,” Flavio Morales said. “But you do lose out on a lot of things.”
Their rewards have come in the satisfaction of giving exposure to little-known artists. Artificial Reality was signed for two local appearances after performing on the show three weeks ago, said Robert Zardeneta, 18, singer and half of the folk duo. “I had heard of them but I never had the opportunity to watch them. Now we call up and bug them. It’s our Tuesday thing,” he said.