Latinx Files: George Lopez’s crab-in-a-bucket moment

Ralph Barbosa and George Lopez.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; Todd Owyoung / NBC; Rich Fury / Invision / AP)

Not to get too into the weeds about the nature of my job, but a few months ago I got an email from a public relations person asking if I had any interest in covering the release of “Lopez vs. Lopez,” the new NBC sitcom starring George Lopez.

The comedian was responsible for the groundbreaking 2002 self-titled ABC prime-time sitcom “George Lopez,” one of the handful of programs in the history of American television to prominently feature a Latinx family. Despite being canceled nearly 16 years ago, the show is still around thanks to syndication. Lopez also continues to be one of the most successful Latinx entertainers of the last few decades, a testament both to his longevity and hustle and Hollywood’s penchant for pretending we don’t make up nearly a fifth of the population.

“Sure,” I replied, agreeing to watch the pilot and see if there was a story there. If I liked it, I figured I could write about Lopez’s triumphant return to prime-time television.


Suffice it to say, I passed. I thanked the PR person for the pitch but said that it wasn’t exactly for me.

I’ll admit that I briefly thought about writing some rant against NBC for giving us a recalentado and calling it diversity. “Lopez vs. Lopez,” like its three other sitcom predecessors (the aforementioned “George Lopez” and the short-lived “Saint George” and “Lopez”), is loosely based on the comedian’s life. (For a more measured review of the sitcom, here is Times TV critic Robert Lloyd’s take.)

Ultimately, I reasoned that writing a takedown would be a dicey move.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to being a hater. I believe that trash talking, el echar carrilla, is an art form that doubles as a love language for the Mexican diaspora when done right — which is to say, with moderation. If a “¡Quiere llorar! ¡ Quiere llorar!” chant breaks out, you’ve gone too far.

But this trait also gives credence to the sad but true stereotype that we are all just crabs in a bucket, creatures unwilling to let others climb over, so they use their claws to keep them down.

Throwing those jabs wouldn’t have been worth whatever clicks the story might have gotten. Besides, given the publication frequency of this newsletter and the countless other Latinx stories happening out there that merit coverage, I figured my time was better spent writing about something else.

The knee-jerk reaction to hate was there, though.

I tell you all this because months later, Lopez himself is in boiling, hot water for being a hater.

As my colleague Christi Carras reports, the comedian faced backlash over the weekend after making dismissive comments in his “OMG HI!” podcast about up-and-coming comic Ralph Barbosa.

In the Feb. 6 episode, guest Steve Treviño, another Mexican American comic who has earned success after years of grinding, spoke about how important it was for him to hold the door open for the younger generation coming up, repeatedly singling out Ralph Barbosa as an example.


“Nobody knows who that motherf— is,” a bitter-sounding Lopez responded.

“Why do you keep bringing up his name? Is that wrong to say? ... Have you heard of him? Is it wrong of me to say, ‘Why do you keep bringing his name up when nobody knows who he is?’ ... And I don’t mean it mean, but I’m saying. ... You look out for yourself. Look out for yourself!”

If Lopez was joking, the punchline didn’t land.

It was less Snoop Dogg on “The Breakfast Club” and more of an older Mexican dad or tío asking for help logging on to Netflix. Barbosa, after all, has already headlined an HBO “Entre Nos” comedy special and made his “Tonight Show” debut last month. Clips of his stand-up have accrued millions of views on TikTok, and his upcoming appearances at L.A. comedy institution the Hollywood Improv have already sold out.

Lopez’s dis didn’t just miss, it had the unintentional effect of introducing a new audience to Barbosa’s comedy.

“Thanks to @georgelopez hating on @ralphbarbosa03 I found me a new fav Latino comedian!” tweeted @iamsikora. “Let’s goooo Ralph Barbosa! Learn his name folks. #comedy #hilarious.”

Others pointed out the irony of Lopez pulling an Erik Estrada, a reference to the comic’s first HBO special, 2007’s “American Mexican,” in which he talks about an incident where the “CHiPs” actor refused to shake his hand as a teenager.

By Sunday, the blowback was such that Lopez reached out privately to Barbosa to apologize.

What I find interesting about this debacle is that it shows the “Highlander” effect, a fallacy rampant in many industries (including journalism) that falsely makes it seem like “there can be only one” person of color in a prominent position, is still very much alive.


To be clear, George Lopez is a trailblazer. His legacy is secure. I might not think his comedy is funny now, but there was a point in the late aughts and early teens where his stand-up routines were the freshest thing out there. “Memmer? You memmer!

Lopez is also under no obligation to help anyone out. To his credit, Lopez admitted to not being as helpful to other Latinx comics in the past in the same episode in which he made his remarks about Barbosa.

But it’s also 2023. Hollywood might still be as exclusionary as it was during Lopez’s prime, but I have to believe that there’s enough room nowadays for more than one Latinx comic making it big. Barbosa might not ever match Lopez’s fame and fortune, but what’s the harm in letting him try?

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