When asked what inspired her early career in stand-up comedy, Monica Palacios says she “comes from a funny family.”
“No one went to school to be a professional comedian,” adds Palacios, who is this year’s Lucille Geier Lakes Writer-in-Residence at Smith. “But we were always performing for each other.”
A Los Angeles-based writer and performer, Palacios has been recognized as an LGBTQ Latinx trailblazer. Her award-winning solo shows, plays, screenplays, short stories and poems center around her identity as a Chicana lesbian. In 2012, the City of Los Angeles declared “Monica Palacios Day” in honor of her groundbreaking artistic work.
Smith Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Nancy Saporta Sternbach—whose department is hosting Palacios during her residency this semester—says Palacios’ presence on campus “will be an experience of a lifetime for her students,” providing a firsthand look at “her brilliant and unique brand of intersecting identity, queerness and comedy.”
In addition to teaching “Comedy y Cultura, Your Humorous Life,” Palacios plans a performance/reading on campus this semester. Here’s what she had to say about being at Smith.
What drew you to Smith?
“I have a long connection to the college through Professor Nancy Sternbach. We met in 1997 when I was performing my show, Greetings From A Queer Señorita, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Nancy invited me into her class at Smith, and that’s when I found out she was putting together an anthology of Latina theater performers [Puro Teatro: A Latina Anthology]. Although the book was not accepting any new submissions, I insisted that I needed to be in the anthology, and I whipped up a special performance poem for the book.
“I also came to Smith in 2016 for an all-day symposium hosted by Meridians. Now that I’m here for a semester, I’m excited to find out more about the community.”
How did comedy become your main artistic vehicle?
“When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I used to watch all of these guys on TV and imitate them. I would use my mom’s tortilla rolling pin as a microphone. In high school, I did a standup routine in my English class, and when I got to college at San Francisco State, I started hanging out in comedy clubs, taking notes. On my 23rd birthday, I dared myself to get onstage—and I was successful!
“I didn’t do any queer comedy at first. But then I found out about Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco, the first gay comedy club. I talked myself into doing a show there. Onstage, I was able to be my authentic self, and it was a big love fest. My solo career has been all about representing my community.”
How do you see the role of performers in our present historical/political moment?
“I’ve always had the activist tag. Just being onstage in the 1980s as a Chicana lesbian was a political act. I’ve created a new solo play, BROWNER QUEERER LOUDER PROUDER, in response to what’s going on with the current administration. I think this moment is just giving more space to people like me to use art to express ourselves and speak for our communities.”
What are you looking forward to most about being at Smith this semester?
“It’s great to be away from the West Coast and out of my comfort zone—and at Smith, one of the first women’s colleges. I hope to visit classes and connect with people in theatre and other departments. I encourage people to get in touch with me so I can be a mentor to more students.”