It's been three years since hyperkinetic funnyman John Leguizamo last played the Bay Area, when he workshopped his newest solo show, then called Klass Klown, at the Berkeley Rep. Following the confessional tone established by his previous solo shows, such as Freak, which in which he recreated moments from his stormy adolescence, and Sexaholix...a Love Story, which tackled both his playa heyday and his rehabilitated foray into fatherhood and married life, his renamed, award-winning Ghetto Klown focuses on his career trajectory in a format that's part documentary, part tell-all exposé.
Now returning for a brief victory lap at the Orpheum Theatre, Leguizamo is looking forward to reconnecting with his West Coast fans. I managed to catch up with him over the telephone and got him to dish on the evolution of his show, his newfound love of touring, and the key to his boundless energy.
San Francisco Bay Guardian Why did you decided to tackle this particular narrative?
John Leguizamo Well, Freak was about my adolescence and Sexaholix was sort of all about my love life and the end of a bad chapter in my life, you know, being a player and then settling down, and this show is about career. I wanted it to be a kind of "Portrait of a Middle-aged Man as an Artist" ... what made me want to be an artist, what drove me, what you have to fight against.
SFBG Have you added or subtracted anything since the original run at the Rep?
JL There's been a lot of additions and subtractions, and some characters got cut, and you know, that's what happens in workshops, especially my stuff.
SFBG So it's a brand new show, in a sense.
JL Oh yeah, definitely. [For example,] I didn't have all the slides perfectly rendered, and now they're beautiful. I've done slides before, as well as video and film, but I wanted this show to seem like a Ken Burns documentary, but about my life, so I've got maps, graphs, letters, all kinds of documentary devices.
SFBG And had you been assembling all that yourself already, or did you have someone kind of dig around your archives for you?
JL I've been doing it myself. It took seven years to put it together!
SFBG I've heard tell there's salsa music, too...
JL There's salsa, there's hip-hop, there's disco ... you know, I love music, always have.
SFBG And you're dancing too, in the show?
JL Oh yeah! There's music and dance that takes you to the different eras. I do the boogaloo the camel walk ... for each era, a song of the time, a dance of the time.
SFBG At what point did you start to move away from more fictionalized, character-based solo performance, like in Mambo Mouth, to more personal narratives?
JL It wasn't a conscious position, it just happened. I started out by doing all these great characters from my childhood from my neighborhood, and then I did a sort of Rashomon-style with Spic-O-Rama, but it was still characters. And then I saw some tragic moments of my life that I had written down in my journal and thought "Oh wow, I really want to address this and there's no way of doing it except as myself." And that's how I started doing shows like that.
SFBG What are your expectations for this run?
JL I love the Bay Area. It's like my home away from home. Everybody's really theater savvy and there's all this culture. I never thought touring was for me, and then I went to San Francisco and Chicago and I was like, wow, these are my people! I can't believe that people get me, you know? I just didn't think they would get me, outside of New York, and just it gave me so much confidence.
SFBG So touring came to you kind of late in the game is what you're saying.
JL Yeah, I wish I'd done it earlier, but I was ignorant.
SFBG Perhaps uninformed is a better term.
JL Yeah, a polite euphemism for ignorance.
SFBG Well, we like polite euphemisms around here. You've always been a really energetic performer. What's your secret there?
JL Working out like a maniac! [Laughs] I box, I play basketball, I dance a lot ... I love to be very physical, you know, touch people emotionally, mentally, and physically, I want to do it all.
SFBG Do you have a favorite routine?
JL Boxing just gives me all the energy and stamina and drive you could ever want. I have a great coach, [Jenaro Diaz], who I've been going to for like ten years.
SFBG Have I forgotten to ask you something you'd like to add?
JL Follow me on Twitter! Also, I think this show is my magnum opus, and I hope people come and are inspired, and I think they will be!
GHETTO KLOWN with John Leguizamo
Fri/26-Sat/27, 8pm, $40-95
1192 Market, SF