Arturo Castro: After 'Broad City,' Going 'Alternatino'

Aug 2, 2019
Originally published on August 2, 2019 2:26 pm
Ophira Eisenberg chats with Arturo Castro on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.
Mike Katzif / NPR

Long before Arturo Castro starred in his own sketch comedy show, before he gained attention for memorable supporting roles in Broad City and Narcos, he was a member of a hip-hop Spanish cover song boy band in Guatemala. As he explained in an interview with Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, the group's name was chosen in a hurried moment of necessity. When the the three-person band was booked to perform on a local telethon, they were asked what they were called. Castro said their manager "had this moment of inspiration, like 'Well nobody knows you, so, The Unknowns!' It's not a huge confidence boost before you go on stage."

Their manager also encouraged Castro and his bandmates to change their image. "We were dressed in FUBU. We thought we were really rough," he recalled, adding they were coaxed to show off a softer side by adding a Spanish rendition of Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way," to their setlist. "We lost all street cred immediately," Castro said. "I can't go back to Guatemala now," he laughed.

Castro eventually moved to New York City to become an actor in 2005. "I just really wanted to learn the craft," he explained. "Of course I wanted to make it, but I never had a clear plan of, you know, movie star!" He also held down some odd jobs to pay the bills while he pursued acting. "I tried to be a waiter for two weeks and I sucked at it," he said. "The service industry is awesome... I'm really clumsy and I'm really bad at getting yelled at."

Arturo Castro on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.
Mike Katzif / NPR

Castro's big break came on Comedy Central's Broad City, where for spent five seasons, he portrayed Jaime — friend and roommate of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer's characters. Castro elaborated upon how he found inspiration for the role of Jaime by thinking about the wide-eyed version of himself that he embodied upon first moving to the United States. He said that he would think to himself, "Oh my God, New York is amazing! I used to get really excited and my words wouldn't come at the same time as my brain was thinking."

After Broad City finished its run, Castro premiered his own program on Comedy Central: Alternatino with Arturo Castro, a sketch show about the experience of being a Latino millennial where he plays most of the roles. "I really wanted the challenge to see if I could play 42 characters in one season." The show premiered with overall positive reviews and praise for Castro's commitment to putting together a racially diverse writer's room.

For his Ask Me Another challenge, Arturo Castro played a game about another one of his interests, chess.

Heard on Topher Grace And Arturo Castro: Cereal Stans.

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It's time to meet our next special guest. You know him from his roles on "Broad City" and "Narcos." And he's the star of the new Comedy Central sketch show "Alternatino With Arturo Castro." Please welcome Arturo Castro.



EISENBERG: Hi. So, you know, you just danced when you came on stage. And I read that when you were 17, you actually started your showbiz career in a hip-hop boy band in Guatemala...


EISENBERG: ...Called The Unknowns.


CASTRO: Yes. So it was - it goes deeper than that.

EISENBERG: OK. I want to hear.

CASTRO: We're all friends here. So it was a hip-hop Spanish cover band called The Unknowns. And the thing is our manager thought that we needed a softer side, so we had this, like, really, sort of, like - you know, we were dressed in FUBU. We were like - we thought we were really rough, you know.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.

CASTRO: And then she thought we needed a softer side so she's, like, oh, you guys should do a Spanish rendition of, "Baby, I Love Your Way."


CASTRO: It didn't go down very well with the crowd. We lost all street cred immediately.



CASTRO: Yeah, 'cause we were like - we finished the song like (speaking Spanish). You know, like, yeah. And they're like, OK. (Singing) Oh baby, (speaking Spanish). So I can't go back to Guatemala now, but things were...



EISENBERG: Was the boy band, like, with the different characters like the sensitive one and the bad boy?

CASTRO: It was just three of us. There was - yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, we were all sort of like mama's boys, really. You know, The Unknowns, it came because we were about to do this thing called the telethon. And they're like, what is the band called? And our manager is like - had this moment of inspiration and was like, well, nobody knows you, so The Unknowns.


CASTRO: It's not a huge confidence boost before you go onstage.

EISENBERG: Right. It's always great when your manager is working with his first draft, too.


CASTRO: I'm just - I'm a shoot from the hip kind of person.

EISENBERG: That's right. That's right.


EISENBERG: So you moved to New York 2005-ish. Yeah.

CASTRO: Wow. Who gave you this cheat sheet?

EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah.

CASTRO: It's so good.

EISENBERG: You were 20-ish.

CASTRO: I was about to turn 20. I was 19.

EISENBERG: You're about to turn 20.

EISENBERG: OK. So you moved to New York. You want to act and make it, do comedy, et cetera.

CASTRO: Make it - I was like...

EISENBERG: Yeah, would you...

CASTRO: ...I'm going to make it today. Yes.


EISENBERG: I mean, you came here with that intention, right?

CASTRO: Well, you know, yes. And it was - I just really wanted to learn sort of the craft. I didn't come here - of course, I wanted to make it, but I never had sort of a clear plan of, like, you know, a movie star.


CASTRO: I just wanted to play with my imaginary friends for a living.

EISENBERG: Did you also work day jobs to make ends meet while you were pursuing it?

CASTRO: You know, my day job was actually sort of cool, which I did drama therapy, which is...


CASTRO: Yeah, I used to go into...


CASTRO: Thank you, the one person that took it.

EISENBERG: It's your patient.

CASTRO: I helped her through her issues.


CASTRO: First, I tried to be a waiter for two weeks, and I sucked at it (laughter).


CASTRO: And about two weeks into the training, this guy was there, and he was like 60 years old. And he's like, oh, what are you doing? I'm like, oh, I'm an actor. And he's, like, oh, I used to be an actor before I started here. And I was like...



CASTRO: Nothing - listen, I did catering afterwards. Like, the service industry is awesome. I just - I'm really clumsy. And I'm really bad at getting yelled at. For me, you know, it's also about money being addictive, right? If I could work a shift and it pays $300 on a good night or whatever, I'm not going to do that off-off-Broadway play that might get me seen, you know. So I had to hustle extra hard to make ends meet as an actor.


CASTRO: So I never took another job that wasn't performing.

EISENBERG: So you were on "Broad City" for five seasons.

CASTRO: I was.


EISENBERG: You played Ilana's roommate, Jaime. This was obviously a breakout role for you.

CASTRO: Right.

EISENBERG: And your character had a very distinct way of speaking.

CASTRO: (Imitating Jaime) Yes. He talked a little bit like this.



CASTRO: (Imitating Jaime) Hello, everybody. Hi, I'm so sorry. Hello.

EISENBERG: What we're your Jaime influences?

CASTRO: Jaime, the - Abbi's best friend is called - is a guy named Jaime. His voice is deeper than that.


CASTRO: He does have an accent, and he dresses so fabulously, but he's a little more like, (imitating Jaime) hello, Papi, I love what you're doing, you know. But when I moved to the States, part of Jaime was sort of, like, my wide-eyed version of, like, oh, my God, New York was so amazing. I used to get really excited and, you know, my words wouldn't come at the same time that my brain was thinking, you know. And so that's sort of, like, the blend that I did for Jaime.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And now you have your own show...


EISENBERG: ...On Comedy Central.

CASTRO: Are you watching it?


EISENBERG: It's called "Alternatino With Arturo Castro." So you play all the characters, all the lead characters.

CASTRO: Yeah, I was tired of costars, you know. I was, like, stop, you know. Like...


CASTRO: ...No, you know, I just - I think that sketch has always been so fun for me. And also, if you want to play a plethora of, you know, the diversity that entails being Latin and not being Latin - like, most of our stuff, maybe, like 60%, has nothing to do with being Latin, but I really wanted to challenge and see if I could play 42 characters in one season, you know.

EISENBERG: So what was it like...

CASTRO: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: ...Putting together the writers room for this show?

CASTRO: Thankfully, we got a diverse writers room. But it was tricky because for the packets to get to our table, they had to have an agent.

EISENBERG: Right, the writing packets...

CASTRO: The writing packets, yes.

EISENBERG: ...Which is what people use to get writing jobs just because...

CASTRO: Exactly.


CASTRO: I saw that there was - most of our submissions were really funny white dudes. The problem is that if you haven't worked before, you probably haven't gotten an agent. If you don't get an agent, then you're probably not going to wind up on our desk. You know what I'm saying?


CASTRO: Like, they're literally lying on our desk. No, but I thought that's - it's sort of a catch-22 in that sense. But we found some incredibly gifted people, and we managed to have at least three Latinx people in the room.



EISENBERG: Now, Arturo, before the show, we asked you, you know, what were your interests.


EISENBERG: And you said that you are really into chess.

CASTRO: Yes, very, very good look with the ladies.


CASTRO: You see, it was very popular sport in the high school.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Did you play all through school?

CASTRO: I played as a hobby, but I'm pretty good at it. I love chess because it's sort of - my brain is so overactive in a sense and this focus - like, forces me to focus, you know.

EISENBERG: Yeah, and think ahead.

CASTRO: And there's something - it's like math, right? Like, there's something about math when a equation clicks in your mind, it's just a very satisfying feeling.


CASTRO: So I'm addicted to mind games, you see.


EISENBERG: OK, perfect.

CASTRO: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: All right. Perfect. Are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

CASTRO: Sure. Yes.

EISENBERG: All right. So we wrote a chess quiz for you.

CASTRO: Oh, good, 'cause I know nothing about the history of chess.

EISENBERG: Oh, that's fine.

CASTRO: All right, cool.

EISENBERG: This is multiple choice...

CASTRO: Got it.

EISENBERG: ...So you're in good hands. So and if you do well enough, listener Janice Lindstrom (ph) from Dallas, Texas, will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.


EISENBERG: Let's give it a shot. To win a game of chess...


EISENBERG: ...You must checkmate your opponent or force them to resign.



CASTRO: According to Merriam-Webster, the word checkmate is derived from a Persian phrase meaning what - A, ultimate failure...


EISENBERG: ...B, the king is unable to escape - or C, I am the better nerd?


CASTRO: I'm going to go with B - the king cannot escape.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right.


EISENBERG: Yeah. Oh, yeah, perfect sense.


EISENBERG: All right. This one's a little harder.


EISENBERG: The names of the chess pieces have changed over the centuries. For example, the rook used to be a chariot. In the sixth century, what was the bishop called - A, the scholar - B, the nun...

CASTRO: So many jokes.

EISENBERG: ...C, the elephant?

CASTRO: So I'm going to go with the scholar - A.

EISENBERG: I'm sorry. That is incorrect.

CASTRO: What is it?

EISENBERG: It's the elephant.

CASTRO: Did somebody gasp?


CASTRO: I love that.


EISENBERG: Yeah, when the game came...

CASTRO: Canadian...

EISENBERG: ...To Europe...

CASTRO: ...In Guatemala.

EISENBERG: ...From India, the elephant - it was the elephant and was renamed to the bishop because of the shape of the piece which was meant to resemble elephant tusks...

CASTRO: Oh, wow.

EISENBERG: ...Reminded Europeans of a bishop's hat. OK. When someone says the word zugzwang during a chess match, what's happening? A, you're being accused of cheating - B, neither player wants to make a move - or C, they've activated a very little known battle royale rule...


EISENBERG: ...Where the board shrinks for the rest of the game until there was only one square remaining.


CASTRO: I'm going to go with C...


CASTRO: ...Cautiously.

EISENBERG: I wish. That would be amazing. That would be amazing.

CASTRO: Yeah, so C would be - I don't know. I think A is you're cheating.

EISENBERG: You're cheating. It's actually neither player wants to make a move.

CASTRO: That's a weird thing to, like, just make a sound at somebody when, you know...


CASTRO: Does it mean anything? Is it in any language in particular?

EISENBERG: It's German for compulsion to move.

CASTRO: Of course.

EISENBERG: Yeah. It's when both players don't want to make any moves 'cause it will just make things worse.

CASTRO: Got it.

EISENBERG: Yeah. We've all been in that relationship.

CASTRO: Yeah, come on.


EISENBERG: Chess grandmaster Judit Polgar accomplished what historic feat - A, in 1991, at the age of 15 and four months, she beat Bobby Fischer's record to become the world's youngest grandmaster - B, in 2002, she was the first woman to beat the world's No. 1 chess player who, at the time, was Garry Kasparov - or C, in 2005, she became the only woman to qualify for the world chess championship.

CASTRO: I'm going to go with B - that she beat him out of - you know, by your face I can already tell it's wrong.

EISENBERG: Actually, no, it is correct 'cause, actually...


EISENBERG: ...They're all correct. She did all of those things...


EISENBERG: ...'Cause she's a boss.

CASTRO: What a badass.

EISENBERG: I know. You did amazing. Congratulations, Arturo, you and Janice Lindstrom both won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.



EISENBERG: "Alternatino" airs every Tuesday on Comedy Central. Give it up for Arturo Castro.


EISENBERG: Want our next special guest to play for you? Follow ASK ME ANOTHER on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.