Former Champ Carlos Alazraqui sets laughter free on Reno 911!

Staff report

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Between roughing up Jehovah’s Witnesses and bringing dates to executions, Carlos Alazraqui has his hands full on Reno 911! The hardest part about shooting the absurdist police mockumentary isn’t getting laughs but stifling them.

Currently shooting its fourth season, the improvised show relies on its ensemble cast to keep straight faces.

Alazraqui, past winner of the San Francisco International Comedy Competition, is a chief offender for cracking up on the set. But Alazraqui also draws some of the biggest laughs as the racially insensitive and racially confused Deputy James Garcia.

“Aside from the Spanish surname he’s a good ole’ boy sheriff, angry, uptight, falsely confident,” Alazraqui said. “It’s great playing someone who is a jerk and confident that whatever he does is right.”

Castmate Thomas Lennon, who plays Lt. James Dangle, said that if anyone breaks up laughing it’s more than likely to be the 42-year-old Alazraqui.

But if you were riding the wave of success that Alazraqui is, you’d have hard time keeping a straight face too.

Aside from his spot on Reno 911!, Alazraqui also enjoyed success as the longtime voice of the Taco Bell Chihuahua. He’s lending that voice to two Cartoon network shows this spring and next year’s feature film Happy Feet starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

“It’s happened in nice chunks over a span of 11 years,” Alazraqui said. “Now I can pick and choose the work I want to do a little more.”

He’s received the biggest bump in recognition for his portrayal of Deputy Garcia on Reno 911! Initially shelved by Fox it’s become a hit on Comedy Central, drawing as many as 2 million viewers per episode. Many of those people flock to see Alazraqui when he hits the road for stand-up shows.

A performer who once spent 40 weeks a year on the road, Alazraqui has cut that back to about 15 but still enjoys getting back to his stand-up roots. He recently performed at Cobb’s in San Francisco and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

 “I love it when I’m on stage and it’s going great but the traveling gets hard,” he said. “I like being at home with my dogs.”

Doing stand-up keeps him sharp for the improv aspect of the show, but it wasn’t always easy. His first time in San Francisco International Comedy Competition, he didn’t even make it out of the first week, he said. At that point, Carlos was only two years into a comedy career that started at Sacramento open mics in 1987. The contest was an eye opener.

“It was very prestigious,” he said. “And it was frustrating because I realized how green I was.”

 Four years later he came back with a stronger act and beat out a tough field including comedy stalwarts Marc Maron and Patton Oswalt on the final night of the month-long competition.

“Both of those guys were so good and it was getting really close going into the last night,” Alazraqui said. “We were playing a theater where they were a little more fan friendly, not as political or darker edge. I had really tight set,I was relaxed.”

Alazraqui remembers that his father had come up from Concord for the show and saw him take first place. The next morning Alazraqui said he received about 50 phone calls including one from the William Morris Agency, which later signed him.

He moved to Los Angeles with his winnings and concentrated on building an acting and voiceover career.

“I had always viewed stand-up as a means to an end,” he said. “I wanted to be an actor.” One of his first breaks was landing the voice of Rocko in Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life, which remains one of his favorite roles. He’s appeared on That 70s Show, Men Behaving Badly, Family Guy, Sponge Bob Square Pants and had his own half-hour Comedy Central special.

 But he says the first big break came in 1997 and “four little words on a sheet of paper.”

 Alazraqui said at the time that he thought it was a “crap shoot,” “a waste of time” and a hassle because all the traffic he had to deal with. But those four words “Yo Quiero, Taco Bell,” became a household phrase over the next three years, securing his income and helping to build a following.

It was toward the tale end of that run in 2000 that Alazraqui and a group of improv actors pitched a show to Fox about a bunch of misfit police officers.

“We started out doing a sketch show but it just grew out of these characters that we made and could take anywhere,” he said. “There was no limit. The more serious they are, the funnier it is.”

The show has built a nice following with the season two DVD set to be released on June 14, the same day that season three premiers. Alazraqui would only say that paintballs and a beautiful woman figure into Garcia’s future along with maintaining a straight face.