Finding the Universal in the Specific

Alumna Joanna Hausmann discusses life in the entertainment industry as a Latina with a complicated sense of identity

Joanna Hausmann knows how to hustle. A comedian, actor, television writer, and show producer, Hausmann, A11, has spent her entire career in the entertainment industry. It’s not an easy place to be. As she puts it, “Artists, actors, writers—we do this because we feel an insane drive; we have to do it. If you’re in this industry, it’s because you’re so in love with what you do that it doesn’t matter how hard you have to work to make it.”

How hard has Hausmann worked? “It was a huge struggle for many years,” she says. After her time at Tufts—where she started out thinking she wanted to be a playwright but realized comedy was her true passion—she landed in New York City, working low-paying day jobs and doing stand-up gigs at night.

Eventually, she took an internship for an entertainment producer in exchange for performance minutes on stage at Gotham Comedy Club, a venue that has launched the careers of many well-known comedians. 

While toiling to make it, she was also grappling with her sense of self: a Jewish Latina (“Jewtina,” in her words), she wasn’t sure where she fit in or how to help audiences understand where she was coming from.

“I always had difficulty navigating identity,” she says. “I thought I had to ignore it in order to do comedy. But then I realized that identity is actually at the core of what I wanted to do comedy about.”

That realization helped her turn her hard work into a full-blown career. Now a writer and producer for the Disney Channel’s animated show Hamster & Gretel, Hausmann chatted with Tufts Now about her work, the state of the entertainment industry today, and why identity is “inherently hilarious.”

Tufts Now: When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in entertainment?

Hausmann: I knew as a high school student in Venezuela. I wrote a lot of plays and short stories back then, and I knew I wanted to focus on writing and performance in college.

My family had lived in Boston for a while; I wanted to go back there for college. I went to Tufts because it felt like a place where I could really try things—a place where it would be okay to fail. I wrote one-act plays there. I wrote a full-length play that actually got produced on campus. It was at Tufts—because of that sense that I could try anything there—that I started believing I might have a chance in the industry. 

How did your background come into play as you began finding success on stage and in television?

Identity is funny. My own existence I find hilarious; I’m not 100 percent anything. I’m American now, but I was born in England to Venezuelan parents (accidentally, while they were on Spring Break!) and raised mostly in Venezuela; I didn’t become an American citizen until after college. I’m Venezuelan—but I’m Jewish. There are Holocaust survivors on my dad’s side and Cuban political exiles on my mom’s. I have the most German-sounding name ever. I don’t look like a typical Latina; I look like I should never have left Europe and gone to a sunny place. Really, I shouldn’t exist—it’s hilarious! Good comedy comes from that kind of deep vulnerability, the kind you access when you question your identity. And from honesty.

When I was doing stand-up at Gotham Comedy Club, I was scouted by someone at Univision [the American Spanish-language television network]. At the time, they were working on creating Flama, a bicultural digital channel that was geared specifically toward Latinx millennials. I was hired there originally as an assistant and then rose up the ranks.

At the beginning it was tough because I didn’t feel like I represented most Hispanic Americans. I felt very hesitant, but then we started experimenting… kind of like I did at Tufts. And the first video that I crafted went immediately viral. I went on to create many more in a series called Joanna Rants (in which I truly ranted).

What I learned at Univision is that your point of view is the most important element in comedy. You can study all you want, and you can craft a perfect joke, almost like a math equation. But your unique perspective is the most important thing. 

What’s one way you bring your unique perspective in?

For example, I talk about my mom in a lot of my online content because she’s a borderline stereotype of a Latina mom. She’s a whole, three-dimensional person, of course, but so many people relate to her because, even if they’re not Venezuelan or they don’t have a Venezuelan mom, there’s something about her that reminds them of their own mom. There’s a unifying element to being incredibly specific about your identity. And I always say that the more specific you get, the more universal comedy is. 

In recent years, there’s been a well-documented shift in the entertainment industry: the range of cultures and backgrounds depicted on-screen has expanded like never before. What has such a change meant to you, and where do you see things heading?

I think we’re at an inflection point, where there’s going to be a before and an after. The entertainment industry is now being run like a software company versus like what it actually is, which is art, entertainment—it’s the lifeforce of culture and society. Studios are trying to make as much money as possible and cut as much cost as possible. And they’re not thinking about what the product is.

I’m most concerned about the deep inequity in the industry right now. There are writers and actors living under the poverty line—writers and actors of successful shows. And what that means is that the people who are going to be able to continue hustling and working are people with privilege, which excludes many minorities. I’m scared that we’re going to see a dip in the diversity that the industry has been pushing towards.

Including specific perspectives is the only way to create authentic art and the only way to do diversity correctly—you have to have the people with the particular perspectives you want to represent writing, acting, and producing in the industry. You can’t just be writing about Latinx culture, for example; you have to have Latinx people writing and performing.

But, while I’m scared, it’s also a weirdly unifying time. Seeing people from all different backgrounds and success points in the industry rallying together toward something has been uplifting. I don’t feel hopeless.

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