Jonathan Chavez is at a crossroads.
social media comedian just turned 23, he’s nursing a broken heart, he’s looking for a new audience and he’s just released a new single.
“Yeah, I’m going through a lot of changes right now,” Chavez told NPR, fanning himself on a recently scorching day in Los Angeles.
In the ordinary language of the Instagram and TikTok class of which he is a part, Chavez wants to be more famous, which he admits with a laugh and a shy drop of his sunglasses.
While influence has largely remained the domain of white content creators, Chavez is part of a burgeoning Latinx community that is diversifying the landscape while amassing millions of followers. Many, like Chavez, are first-generation kids who grew up with Spanish-speaking parents, and their videos, artwork and skits speak to their heritage and experiences living in both worlds.
The problem with mostly Latina moms liking your videos
In recent years, Chavez steadily built a loyal following – he was even featured in Vogue Mexico. But he is aware that after nearly four years in the business – “it’s like an eternity” – his notoriety remains quite niche.
Having over 2.2 million combined followers might sound impressive to the lay social media user, but it’s nowhere near where the ambitious Chavez wants to be. And he wants to reach a different audience.
“I would go out and people my age would say, ‘My mom loves your videos!’ But it was never them,” he says, sounding more than a little disappointed.
For the uninitiated, the videos are years of wickedly funny impressions of the Mexican mamas and señoras with whom first-generation immigrant children grew up living in the United States
One of her most recent articles is titled “Latina Moms When You Don’t Know Their Email Passwords.” As the title suggests, the skit begins with a mother asking her son to help her log into his email account. (Chavez plays both characters.) Within seconds, the mother goes from zero to 11, losing her temper and scolding him for not knowing his secret password. “Pos ustedes todos saben! Se la pasan todo el dia en esas cosas y nomas les pide uno un favor y no le pueden ayudar a uno, verdad!” She cries.
Translated, it’s something like “How could you not know when you’re still on these things but the second I ask for a favor you can’t seem to help me?”
But putting a summary of the sketch on paper seems to dull his biting wit. It’s because Chavez’s call mom The character is all about cadence and delivery, and the familiar tone of borderline bullying that some immigrant children endure as their parents depend on them to help them navigate or interpret the world in which they live. are found now.
Chavez acknowledges that when he first started posting the short sketches on Twitter as a high school student in Denver, they were largely inspired by his own mother and the other matriarchs in his family and surrounding area. But he disagrees with the idea that he is channeling just one person.
“You know, it’s everyone who was always there. The nosy neighbors, the mothers of your friends, all the señoras that would arise in your business,” he laughs.
If you build it in English, will they come?
When he started to be recognized around the world, it was exciting, he recalls. Now, based on interactions with his older fanbase, he’s decided it’s time to branch out.
“Like no shame, no offense to anyone, but, when people told me they thought I was older and when people called me their age and dragged me into their generation, I was like, uh… no, I’m younger.”
To remedy this particular problem, Chavez devised a new strategy. In recent months, he’s put away the t-shirts he’s wrapped around his head when playing the quick-to-anger Mexican mother, and instead started experimenting with new English-speaking personas. The plan is to attract younger, non-Spanish speaking fans.
“So that they know who I am, who I really am,” he explains, adding that he “got triggered” every time fans told him they thought he was in his 30s.
He started making versions of the types of people in his orbit. There’s the friend who never pays because he conveniently forgot his wallet. The friend who is chronically late. The party girl who can’t stop perreando (to party).
It’s been a terrifying transition and really, it’s too early to tell if the hunt for a new demographic will have been worth it.
“When I started making videos in English, I immediately lost followers on Instagram,” he says, adding that it panicked him. Eventually, however, he began to make up for the losses by gaining exactly the kind of new followers he was looking for. And, while not necessarily ahead of what he was a few months ago, Chavez considers it a victory.
“Because I sort of outgrew it, and I’m also growing as a person. And I find other things more interesting and I have different interests,” he explains.
Entering your “Taylor Swift phase”
These interests increasingly include music.
Chavez isn’t shy about sharing that he “has been going through some heartbreak lately” and that the experience has sent him into his “Taylor Swift phase.” Rather than sit back and just wallow in all the feelings, he wanted to channel grief and loss into songwriting, as the pop star is known to do.
The lyrics tell the story of a dysfunctional relationship. One in which the protagonist is caught in a cycle of “ignoring evil and pretending all is well”.
“It’s the first time I’ve been really vulnerable like this,” he said. In general, he adds, this is what he is looking for in this new chapter of his life.
Take up space and become a ‘Latino King’
Chavez’s desire for people to watch him has always been there. But, deep down, he didn’t really believe it was possible for someone who looked like him. He was obsessed with pop culture even as a child. He says he would dream in his bedroom about being famous, being interviewed and on TV or in movies.
“Now that I’m in LA, I’m like, Oh, this is something that could happen to me. I could be on TV, I could be in these spaces, you know?”
Chavez recently completed a short film, titled Warehouse, performing a part he says was written with him in mind based on some of the new characters he posted on social media. It follows a Denny’s campaign which featured it earlier this year, marking his acting debut.
At the start of the pandemic, Chavez signed up for a set of online acting classes, but quickly lost interest because it all seemed too abstract. The film set, however, was another story. Watching other actors work clicked in his head, and Chavez credits the director for teaching him to authentically get in touch with his feelings.
“That’s basically it,” he says. “I just want to be more who I am, you know. I want to take up space, I want your Latin king. I want to show every part of me,” he says, without a trace of embarrassment.