After a year of recovering from a global pandemic, comedian Mario Superstar Salazar didn’t hesitate to continue helping the Valley by being his funny self. With roast videos, comedic sports commentary, and stand-up comedy, Salazar kept the laugh track going. A phlegmatic voice answers the call, as we conduct an over-the-phone interview. I ask if he’s just woken up and he responds, “I’m having my after-breakfast joint to get my creative juices flowing.”
So tell me, how did you first get into comedy?
I’ve always been a fan of stand-up comedy. When I was a kid, most kids would be watching Star Wars and I was watching Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison. I was just so enamored with stand-up comedy. Even when I was in the Marine Corps, I would play Def Comedy Jam videos in my barracks. My Marine buddies would come over and we would just laugh — I’d watch them over and over again. So when I got out of the military, I came back home and heard that Cine El Rey in McAllen was doing comedy Wednesday nights. And I’ve always been funny in school and I was so enamored with stand-up, but I never thought I could actually do it.
When I got stationed in San Diego, I kind of got the bug to do an open mic, but I never actually went through with it. So being home, hearing that Cine was doing Wednesday night comedy, I emailed them. This was back in the MySpace days, so it was a long time ago. I was like, “Hey man, why aren’t you guys giving locals an opportunity to do a stand-up?” And they were like, “Well, we are, it’s just that nobody has approached us. You’re the first one.” The owner of Cine El Rey always makes fun of me because I was kind of rude.
And he was like, “come check out a show and we’ll put you up on stage the following week.” So I went and the following week I actually got up on stage and did pretty good. From there I just started performing every week until eventually they made me the permanent host and then about a year into it, they made me the booker [booking agent] — which is pretty unheard of for such a young comic. And then I finally got to feature, which is the middle act. Then I finally got to headline, and then I started performing out of town and it became an actual career a few years after. Now I’ve been doing it ever since and it’s been a really, really fun ride.
Tell me about that first show. How did it go? What was the first joke you told?
I didn’t really do a joke. I did a story about me getting drunk in the Marine Corps and partying in Japan. One of the first jokes that I wrote and performed was a silly local joke. It was so silly.
“Me and my friend were driving up north 281 and I noticed that my buddy was all, aguitado, (he was all sad). And I was like, ‘Owassa’ matter with you? And he’s like, nombre, bro, no tengo ‘Nolana.’ And they’re about to kick me out of my ‘Cantón.’”
It was one of the first jokes and it was so silly, people just kind of chuckled and said, “that’s funny — this guy has something.”
So yeah, I felt really proud of myself. I was like “yea, they laughed at my silly joke!” I know a lot of people say the first time they went up was really bad. And then some people say they went up and totally crushed it. For me, I know I did good. I didn’t completely kill but I knew I had something. And I knew right off the bat I had good stage presence. So in my mind I was like, “dude, this is what you were destined to do.” And I kept at it and worked hard to be where I’m at now.
How have you grown as a comedian?
When I first did it, it was like a dream come true — it was just such a surreal moment. Now, knowing it’s my career and my purpose, I’m very free on stage. I’ve become more personal on stage. I don’t just do jokes, I talk about my life.
Before the pandemic I had a sense that I was kind of just going through the motions, just ‘cause I was on the road so much. Get on the road Thursday, get back Monday, and then chill at the house till Wednesday, then do it all over again on Thursday.
During the apocalypse or the pandemic — I call the pandemic period the apocalypse — I fell back in love with comedy and realized how much I missed the stage. I started working a lot more at my craft. Since I wasn’t performing, I actually started writing a lot more. And then I started watching myself on video, like old stand-up shows that I performed. For me, it’s really hard to watch myself because I start critiquing myself too much. It’s uncomfortable for me, but it was something I started doing because it makes me a better comic. I’m like, “Hey, I should’ve added this in there,” or, “hey, I should have paused there.” So the pandemic has really made me fall in love with stand-up again.
How did your comedy change during the pandemic?
I actually started going viral during the time that I wasn’t putting on shows. Another dream of mine has always been to be a sports commentator. I wanted to go to college to pursue a career in journalism and be a sportscaster. So during the pandemic, I started doing public commentary videos and other silly stuff. I started producing a lot of viral videos and it was funny, man. I’d say around September, when things were still on lockdown, I would tell my buddy about going viral and he’s like, “man, people really want to see you now.”
I also adapted well because of those videos. And while I still couldn’t perform live, a lot of people started hiring me to do roast videos for their loved ones. It all started because some dude messaged me and he’s like, “Hey, man, do you do personal roast videos?” I’m like, “yeah, dude.” I had never done one but I figured it would be pretty easy. He sent me video clips of wife cooking and dancing, and asked if I could roast his wife for her birthday.
Then I posted it up on my social media and was like “man, I can’t believe I just got paid to roast somebody’s wife.” So then a lot of people started hitting me up asking, “Hey, can you roast my friend?” “Can you roast my tía, you know, it’s her birthday?”
During that time, I also opened up my online store, where I have a bunch of shirts for sale … I think I have more shirts than jokes … (chuckles) I have shirts, caps, and coffee cups.
So that’s how I survived — with the roast videos and my online store. I had to adapt, for those months we were on extreme lockdown.
How did the relationship with your fans change?
I got a lot of new fans because of those viral videos. A lot of them, surprisingly, still don’t know I do stand-up. And the fans that have been with me for a while, they’re just so happy for me. They’ll say “Man, this is awesome that you finally have the attention that you deserve, you know?” They’re happy that I have sold-out shows now. Because there’s been times we would put on a show, be super excited, promote it, then the day of the show, there would be like six people in the crowd.
We still gave an awesome show to those six people. But now we actually have a lot of people turn up for shows. I know the pandemic is still going on, so we do everything safely, but to see a lot of people turn up for the shows now is pretty exciting.
Those viral videos, I’m really thankful for them because they brought a lot of new fans. And a lot of times these people with viral videos don’t do stand-up, they just put out videos but don’t actually perform anywhere. So it’s double awesome for the fans. They’re like, “Oh, dude, not only does he do these awesome videos, but we can go see him this weekend in Corpus.” I’m like “Yea, man, I’ve been doing stand-up for 15 years now.” It’s really awesome
What’s something that you learned during COVID?
I learned to always count your blessings. And I learned my purpose. I’ve always wanted to do stand-up, but now I know my purpose is to make the Valley a hotbed for stand-up comedy. Everybody’s talking about how Austin’s the next LA for stand-up comedy. I want people to say “The Rio Grande Valley has a huge and very strong comedy scene.” Comics that are here from the Valley, I want them to succeed as much as I want to succeed in my career because I want to open up a comedy club. I think the Valley needs it. And if not me, it’s going to be somebody else.
And I feel like I know the business and I know comedians, and I know what works about here [RGV]. So that’ll be another step in my career. I realized my purpose is to bring as much laughter to the Rio Grande Valley. Once my comedy club is up and running, my vision is to open up my own movie studio down here just making the Valley, like nombre, man, we have a lot of land — we can use all that land for studios and comedy clubs and a bunch of cool stuff. I think it’s time. There’s so much talent here in the Valley and I just get excited about it.
I’ve been staying up late at night coming up with different lineups for the club and the setup of how I want it — with different theme nights. I just get excited about it. During the pandemic, I started thinking more about my purpose, which is not only for me to make it, but for the Valley to make it. I want people moving here for stand-up, and for the opportunities that are down here.
Why is it important to make people laugh? Why does that matter to you?
Well, first of all because I’m very needy, (chuckles). When people laugh, I’m like, “they like me!” But also because laughter really is the best medicine and you feel so good after a good laugh. Like when you and your camaradas are remembering a story and you get that good hearty laugh — that’s so good for the soul. I think laughter is something that’s never gonna go. It’s something that humans are always gonna need.
When I first said this was gonna be a career for me, my mom was like, “Porque no lo haces como un hobby? Nunca sabes cuando vas a tener otro show.” And I would tell her, “Siempre va ver riza en el mundo, siempre va querer reirse la gente.” People are always gonna want to laugh. It’s going to be something humans are always going to need-: shelter, water, food … and laughter.
What’s your favorite thing about the Valley?
The people. People from the Valley are so connected. We understand each other. We love the Valley. I know a lot of people say things like, “Oh, I can’t wait to leave,” but honestly we have so much pride for this area and we have so much pride as people. We’re really good-natured people down here and I love the people. I’ve done shows in Houston, California, and Washington, and there’s always somebody in the crowd, that’s like, “Dude I’m from the Valley, man. I got my family over there.” Just the way they talk and the way they carry themselves, I immediately know they’re from the Valley. It’s just a magical place. Texans have pride, but Texans from the Valley have pride multiplied by a billion. Puro 956 mentality — it’s awesome.
What makes the Valley funny?
We’re always quick. At a party there’s always a group of dudes tirando mosca to each other, you know. Even when I was a kid, I would see my uncles together, you know, tirando mosca to each other, laughing, joking around and being happy. I think there’s a comedian in everybody’s family here in the Valley. I think the Valley has a lot of funny people. We just grew up with that joyful mentality here.
What’s your favorite thing to make fun of about the Valley?
My favorite thing to make fun of in the Valley is just how we love to party. How we go tambien balls out in regards to partying. I have a joke I used to do all the time, “The Valley’s the only place where you could be over 40 years old and still get excited about spring break.” We’re party people down here.
What are some of the things that you only see in the Valley?
The Valley is the only place where you’ll see a fight at Chuck E Cheese and the guys fighting are usually wearing their letterman jacket. They’re like 50 years old and their kids are playing and they’re fighting in their letterman jackets.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in your career?
Once I was doing a show in Raymondville, Texas. During the middle of my show, there was a raid. They were looking for some drug dealer. He was in the restroom at the time doing a drug deal while I was performing. When they arrested the guy, they were bringing him out, I was making fun of his shoes saying, “nombre, guey, te van hechar burla en el bote con esas shoes, bro.”
And then in Eagle Pass, Texas, I almost got arrested. The owner who hired us wasn’t at the show, it was only the manager who didn’t even know what was going on. And we’re like, “dude, here’s a flyer … we’re performing.” There were people there who were there for the show. The manager was like, “Nombre, sacan estas comediantes.” So they wanted me to stop my show. And I’m like, “I’m not going to stop my show.” And they called the cops on me while I was performing, so I could get off the stage. And I’m like “nah, dude, I came to do a show.” The promoter still paid me, so I was like, “dude, I got paid, I got a job to do, I’m gonna do my show.” So the cops had to come and literally drag me away from the stage. There were like six cop cars that came, I was about to get arrested and I was telling them this is ridiculous. I got paid for a show and I’m doing the show, I didn’t do anything wrong. The cops said, “Oh, they want to arrest you for trespassing.” I said, “How can I be trespassing? My flyer’s right there. Like my face is right here.” (laughing)
Any advice for up-and-coming comedians?
My advice is to start living by the motto of “reacting with kindness and love to every situation you face.” You’ll be such a happier person and the people around you will be such happier people.
I’d also remind them if they truly believe that this is their purpose to just hit as many show or open mics as possible. Study the greats and immerse yourself in everything stand-up. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re not funny. Follow your dreams and you follow your purpose.