You Haven’t Changed A Bit With Santino Merino

Every family has a bit of craziness to them, whether it be everyone shares a wacky sense of humour or they get up to no good or they really clash. But has your dad tried to commit bank fraud, or your mum punch old women in the face, or your sister finding Jesus, or your brother having an existential crisis? That’s quite a bizaire mix, but that’s what comedian Santino Merino’s family is like.

Merino is from a Cuban family based in Chicago who later moved to Indonesia, and upon returning home, he realised how nuts his family actually are. Although these days Merino lives in Melbourne teaching ESL at RMIT and Monash, he has not forgotten his roots and will soon be performing his first stand up comedy show, You Haven’t Changed A BitMilk Bar Magazine got to have a chat with Merino on his show, his family and his love of comedy.

Who are your comedic idols?
At the moment, John Mulaney is my biggest influence. This may be conterversial, but Woody Allen is a favourite. Spalding Grey was great too.

Your family was originally going to move to New York when they left Cuba, but moved to Chicago due to visiting a popular fast food chain. Could you elaborate on that?
One of our cousins Julio, who’s mentioned in the show, came to do the family meet and greet in Miami. When people come in from Cuba, if they’re lucky they have a family, will wait for them at the airport. In our case, it was with my father’s cousins. He took us to McDonald’s for a layover, our first taste of American food. We were meant to fly to New York to meet with our church, who were sponsoring our visas. Because of McDonald’s, we missed our flight. Julio took us all to Chicago with his wife. We stayed in the basement for three weeks, and my parents got jobs and stayed there. It’s a big regret of mine, New York is a great place.

What was it like to live in Indonesia for two years? What were you doing there during that time?
I went to a small college called Overland, most famously Lena Dunham and Alison Bechdel went there, Ed Helms also went there. So I went to that school, they have an organisation that allowed me to go to Indonesia as a teacher on a program. It was more of an extended vacation than working. I lived in Banda Aceh, where the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami happened. It’s famous as the only place in Indonesia for Sharia law, has it’s own government, independent of the main Indonesian government. It was great, unbelievable to live there. My partner, who’s Australian, lived there, which got me to move here. It was a real eye opener.

Considering you’re a comedian, is there much of a difference between American and Indonesian humour?
I guess with American humour, as opposed to British humour, even if you are a comedic slob, they want to know you’re a bit self-aware. Whereas Indonesian humour is mean, friends really take the piss out of each other. For example, instead of people paying for you dinner and drinks, you have to pay for everyone else. My friends took this to another level. My partner threw a surprise birthday party for me, I was chained up to a fence and friends one by one and threw eggs at me and threw flour in my face. The more torture you get on your birthday, the more your friends care about you. It’s some sort of compliment. They planned it out. I had two good Indonesian friends, in the days leading up to my birthday, they inexplicably got into a fight with each other. I couldn’t’ invite just one to my birthday, so that was a tense birthday dinner. To top it off, my partner made a piñata of my face, the party had the piñata to get candy.

What made you decide to move to Australia? How do you find Australian humour?
I moved here in 2015. I think the humour is very similar. Some audiences like you cause you’re more blue. In Melbourne, there’s lot of funny and progressive and smart comedians here who make you laugh and make you think, but on the whole, it’s pretty similar.

Tell me a bit about your show.
It’s a comic exploration of modern Latino family and homecoming. It’s a continuous story, jumps back and forward in time, with family history, and goes over three days of coming back from Indonesia, and the adjustment period I went through. It was surreal, then all the action was happening. Expect a long funny story, not so much, rather than a short punchy joke, more a narrative form.

Who would you say is the craziest person in your family?
I guess without a doubt my dad. He’s possibly the biggest hustler I ever met, just always trying to get an edge on people. It’s almost funny how it works, he’s one of those people who thinks he’s being sneaky, but after 26 years of living with him, it’s funny seeing him being so transparent. He still thinks it’s some kind of secret. Dad keeps wearing that badge proudly.

How does your family feel about being used as comedic material for your show? Do they know?
They know. Mom is liking every Facebook post, they’re happy for me and excited to me part of it. Dad sent an email about Julio who took us to McDonald’s who sent a message and the description of the show, saying he committed tax fraud and the IRS are after him. I don’t care as long as it’s funny. The end of the show, it’s not just them, I’m not a sane person in a room of crazy people, I’m just as crazy, if not more, than them. Hopefully that comes across.

Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Tuesday 6 September 2016

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