After a little fumble, the camera settles on a young man sporting a navy blue suit. He holds a microphone below his moustached mouth.
“Hello America,” he says. “This is political correspondent Jorge Ortiz live on the UNLV campus for the last presidential debate, and what we have here is a classic mess.”
Meet Jorge Ortiz, a fictional reporter for the comedy newscast Very News who’s got an admirable passion, but not a shred of professional prowess. He’s the creation of alumnus Marcos Gonzalez, who graduated in 2016 with a major in journalism and a minor in comedy. And this past October, comedy site Funny or Die sent him to cover the last presidential debate in Las Vegas.
“Jorge is a passionate news reporter who’s not looking for justice or the right answer—he’s looking for drama, he’s looking for what stirs the pot,” Gonzalez said.
Within the sphere of satire, Gonzalez, who is Latino, explores the public’s political perspectives by playing Jorge Ortiz. Over a laugh and under the guise of Jorge Ortiz, Gonzalez exposes a lot of assumptions people hold about presidential candidates, party beliefs, race relations, and Latino culture in the U.S.
Gonzalez said the character is the perfect mix of his journalism major and comedy minor. His journalism education trained him to conduct street interviews and to cultivate his political savvy and curiosity, while his comedy schooling and his work with Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars, an on-campus comedy troupe at Emerson, helped hone his writing and improvisation skills. The result of this medley is that Gonzalez gets to engage with politics through comedy, and literally through Jorge Ortiz.
“I know the character so well, I’ve actually become the character,” Gonzalez said.
It was during Gonzalez’s sophomore year when the idea of Jorge Ortiz first appeared as a Flamenco dancer in a sketch with Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars. Next, the character popped up as a local journalist reporting on a murder crime scene (who shows up to the scene and causes a ruckus in a series of goofs). Gonzalez, who is Puerto Rican, drew a lot of inspiration for the character from his family, he said.
“I have this Latin culture and it’s a big part of my life,” said Gonzalez.
And by the way, Gonzalez’s family is supportive, though mostly happy he’s landed a good job after graduation, he said.
You can catch Jorge Ortiz romping around various political stomping grounds, microphone in hand, shared online by Funny or Die, and newly on Más Mejor, a digital comedy studio that showcases Latino actors including Saturday Night Live talent, Portlandia people, and now Gonzalez, too.
Gonzalez pitched the show in August to Funny or Die, where he interned while attending Emerson’s Los Angeles program during his final semester. The streaming show came to fruition in October. But before Funny or Die backed Gonzalez’s show, Very News started with the help of a fellow Emerson student.
In August, Gonzalez reached out to his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brother David Foley, a senior visual media arts major, and asked if he’d be his camera person. Foley said yes. And thus, Jorge Ortiz was resurrected from his former life with Jimmy’s.
The first episode of Very News was shot by Foley on an iPhone, and it got over 10,000 views in its first week online this October.
“I love Jorge,” said Foley. “When I first shot him I was cracking up so much I could barely keep the camera steady.”
That’s when Funny or Die noticed and contacted Gonzalez. They said they’d pay him to stream Very News once a week. Deal struck. Insert virtual handshake. Gonzalez was hired to be a social media talent, and since then the content of Very News is evolving, Foley said.
“I just watched his character grow,” Foley said. “It was more goofy, but ever since Funny or Die picked it up, there’s a lot more content and he sends a message through his comedy.”
Now Gonzalez streams Very News weekly for Funny or Die and Mas Mejor to share, and he’s also in talks with Comedy Central to debut Jorge Ortiz on its Snapchat.
And he’s since upgraded from shooting the videos on an iPhone. He’s working with a production company called Movie Magic Media, founded by another Emerson graduate, Micah Levin ‘08, a visual media arts major. The two connected through the Emerson Mafia Facebook page, and Levin said he likes working with Gonzalez because he’s a great improvisor, and reporter, too.
“What’s great about Marcos is that he’s a journalist, too,” Levin said. “It’s is not entirely about the joke, it’s about what information we’re disseminating.”
Gonzalez said he rarely breaks character, and most people don’t suspect his thick Hispanic accent is fake. Jorge Ortiz is believable—so believable, in fact, that Gonzalez confronts racism fairly regularly while on the job he said, and especially from Trump supporters at the debate in Vegas. He said people assume he’s not informed about politics when they hear the accent he uses to play the Very News reporter.
Still, Gonzalez said he feels fortunate to play Jorge Ortiz in our current political and social climate in the U.S.
“I feel like I got lucky because we’re in a time where young Latino people are performing,” said Gonzalez. “I’m sort of riding this wave of young Latino culture and young Latino writers and performers.”
And it’s tried and true that politics and comedy are a pair poised to push progress in the population’s engagement with its government, said Gonzalez.
“Comedy takes something that rather hard to understand, or too depressing to understand, and it makes it funny or goofy and palatable,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why we need this comedy and politics perspective, or else people might get deterred from voting or from wanting to know what’s going on in the world.”