La Joya native and comedian Raymond Orta stood at the end of a pier casting his fishing rod into the edge of small lake. A deck extends from his house — “paid off with jokes,” he said — to the water.
Orta was 17 when comedian Paul Rodriguez warned him about fiscal responsibility. He was surprised to learn of the big-name comics that were broke.
“‘It’s two words: you gotta be real good at the show and you gotta be real good at the business if you want to be successful,’” Orta remembers Rodriguez saying. “Comedy is a lot more than just jokes. It’s about the delivery and the presentation the whole time.”
Investing time on social platforms, making online content and staying after shows to thank fans are factors to his success, he said.
“That’s the extra legwork that I’m willing to do that the other comedians aren’t doing,” he said, adding some comics don’t want to promote themselves. “They just go up there to tell jokes. They’re brilliant minds that will never be discovered because they don’t even have a website.”
Orta even considers the customer when crafting his comedic perspective.
“I try to think of people that spend their hard-earned money to come and see comedy. I want to make sure that they get their money’s worth,” he said. “I’m not there to get political. I’m not there to make a statement.
“I’m just there to make you laugh.”
Orta said he was young when he realized the power of making people laugh. He went from the kid always getting sent to the principal’s office to a well-liked student who could get away with things, receiving “special privileges,” he said.
“I saw making people laugh as a way to get into people’s good graces,” Orta said. “I was hooked on it.”
Orta hit the stage for the first time in elementary school.
“I fell in love with it,” Orta said. “I started practicing my autograph when I was in third grade because I knew what I was going to do.”
In high school, Orta recalls initially resisting a theater teacher who tried to instill the importance of speaking clearly. There would always be a microphone in stand up, he remembers arguing.
His instructor said the original comedians went back to the time of kings and jesters. They had to get their points across without amplified sound.
“‘The guy had to be funny or he was usually executed.’ I was like, ‘orale,’” Orta said.
Orta describes some Valley audiences similarly, with local comedy-show attendees coming with attitudes challenging comedians to make them laugh. At clubs across the country, Orta said he’s noticed they come wanting to laugh.
“When you can make these dudes laugh down here and you go up state, you make people laugh so much harder because you’ve been trained in the harshest (environment),” he said.
His persona is now an amplified version of himself after years of trying to “Americanize” his act for universal appeal.
“It’s funny because I spent so much time in my career trying to do that and the thing that went viral was me being myself,” Orta said of a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys video. “It used to be work … when I had to fake it. I love pushing my culture and I love telling people where I’m from.”
Orta was recently tapped as a Bud Light ambassador in a move he attributes to the brand wanting to court to the Rio Grande Valley.
His upcoming show Saturday at the McAllen Performing Arts Center will gauge his level of local support. He’s optimistic that the event could sell out.
“To sell this amount of tickets is great. It means we’ve build a comedy scene from the ground up with no official franchise comedy club in the area,” Orta said. “That means so much to me because … it means that we have the support of the people in (my) hometown.”
Orta said he’s constantly stopped in public by locals thanking him.
“I get that all the time. ‘Hey, keep representing the Valley,’” he said. “And I love that.”
Orta has lofty goals. He said he’s trying to be one of the best ever.
“As long as my name is brought up in the same conversation, I will be happy. That is a dream for me, to be mentioned along those names,” Orta said. “Somewhere, some dude is going to be like ‘hey. You remember that guy Raymond Orta? He was pretty funny.’”
Like Freddy Fender in San Benito, Orta hopes to earn the ultimate public acknowledgement by his hometown.
“I want to be successful to the point where they put (a) … big ol’ Raymond Orta on the La Joya water tower,” Orta said. “You have to hit a certain level to reach that kind of status.”