John Leguizamo was born in Colombia, raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, and rose to fame doing stand-up on the Manhattan comedy club circuit. He’s as New York as they come, and today he weighs in as Metro’s celebrity guest editor. Below, he recalls where he was on Sept. 11, 2001, and reflects on how our city has changed — for the better, and also for the worse.
It was like we lost our virginity on Sept. 11. Well, worse than that because losing your virginity is not really a terrible thing. But what I mean is, we felt like we were invincible before that. But this was being attacked inside our city. It felt like that was the beginning of the end of a great empire, somehow.
On that morning, when the planes hit, I was in Michigan, believe it or not, on a farm with my two kids. You couldn’t talk, you couldn’t move, you were like a zombie, watching the TV. What got me was when you saw the bodies come down. That’s when I lost it.
And it was interesting because my family and I were more like zombies than anybody else. Everyone else in Michigan, they were still able to function. But we couldn’t talk, we couldn’t process it. I mean, I’m a New Yorker. I could see the World Trade Center from my backyard when I barbecued.
In the weeks after 9/11, everything reeked — you know, that weird smell that was coming from downtown and permeated everything. All my friends got rashes, big red blotches under their eyes.
My show “Sexaholix” opened less than a month later, the first week of October 2001. I wanted to delay the opening back a year. I was like, “Why the hell are we doing this?” I felt humorless; I didn’t feel like there was anything to be funny about. And then people started coming to the show and wanting to laugh, laughing extra hard, maybe more than they normally would have. They just needed a release, and they needed to feel positive. I could see that they wanted that so desperately.
But even now, 10 years later, New Yorkers are still scared. The subways during rush hour and Times Square are the two places I’m terrified of being as a New Yorker. Still, I think I’d rather die then leave this city.
New York is where everything’s happening — all the cultural, all the intellectual ideas cross-pollinate here. It’s what Egypt was back in the day, the cradle of civilization. And to leave that? I’d rather risk it.
– John Leguizamo’s solo show, “Ghetto Klown,” will open in L.A. this fall.
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