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After a stint as a security guard at a South Beach hotel, Caceres was referred by a friend in 2000 to América TeVé, a local network that had been founded six years earlier. It catered to Cubans, which was rare back then, and programming included mostly infomercials.
The first thing he produced, El Mikimbin de Miami — a popular variety show inspired by the Cuban slang word for lowbrow in its title — was canceled after five years. Two years into filming, he began work on La Cosa Nostra. He modeled it after Crónicas Marcianas (The Martian Chronicles), an irreverent Spanish late-night hit that began in 1997. Hosts discussed topics from masturbation to terrorism. Breasts often played a starring role.
From the beginning, La Cosa Nostra was politically incorrect and honest. It was hosted by Ceriani and Omar Moynelo, a Cuban radio personality and telenovela star. While sitting around a massive table, the pair and supporting characters hashed out topics such as "Where does the caca go?" and "Should a woman shave her armpits?" They even lured O.J. Simpson, who was swarmed by amorous blond women when he appeared. They also produced segments about more serious subjects such as breast cancer and homelessness.
In 2005, dapper entertainer Boncó (real name: Conrado Cogle) and pudgy comic Carlucho (José Carlos Pérez) took over hosting. That was also the first year the fledging América TeVé earned a profit, the Miami Herald reported at the time.
These days, the Cuban duo continues in the principal seats. The supporting cast includes a reverend, a stripper, a dwarf, a gringo, a redheaded diva, a clever young strawberry blonde, a flaming gay singer, a psychologist, a man with a speech impediment, and a Cuban who feigns being a snooty Spaniard and uses words such as felación (fellatio) instead of blowjob to refine the group.
Each has an earpiece that feeds to Caceres, who tells dirty jokes and, like a puppet master, directs the cast when to speak or shut up. Typical nightly fare includes humor sketches, an irreverent look at the news, on-the-street interviews, a monologue by Boncó, and more. One recent show discussed whether a woman should reimburse a soon-to-be ex who had paid for her breast implants. Another tested male cast members to see if they were gay. There were videos of skeletons giving oral sex, a man in a Bill Clinton mask dancing the robot, and a cast member marrying a horse.
"One of my goals is to move smoothly between comedy and drama," Caceres says. "One minute you're crying and the next minute you're laughing — the kind of emotions that you experience in real life."
It's 10 on a weeknight at América TeVé studios in Hialeah Gardens, just past the Road Runner truck stop and due south of Okeechobee Road. The parking lot is packed. Factory lights twinkle in the distance, a lone dog barks, and semi trucks heave as they downshift into nearby seedy motels that flash neon.
Backstage in the hall that leads to a parade of dressing rooms, cast member Juan Espinosa mulls over campaigning for state representative. This is remarkable for several reasons: He is 24 years old. He is sincere. He is four feet two inches tall.
He leans against the wall with arms folded over his white polo shirt. A diamond stud glimmers from his left ear in the fluorescent light. Producers began encouraging his run for office months ago, he says. On air, Espinosa has pledged to lower taxes and home and car insurance rates and to improve schools.
The station airs his political spots during La Cosa Nostra with plugs for local businesses such as U-Pick Auto Parts in Medley as well as national ads for cars and men's clothing.
The downside of his campaign, the goateed Espinosa explains, is that, if he wins, he will have to give up his spot on the show. "It started as a joke, but now it's getting really serious," he says earnestly. "I don't think there has been a little person who has run for office. And that would be pretty cool to be in the Guinness World Records."
Show business found Espinosa about six years ago. The recent high school graduate was selling Hawaiian shirts at Dolphin Mall when a chubby Cuban customer who happened to be comedian José Martínez asked if he was interested in entertainment.
Espinosa, born in Key West to Cuban parents, had no experience but decided to give it a shot.
He and Martínez performed as a comedy duo on América TeVé's Payo en Llamas, a Sunday show that began around 2003 and included sketches about drunk plumbers sneaking into a hot girl's house. Espinosa was periodically paid $20 to cover gas. At the time, that was okay. He was hungry to perform.
"I got paid every once in a blue moon when I'd ask [Martínez]: 'Hey, look, I need money. I'm broke,'" Espinosa says. "I took it as a hobby; then I started to realize that people were getting paid and I wasn't. Now I'm older and wiser."