During breakups, lesbians often receive unpleasant, um, gifts from their exes, but Sandra Valls received something quite special: a new career as a comedian.
About 10 years ago, while living in Boston, she and her then-girlfriend were doing the requisite couples counseling thing prior to breaking up when her girlfriend enrolled her in an adult education stand-up comedy class. They broke up soon afterward, and Valls wasn’t planning to attend the class scheduled to start the next week, but her ex told her, "Go; it’s already paid for, and it’s nonrefundable."
Now Sandra Valls is an out lesbian comedian and TV producer who lives in Los Angeles. This past May, she starred with Marilyn Martinez, Sara Contreras and Monique Marvez in Showtime’s The Original Latin Divas of Comedy special.
But her first comedy gig was at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. When she started writing material in her class, she didn’t include much gay content, but her teacher told her, "You know you’re much funnier when you’re bitching about your ex-girlfriend."
Valls agreed but was worried because her ex was going to be at the show. "She was a great sport," Valls said. "She just sat there laughing. It was funny and therapeutic."
Originally Valls thought she would be working as a singer; she trained in musical theater and was in an R&B band while living in Boston. But, she said, "Everyone always told me how funny I am, and when I took the comedy class, I just got into it." These days, she does include some singing in her comedy act.
About five years after those classes, she took the leap and moved to Los Angeles, driving across the country in her mother’s old Ford Taurus with $2,000 in her pocket. She couch-surfed for nine months, working data entry temp jobs as well as a gig as a bus girl at California Pizza Kitchen.
"I don’t care, I’m Mexican, I’ll bus tables; I’m good at it," Valls joked. "It’s in my blood."
She also took a job as a greeter at a career college, but she had left all her corporate-type clothes behind in Boston. So she and a friend came up with a uniform for her to wear — a white shirt, khaki pants and a blue blazer — that she purchased at an Out of the Closet thrift store for $6.
Her break came when she met Maria Perez-Brown at the Latina Laugh Festival in San Antonio. "She told me, ‘I have a writing job for you,’ so I was a punch-up writer for Nickelodeon for a season," Valls explained.
After that job ended, a friend told her that national cable station Mun2 was looking for Latino writers and producers. Valls had never done any production work, but a friend encouraged her to go in and fake it. During the interview, the company loved her writing, and she was frank with them about not having production experience. She began producing shows for Mun2 and now also produces for SíTV.
"Isn’t it strange?" she reflected. "I was a greeter in second-hand clothes, and now I’m a producer. I never even thought I’d be a producer. If you have a goal in mind and you want to make something happen, nothing’s beneath you, I believe. I don’t care, I’ll clean toilets; I want to do what I do. I’ve never been so happy in my entire life."