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Meet The Chicago Comedy Duo Making A Webseries With Fred Armisen

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on May 16, 2016 4:20PM

Wendy Mateo (left) and Lorena Diaz of Dominizuelan

Chicago-based comedians Lorena Diaz and Wendy Mateo have made a webseries, The Dominizuelan Consulate, that premieres in a few weeks. Warning to the suggestible among us, though: Dominizuela is not a real place. The series title is a play on the name Mateo and Diaz have been performing under for eight years: Dominizuelan, a mashup of their ethnicities (Diaz is Venezuelan; Mateo Dominican).

The conceit of the show, though—two lifelong friends, bored of their law office jobs, open a consulate for a fictional country in a Chicago screw factory—is newer than their stage moniker, and was born out of a collaboration with none other than comedian Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live, Portlandia).

The collaboration began when the duo met Armisen in person in Chicago, in the second half of 2015. They had had some less-than-stellar experiences with production companies in the past, and Armisen was meeting with them on behalf of a production company: Más Mejor, the arm of SNL creator Lorne Michaels’ production company, Broadway Video, that focuses on working with Latino talent.

When you’re offered a meeting with Armisen, though, you don’t say no. As Diaz told Chicagoist, “Mama didn’t raise no fool.”

They met him at Chicago’s Soho House, a setting that made the meeting—already so nerve-wracking that we were starstruck just hearing about it—“even more intense,” Mateo told Chicagoist. They’re not members at the social club (which requires a “creative soul” and at least $1,000 for a yearlong of membership), and as Mateo put it, “I don’t see the people at the Soho House on the El train, ever.”

"We felt like lucky jerks," Diaz said.

They connected with Armisen immediately. He was “incredibly polite and giving and open,” Diaz said. “He just really listened to us and was able to really understand us right away. And we had just been so used to having to over-explain who we were to people.”

He offered them a production deal with Más Mejor that didn't require them to pay anything out of pocket. He even pitched them the series' consulate premise, inspired by their name. When we spoke with the two on Friday, they had just wrapped up shooting the series in a real Chicago screw factory on the Northwest side.

“Anything that Lori and I write… we like to keep it in Chicago,” Mateo said.

Diaz stars in a short titled "Ms. Latina Stereotype explains Hollywood."

The two have lived in Chicago for ten years now, after moving here together from Miami. They initially met at an acting school in Hollywood, Florida, and clicked immediately. "We became roommates and then creative partners soon after that," Diaz said. "We sound like we’re married… I don’t know how to make this sound less like lovers.”

They were both passionate about comedy, and decided to move to Chicago together to “grow our comedy chops,” Diaz said. Mateo started training at Second City, Diaz at iO, hoping that studying at different places would invigorate their creative partnership. At that point, “we basically knew like, the color of each other’s panties,” Diaz said. “Like any marriage, it can get stale.”

After some training and performing at Second City, iO and The Playground (where the duo have put on some of their more experimental shows), they decided that “trying to assimilate into the comedy scene” wouldn’t produce their best work.

“We felt like we were trying to play to a very white male perspective,” Diaz said. “Not to throw shade on white males, I love ‘em.”

Luckily, Chicago’s comedy leaders went out of their way to support Dominizuelan’s work, especially Charna Halpern (head of iO) and Beth Kligerman (director of talent at Second City. Halpern chose to direct their two-woman show, People In The City, in 2008 (and they didn’t even ask her to!). Around the same time, Kligerman helped them pick out their first press photos they felt great about. The photos showed Diaz and Mateo getting “beat up by piñatas,” Diaz said. “I think that was just a really great way to capture us not shying away from our Latino background and culture, but also poking fun at it.”

Since those days, the duo have streamlined their work a bit. “Wendy and I create these giant shows, and we play 20 different characters, and we just overdo it,” Diaz said. (According to the Reader’s review of People in the City, they played “pugnacious adolescent brothers, politically incorrect old ladies, [and] catcalling old men” in the show, among others.) “When we met Fred [and Armisen's frequent collaborator Alice Mathias], they were like, ‘You girls are funny. We want to just do a show about you girls and your life.’ We’re like, ‘We worked in a law office together.’ They’re like, ‘Great, we’ll start there.’”

They worked directly with Armisen and Mathias, who directed the webseries, to put together the final product. It will be seven or eight episodes, each “a minute to two minutes of these girls dealing with the various issues that come up when you run a fake consulate,” as Mateo put it.

The consulate is only open on "weekends and government holidays," as Diaz explained, but it's still no walk in the park.

"There’s flags to design!” Mateo said.

If Diaz and Mateo get their way, the whole webseries will only be the very beginning of a longer-form show. “The hope is that we’ll be able to pitch it for a bigger project… that showcases the life of these girls both in and out of the consulate,” Diaz said. (Diaz knows long-form TV, too; she has a recurring role as a nurse on Chicago Med.) “We would see it living on like a Netflix space.”

For now, you can find Dominizuelan on their website and on Twitter.