Texas comic Raymond Orta has several ways he measures how he’s doing with an audience.
There’s the frequency of laughter, preferably a laugh every three or four seconds. There’s the depth of laughter, the belly laughs of humor hitting deep within. And there’s the loss of bodily control, where the mouth isn’t the only orifice loosened by laughter.
The promise of the latter may not be a selling point for the average audience member, though Orta sprinkles such anecdotes through a recent phone interview, but he says the first two are likely to happen Saturday night when the La Joya-raised comic headlines his Waco Hippodrome show.
“I have a genuine passion to make people laugh,” he explained. “Laugh loud, live long.”
Making people laugh also has enabled Orta to pay the bills and feed his sons, using skills sharpened from childhood when, as an 8-year-old, he won a school talent show by telling jokes — a success he repeated at multiple talent shows as he grew older.
Making people laugh helped him cope with the harder parts of that childhood. “My mom and I were homeless for two, three months. When I was able to make her laugh — well, my mom’s laugh means the world to me,” he said, adding that his mother now is a nurse who owns a home health care company.
Growing up in La Joya, in the Rio Grande Valley due west of Mission and McAllen, not only gave him rich material that clicks with audiences — tales of his grandpa always land with his listeners — but tested his ability. Not only do comics there face competition from Mexican standup comedians performing across the border, but there’s a rich tradition of family storytelling that’s free of charge. “You have to be funnier than that uncle in their family,” he said.
Orta also learned to walk the tightrope of laughter over sometimes volatile audiences, with Weslaco’s Paradise Roadhouse Bar and Grill a major proving ground with members of the Banditos motorcycle gang, street gangs and other rough types in the crowd.
Some of them, he noted with pride, lost bodily control at Orta’s joke-telling.
Orta’s humor steers away from the political to the common ground of shared experience — “people can still have differences and be friends,” he said — winning new fans over the last year with his YouTube commentary on Dallas Cowboys football.
Depending on his audience, the comic may slide into Spanish, although he confesses that Valley Spanish is almost a language to itself and too slangy for use in, say, Mexico proper. And whenever he does, Orta throws in enough translation to let monolingual Anglos in on the joke.
His 2012 album “El Comedian” was a Grammy nominee for Best Comedy Album and his years in the Valley had him sharing stages with some of the top comics in America, including, but not limited to, Latin Kings of Comedy Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez and Alex Reymundo. “Some people have zero idea that I have such a background in comedy,” he said.
Come to the Hippodrome show and find out, Orta said. “I want people to feel incredible about the money they invested in themselves when they went out,” he said.