Chunky by Yehu­di Mercado

The John­ny Cash song A Boy Named Sue,” writ­ten by poet-car­toon­ist Shel Sil­ver­stein, is about a tough guy named Sue who has vowed to track down his father and make him pay for nam­ing him Sue. Ulti­mate­ly, he real­izes that his fem­i­nine name is exact­ly what made him so tough.

My name is fun­ny. Grow­ing up in Hous­ton, Texas, I didn’t think it was. I was a fat, Mex­i­can, Jew with a unique name … I had no choice but to become funny.

I love com­e­dy, and I was raised on tele­vi­sion. My sis­ters and I were latchkey kids; due to Hous­ton traf­fic, I nev­er saw my par­ents at home on a week­day while the sun was up. We kids had lots of time to watch Sat­ur­day Night Live and sit­com reruns. I soaked them up. On week­ends we would see at least two movies at the the­ater. We would rent VHS tapes and keep them for thir­ty days, watch­ing them over and over again. I also read comics from the fun­nies sec­tion of the paper, and I would draw while Young Franken­stein or Air­plane played on a loop. To me, being fun­ny was magical.

I always equat­ed being Jew­ish with being fun­ny. Maybe it’s because of all the Mel Brooks movies or Bil­ly Crys­tal albums, or maybe because my syn­a­gogue had a stained glass trip­tych of the Marx Broth­ers. Jews and humor went togeth­er like sim­i­les and metaphors. There weren’t many Jews or Lati­nos in the school dis­trict where I grew up, so I nev­er quite felt like I fit­ted in. But I had a mag­ic trick that I could always play. My humor. I could take cadences and atti­tude from the sit­coms I watched and use them on the play­ground. I saw it as play­ing a char­ac­ter. And it worked. If a bul­ly was teas­ing me about my name, I could not only make him stop and laugh, but also show him that he couldn’t take me on in a ver­bal spar. My fun­ny” was a cop­ing mech­a­nism. No one could hurt me if I was being fun­ny — or so I told myself.

My fun­ny” was a cop­ing mech­a­nism. No one could hurt me if I was being fun­ny — or so I told myself.

I switched to a dif­fer­ent school in eighth grade and I decid­ed that I no longer want­ed to be called Yehu­di. I announced to my par­ents that I want­ed to change my name to JER­RY. Why Jer­ry? Well, my father’s name is Ger­ar­do and Ger­ry was his nick­name, and also Jer­ry sound­ed like a comedian’s name. At the begin­ning of every school year, the teach­ers would take atten­dance and get to know their new stu­dents. With­out fail there would always be a moment … a moment of dread. The teacher would reach my name and then freeze like a deer in the head­lights but with slight­ly more pan­ic. I could almost see a thought bub­ble over their head read­ing, There’s no way this is a name! What am I look­ing at? Are those even letters?”

Before they attempt­ed to say the y” sound, I would jump in like a sav­ior: Call me Jer­ry.” (I even began to imag­ine that this would be the title of my sit­com. Call Me Jer­ry Tues­days at 8:00 p.m. on NBC.) The relief on the teacher’s face when they real­ized they nev­er had to endeav­or to pro­nounce that demand­ing name was all the thanks I need­ed. But then it start­ed to both­er me.

Hav­ing to bend to fit in took its toll. At my pre­dom­i­nant­ly Bap­tist school, morn­ing announce­ments includ­ed Jesus is the rea­son for the sea­son,” and Chris­t­ian prayers were recit­ed before every foot­ball game. By the time I became a sopho­more in high school, I was the fun­ny guy with the job of mak­ing the morn­ing announce­ments. I would do voic­es and put on sketch­es — it was my time to per­form. But then some­thing hap­pened. I said Hap­py Hanukkah” and I was prompt­ly relieved of my duty. I was told that I vio­lat­ed the school dis­tric­t’s sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State” rule. Nev­er mind that there was a ten-foot Christ­mas tree in the cafe­te­ria and San­ta Claus dec­o­ra­tions deck­ing the halls. It was at that moment that I knew that no mat­ter how hard I tried to be the fun­ny, lik­able guy, I would nev­er feel accept­ed. The prin­ci­pal tried to smooth things over by telling me that I could build a large meno­rah in the cafe­te­ria to go next to the mas­sive Christ­mas tree. But there was some­thing even more con­de­scend­ing about mak­ing a stu­dent take on a con­struc­tion project while the Christ­mas decor was pro­vid­ed by the faculty.

Slow­ly I start­ed to return to Yehu­di. When I starred in school plays, I made sure that the pro­gram and the poster read Yehu­di.” It was my lit­tle way of reclaim­ing my her­itage. Being Jew­ish wasn’t just about being fun­ny — it was about being the under­dog and stand­ing tall in the face of adver­si­ty. It was about being defi­ant. The best com­e­dy punch­es up; it’s an act of defi­ance. You make fun of the emper­or with no clothes until you can get every­one to see that he ain’t got no clothes!

Now I embrace my name. Yehu­di means Jew. Mer­ca­do means mar­ket in Span­ish, but that’s a whole oth­er essay. I may not be as phys­i­cal­ly tough as the tit­u­lar boy named Sue, but as a boy named Jew, I’m prob­a­bly funnier.

Yehu­di Mer­ca­do is a for­mer piz­za deliv­ery dri­ver and art direc­tor for Dis­ney Inter­ac­tive. He is cur­rent­ly a writer-artist-ani­ma­tor liv­ing in Los Ange­les. His books include Sci-FuHero HotelRock­et Sal­vage, and Fun Fun Fun World. He is cur­rent­ly show run­ning the Hero Hotel pod­cast and writ­ing and direct­ing an orig­i­nal ani­mat­ed short for Nick­elodeon. You can find him at