A Comic in the Community Board


Michael Diaz is many things: actor, director, comic — and a member of Community Board 12, where he brings comedy and a youthful perspective to the most serious situations.

Diaz (left) discusses an upcoming scene with his director at a recent video shoot. Credit: LANCE DIXON

At a recent meeting of Community Board 12, which covers Manhattan’s Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods, Aldemar Diaz, the new chair of the board’s licensing committee, was explaining resolutions his panel wanted the board to consider. As he ran though several decisions his committee had made in their meeting on 21 recommendations for wine and liquor licenses for local businesses, a voice suddenly called out, “smart and sexy!”

The sudden outburst was apparently an admiring shout out to Diaz’s clean-shaven appearance and scholarly speech. Diaz looked up briefly, identified the culprit, smiled and then went back to his business-like presentation. Some of the other board members laughed, as did the jokester — fellow board member Michael “Juan Bago” Diaz.

Michael Diaz is a comic actor, movie producer and director, well known as part of the Washington Heights arts scene and as half of the comedy group Juan Bago and O. He is also one of the 50 members of Community Board 12, where he promotes arts issues, comments on other community matters and offers occasional moments of comic relief.

Away from board meetings, Diaz’s life is consumed with his artistic pursuits. On a recent Saturday afternoon in Washington Heights, Diaz and his friends and business partners prepared to shoot a video commemorating the holidays. Or at least that’s what was supposed to happen. With Diaz, things don’t always go according to plan.

A shoot that was supposed to begin at 3 p.m. started three and a half hours later. No one left, though; the dozen or so people on hand are all friends and members of the Bago Bunch and admirers of its mastermind  Diaz, who issued as many hugs as he did laughs at the shoot.

“He’s getting a lot of opportunities and he’s going to bring the Latino community with him,” said Diaz’s friend and New Jersey teacher, Yenny Love. “He’s doing it with creativity and comedy to showcase some important issues.”

The holiday video features Diaz in his element as Juan Bago, a jokester and the life of the party. But this persona is very much for the camera. Off-camera, Diaz will crack an occasional joke, but he talks with a businessman’s focus when discussing the video shots and the comedy exchanges – the latter with his comic partner Oscar (the O in Juan Bago and O).

“The persona of Juan Bago, aka ‘I don’t give a f**k’, I’m buggin’ out and comedic, is probably 40 percent of me, the rest is mentor, consultant, producer, marketer,” said Diaz.

The persona was created in a 2006 independent movie called “The Story of Juan Bago” with Diaz as the title character. The last name came from the Spanish word vago, meaning lazy or idle; Diaz says the director, “didn’t speak that much Spanish” so it became Bago. After completing the movie he says the name stuck.

The Juan Bago videos usually spoof popular hip-hop and reggaeton songs, but they may have a civic message — like his most recent “Vote Right,” a spoof of rapper Chief Keef’s song “I Don’t Like,” aimed at encouraging Hispanic youth to vote. That seems in keeping with another of his roles, as a member of the parks and cultural affairs committee on the community board, where he hopes to “push the cultural in parks and cultural affairs.”

Who knows what lies ahead for him on Community Board 12? But his arts and comedy life will continue to blend with the community.

“Arts and business are the most important aspects of the community,” Diaz said. “We want to get into cultural and educational development and having a little bit more outreach.”

But Diaz, also hints at a new persona he might work on through Juan Bago, “There’s never been a Latin ‘Weird Al’ [Yankovic],” he said.


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