Meet Dani Fernandez: The Multi-Hyphenated Chicana Who Continues to Push the Envelope

Dani Fernandez BELatina BeLatinx
Photo via Dani Fernandez

If you are wondering which name you should start looking for more often, then I got you. See, there’s this new Chicana in town that goes by the name of Dani Fernandez and she is making strides thanks to her immense talent. You might have heard of her already, but for quick reference for those just learning about her, she played herself in the highly-esteemed 3D computer-animated comedy film, “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Fernandez. She’s been leaving her dent on many parts of the entertainment industry for quite some time now and it doesn’t seem like she’s stopping anytime soon. You’ve probably heard that she’s the mastermind behind 1% Happy,”and that’s just amazing. She’s, without a doubt, out of this world, which is why we want you to also get as excited as us for her journey. 

The following is an exclusive BELatina interview Dani Fernandez.

So, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a comedy writer. I actually moved to Los Angeles to write on television and found out that it was really difficult to break into. So, I ended up getting a job at the Ice House Comedy Club. I replied to a Craigslist ad that they had back when people used Craigslist for jobs. I actually drove my resume to Pasadena — that’s where they were located — to turn it in person. I just wanted them to see me and to meet me. I guess like 150 people applied for that job. A lot of people want to work around comedy and comedians, so there were a lot of big comedians that came there. A lot of them were really encouraging of me to start to do stand-up. So, I ended up doing stand-up for a couple of years and that really helped me with writing and hosting (I host for different channels). I don’t do stand-up anymore because it’s so time consuming and not my end goal, but that’s kind of how I got my start. I kind of just met people out there. I’ve been writing since I was little as well. I was even published when I was in high school for Teen Magazine. I always wanted to be a writer and now I write things that I can act in. But I will say that writing is the easiest thing for me out of all the different things that I do. 

 

It was recently noted that “1% Happy” was picked up by HBO MAX. Can you tell us a bit more about this venture?

 

At 25, I had a really dark period of my life where I was going through a divorce and I actually had asuicide attempt. This is one of the reasons why I’m so active in the mental health community. So, I kind of wrote it about that. It was just like, “What do you do when you feel like you fail at everything in life?” I had a failed marriage, a failed career, I tried to end my life and I failed at that too. That to me was funny. Having a comedy background and being like, “I really suck I can’t even do this right.” So, I wrote about that. I wrote it about finding comedy and hope in those dark moments… and finding a community in the mental health community. It was about understanding how other people were going through what I was going through. It was also realizing that they were from all different ages and walks of life. You know, when you’re in group therapy, when you’re doing treatment, you’re kind of in a class with people you would never be friends with. We had a kid who was 21 who had a suicide attempt, then we had a dad of two in his 50s, and then we had a woman in her 60s. It’s like depression is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it can just hit anyone. I think it’s really important for me and for our Latinx community to talk about it. Another thing is that my family is super religious, they’re very Catholic, and I think there’s an understanding that you kind of pray depression away, and I just don’t think it works like that. I think that being spiritual can be part of your journey, but I don’t know if chemically that [praying] can heal everything. So, that’s what it’s about. It’s about second chances. It’s about finding hope in the times when it just feels like you’re in a pit that you can’t get out of. That’s how I felt and that’s why I wrote it. 

 

What inspires you to trek forward with new ideas despite your busy schedule?

 

To be honest, I feel like my brain is a circus because it’s constantly coming up with new ideas. I was diagnosed with OCD. It’s really funny because Scott Derrickson, who is the director for Doctor Strange, was talking about directors with OCD and I just feel like there’s something there. It’s fascinating that these mental health things that people shun are actually the reason I am the way I am. I’m a perfectionist. I don’t think that’s necessarily healthy, but this has helped me in my career. I just push really hard. Even though it won’t be perfect, it’s definitely at a high caliber. So, I think having OCD is not necessarily a horrible thing. Also, having depression, while I manage it, allows me to put my pain in my work and people relate to it. 

What do you think is necessary in this industry? 

Honestly, I think you need to find a community of people who root for you no matter what. There’s a lot of people out there that I feel are fair-weather friends. When you’re doing really well, they want to be around you, and I think that’s kind of dangerous both in this industry and in life. I want people who genuinely care about me because they care about the work that I do outside of this industry and not just because of how I can help them move them ahead in their career. I think that’s so important for anyone, any writer, director, or whatever they are trying to break in. Also, saying no. I hate flaking, so I just won’t commit to some things. I think a lot of people over-commit. I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older to stop doing that. If I can’t make an event, I just have to tell the person I can’t make it. I’ve been flaked on a lot and it’s not the best.

What was your favorite thing about “Ralph Breaks the Internet”?

Well, I have a really funny story. I took my niece on opening night to go see the movie. I come up on the screen. She’s sitting on my brother’s lap — my niece is about three — and my brother goes, “There’s Tía Dani!” and my niece’s reaction was just like, “Okay.” That was her reaction. *laughs* Then, Moana came out and she shrieked, “Mona!” She can’t say Moana, so she would say “Mona.” So, she screamed this in the theater. I thought that was so funny, humbling, and grounding. She didn’t even care. Maybe when she’s older she’ll realize that the odds of being a Disney character of yourself are probably less than 1%, which I think is so funny because that’s the title of my show. But she didn’t care, she just wanted “Mona.” I kind of secretly loved that because it was my family keeping me in check and grounded. I think that was the funniest thing of that experience. 

What moves helped you get to where you are now?

As far as [being] a writer, I read a lot of scripts. I think that’s one of the easiest things to do. It doesn’t even cost money. Find the shows you love. If you love One Day At A Time, Insecure, Atlanta, or whatever you love, find that script and read it. It will get in your brain. You’ll start noticing things you’ll want to do in your own scripts. Besides, most TV scripts are available online. Another thing is that you’ll find a lot of bad ones. You will see TV shows that you’re like, “How did this get made?” That made me really bet on myself. It’s like, “If y’all are putting money into this, then you can put money into my show.” So, I say the same thing about people trying to get into comedy, especially women that are trying to get into stand-up.

I normally say: “Go to an open mic, you’ll see the jokes that some of these people are doing and you’ll be like I can do better than that. I think it’s doing the homework. Also, meet other writers.” I think a lot of times people want to reach the big names and those aren’t the people you should be hounding down, aside from the fact that they have everyone in the business trying to hound them down. Instead, you should be making friends with fellow writers at your level and maybe one level above you. Those are going to be the people that are in the trenches with you, coming up with you. I think it’s really important to have a community. It’s not just reaching power players constantly. That’s some of the advice as far as how I made a path, which is by doing the research, reading a lot of scripts, and writing. By the way, I tried to read scripts everyday. I literally set up an hour timer and told myself not to go on social media in order to dedicate time to the scripts. If you can do that everyday, then in no time you’ve read an entire script. 

How long have you been paving your path? 

With comedy and entertainment, probably since 2014. So, not even that long. About six years. While we are on this topic, I just want to say that I know some people say that they’re too old to do it, but I don’t believe in that. I feel anyone can hop in at any time. I think everyone has a story to tell. I also feel a lot of times people try to push moms out, but we need them. Who knows that story better than them? They are going to have a unique look at the world, they have a child to protect. They are going to have a unique look at superhero franchises. I hate that any demographic feels that they’re not of worth. But I just want them to know that their story, whatever they lived through or currently going through, can be used. 

What are your future plans at the moment?

I’m planning to break into animation and horror. I love horror. I grew up with it. I call myself a “horror baby” and other people that are in the horror/scary movie realm “horror babies.” I write to the “It Follows” soundtrack when I write. You know how Spotify does your end-of-the-year mix, mine was the “Halloween” theme song. So, it’s something that I love and there are a lot of Latinx people actually breaking into that and animation, which I’m very excited about, and I plan to be one of those people this year too. 

BELatina BELatinx Dani Fernandez
Photo credit via iheart.com

Anything else you’d like to tell the BELatina audience? 

I have a show off iHeart radio studio. It’s called Nerdificent. My co-host Ify and I, are POC and we talk about nerd stuff. We do the past, present, and future of different franchises. It’s a lot of fun and it’s something people have taken a liking to. We’ve done America Chavez and Miles Morales. So far, we’ve had tons of different episodes. For all the future listeners, new episodes drop every Tuesday. You can catch Nerdificent anywhere you may listen to a podcast!

So, there you have it — a quick insight on Dani Fernandez. 

As we enter a new decade, many people are coming to the realization that some things are shifting for the best. One of those things that are changing is how much the Latinx community is making itself into the entertainment industry and how vital their creativity is becoming. Well, the creativity has always been there, but it’s now being noticed more than ever. It goes without saying that Dani Fernandez is part of that positive shift and will continue to be part of it. I say we continue watching her journey as it will most definitely keep us entertained for quite a while. Besides, we should all support our community whenever possible. Don’t you think so?