‘I Love Lucy’: Desi Arnaz Revealed the ‘Most Difficult Problem’ in Playing Ricky Ricardo
Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball became television’s favorite couple as Ricky and Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. Playing the married pair alongside co-stars Vivian Vance and William Frawley from 1951 to 1957, Arnaz and Ball exhibited a range of comedic talent from dialogue to slapstick. Arnaz shared one aspect of portraying Ricky that proved to be his greatest challenge.
‘I Love Lucy’ ran the full gamut of comedy
The legendary sitcom remains a fan favorite to this day thanks to the constant scheming of Lucy always trying to get something over on Ricky. Arnaz noted how physical their acting could get during some scenes.
“At times we were criticized for doing too much slapstick,” Arnaz wrote in his memoir, A Book. “I don’t believe in mild comedy, and neither does Lucy. That’s the kind the audience is just supposed to smile at. We like them to laugh out loud.”
The couple consistently hit their marks when it came to laughs, which required a very calculated strategy when putting together a plot.
“Nothing makes anyone feel better than a good, hearty laugh,” the I Love Lucy star shared. “It is good therapy, spiritually and physically. Our type of comedy did get pretty wild at times. That is why setting up the reasons for getting to those antics had to be fundamentally solid.”
Desi Arnaz had to show Ricky’s anger in a certain way
The storylines of I Love Lucy frequently showed Lucy and Ricky arguing, where Lucy inevitably cooked up some scheme that made Ricky angry.
“Ricky could be distressed by Lucy’s shenanigans, which at times seemed to bring catastrophic results,” Arnaz explained. “That was natural, and the audience knew he had a reason. But, and that was a big but, he should never get real mad at her, or mad mad as the writers called it. He should only get funny mad, exasperated, as you would with a naughty child.”
Arnaz also had to make sure that Ricky didn’t appear to be a pushover. The precision required to portray just the right level of anger was a challenge for the actor.
“On the other hand, I did not want Ricky to lose believability in those instances and look silly,” Arnaz remarked. “But if he showed any kind of meanness, audiences would resent it and we’d lose the humor of the fight. It was the most difficult problem I faced when playing Ricky.”
‘I Love Lucy’ star had a method for acting ‘funny mad’
Arnaz found a way to convey Ricky’s anger while keeping his dignity and getting plenty of laughs.
“It helped when I overemphasized the acceptable Latin use of hands and arms when I was excited,” he wrote. “It was also handy to let my eyes pop out of their sockets. Most of all, the rat-tat-tat-tat parade of Spanish words helped me tread that thin line between funny mad and mad mad.”
The I Love Lucy alum was often asked to repeat one of Ricky’s most iconic “funny mad” responses.
“Kids come up to me, ‘Hey Ricky, say Mira que tene…‘ how do you say it?'” Arnaz recalled, then spelled it out for fans. “Miraquetienecosalamujeresta!“